Last week I found myself under the blazing hot sun of Atlanta, Georgia behind the wheels of a trio of cars that relatively few people will ever get to drive. I had no idea what to expect when I buckled myself into Acura’s triplet of NSX, but what I got was an unforgettable experience that changed me. The Acura NSX Type S is so brutally fast that it can challenges everything that you think you know about speed.
[Full Disclosure: Acura invited me out to Atlanta, Georgia to drive its entire line. Acura put me up in a nice hotel, fed me probably too much food, and let me giggle like a kid behind the wheels of expensive cars.]
Earlier in my day with Acura I got to take a drive in the automaker’s 1991 Acura NSX. This car wasn’t just one of the first of the first-generation of the NSX, but the NSX that is believed to be the first in America. It wasn’t supposed to be there, but Acura was able to pull it out for journalists to take a spin in.
For me, driving that car was like meeting a childhood hero. After all, the NSX was a literal poster car in my younger years. And, it was one of those times were meeting a hero was absolute joy, not a nightmare. If I had the money, I’d buy an original NSX then daily drive it. That’s how awesome those cars are.
The original NSX died in 2005, leaving behind a legacy of performance that killed more expensive cars.
The New NSX’s Development
Honda would let the NSX stay dead for only two years, and in 2007 a successor was announced. American Honda estimated that the NSX would return in 2010, powered by a V10. The automaker set its sights on beating the Nissan GT-R around the Nürburgring as a benchmark. Fans were excited, but sadly the dream wouldn’t last long.
The development of the second-generation NSX was one of the victims of the 2008 Great Recession. As Honda pulled back in the turbulent economy the project was canceled. But two years later, reports began surfacing that the new car’s development was back on. People got excited again.
In 2012 Acura made a huge marketing push for the new car. The concept car appeared at the 2012 North American International Auto Show, an ad featuring car nut comedian Jerry Seinfeld appeared in the Super Bowl, and Tony Stark even drove a concept NSX in the first Avengers movie. The new NSX was on, but the V10 was gone. In its place was a naturally-aspirated V6.
But, as Honda notes, the development took a turn about mid-way through. Simply putting a V6 in the car wasn’t going to be enough. If the new NSX were to be a proper successor, this one would need to break the mold, just like the original. The engine became more advanced as a result, gaining two turbos. And since the design goal of the original NSX involved doing something different with the powertrain that allowed engineers to play around with packaging. In this case, Honda decided to electrify the new NSX
In 2015–about 8 years after the original announcement of the second-generation NSX–Acura rolled the production version of the NSX out to the 2015 North American International Auto Show floor. And the first customer cars hit the road a year later.
What Buyers Got For The Long Wait
On the outside, the NSX continues the first-gen’s fighter jet-inspired design, but with far more sculpting. There are jewel-style headlights that the NSX’s designer, Michelle Christensen, says are to make the car look mean.
And the NSX has a neat floating C-pillar, a design touch that you’ll find on a number of modern supercars. The whole design is done with aerodynamics, downforce, and engine cooling in mind.
Inside, the fighter jet theme continues. Acura wanted the interior to be driver-centric and largely uncluttered and unburdened by huge pillars.
All of this rides on an aluminum-intensive space frame with multi-material body panels. “SMC” there is a high-strength composite.
There’s a mix of steel and carbon fiber going on here and Acura says that it employed some new technologies in the car’s construction.
The part that I want to highlight is the three-dimensionally bent and quenched A-pillars. This car has amazing frontal visibility, in-part because the A-pillars look as thin as a car from a couple of decades ago.
Acura explains how these A-pillars are formed:
The 3DQ component is heated and then shaped in three dimensions by an articulating robotic arm, after which the part is quenched using water jets to achieve an ultra-high tensile strength of 1,500 megapascals (MPa). This process enables the pillar to have a very thin cross-section with precise shape specification and tolerances, while meeting the increased structural rigidity standards for roof-crush performance. It also reduces the width of the A-pillar structure to just 1.65 x 1.42 in. (42 x 36 mm) and the finished A-pillar by 1 in. (25 mm), compared to a conventional construction process. The view is a full 36 percent less obstructed than the next-best supercar evaluated by the Acura team, and even better than the original NSX.
Similar hard work happened for the motive power.
Under The Glass
The heart of the NSX is twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 making 500 horsepower and 406 lb-ft torque. The turbos produce up to 15.2 PSI of boost. In the final Type S model, the turbos come from the GT3 Evo and add a 20 hp, 37 lb-ft torque and 0.9 PSI pressure bump.
The NSX is also a hybrid, utilizing three electric motors and a battery to enhance performance. There are two 36 HP motors up front driving the front wheels and one 47 HP motor directly driving the rears. With the electric motors added, the standard NSX outputs 573 HP and 476 lb-ft torque while the Type S gets 600 HP and 492 lb-ft torque. Those motors are fed by a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery.
All of it adds up to an estimated zero to 60 mph sprint done in 2.9 seconds. The extra power of the Type S apparently doesn’t change the acceleration figure, but Acura says that the new car was able to shave 2 seconds off of its lap time at Suzuka. The Type S even weighs more than the regular NSX at 3,960 pounds versus 3,945 pounds.
Driving The NSX
I first got behind the wheel of one of the last second-generation NSX. The second-generation of the NSX got a shorter run in-part due to slow sales: Honda and Acura have sold just 2,908 of them. That’s not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Production ended for Japan, Australia and Europe in 2020. And the Type S? That’s how this car is going out. Just 350 of them are getting made, only 300 of them making it into the U.S.
So, how does the swan song drive?
Frankly, it changed everything that I thought I knew about speed. The fastest car in my fleet is a Saturn Sky Red Line. If you drop the clutch and control the power just right you can get one of them to hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. That’s the same time that it took the original NSX to reach the same speed. If you’re a car enthusiast that isn’t flush with cash, this might just be the benchmark of “fast” for you.
[Editor’s Note: It’s funny to see a young car journalist go through this experience. I myself remember what it felt like to get out of my old junker at a press trip and then right into a brand new sports car — the contrast was absurd! And you know what that sports car was?
The NSX Type S dispatches the 60 mph sprint in 2.9 seconds. You may think–as I did–that it’s just 2.3 seconds less, big deal. Well, that sliver of time makes the difference between a car that holds you in its seat and one that snaps your neck. Seriously, use the NSX’s launch control and the car will burst off of the line so fast that you may not be able to catch your breath. I sure didn’t. And if your head was forward of the headrest the speed will be slapping your noggin back.
Since I fly for fun, I have to compare it to a plane. An Acura NSX will reach 120 mph faster and in a shorter distance than a Cessna 172 can reach takeoff speed. And if you let it, the NSX will rocket on to a top speed of 191 mph.
But the amazing thing about this car’s speed is that it comes without drama. Hitting the NSX’s advertised acceleration time is as easy as hitting the accelerator and pointing the car where it wants to go. There is no tire smoke, no crazy shifting or engine behavior. It just works. I was looking like I drive supercars for a living when in reality, the NSX Type S was my first modern supercar. Upon coming home, I drove my little Saturn and its speed didn’t quite hit the same. Once you’ve experienced supercar levels of performance your whole world of speed becomes different.
Handling is similarly drama free. There were very few chances to test the car’s handling out in Atlanta, but what I was able to feel was one of the most confidence-inspiring vehicles that I’ve ever driven. You know how people say that certain cars drive like they ride on rails? Yeah, this is like that, without hyperbole.
And when you aren’t trying to set lap records the NSX does offer a variety of driving modes. I drove the car mostly in Track Mode to experience that fantastic performance. But on the other end, there’s Quiet Mode, and I absolutely have to talk about that.
In Quiet Mode, the car does what’s advertised on the tin. You can start the car and leave your neighborhood entirely on electric power, keeping your neighbors happy. And in the city, you can travel a good few city blocks solely in EV mode without the engine ever firing up. Throttle response in this mode feels like that of a Prius. This seems like a handy mode for those concerned about noise, but I will say it was a weird feeling driving such a flashy ICE-powered car without a single engine note emanating from the exhaust.
Speaking of that exhaust note, this is another thing that is somewhat restrained in the NSX. You can get some snap, crackle, and pop when you shift at redline. You can also get the sweet sounds of turbo when you do so. But otherwise, the engine sounds makes V6 sounds that don’t seem particularly exotic.
Still, you’ll be having so much fun that I don’t think you’ll care. And I bet there are aftermarket exhausts out there to wake it up.
The interior is both a fine place to be while also not being all that impressive. There is a mix of leather and Alcantara throughout. The steering wheel is appropriately grippy with carbon fiber. Instrumentation is partially digital and you do get an infotainment screen. This interior isn’t really doing anything amazing, but the surfaces feel good to the touch and once again, that forward visibility is great.
Rearward visibility is lacking, but I’ve found the mirrors and just turning my head to be sufficient.
The only part of the interior that I didn’t like is the headunit. While Honda and Acura have moved on to spiffy and snappy interfaces, the NSX has a headunit from what appears to be the 10th-generation Civic. It gets the job done, but it feels out of place in a car of this price range. It has dated graphics and is more laggy than Volkswagen’s current infotainment systems. It’s a bit confusing, too. See how there are some buttons for HVAC controls but it looks like some are missing?
That’s because the rest are controlled by the screen.
Later in the day I got behind the wheel of a regular NSX, painted in a vivid red. Honestly, I really couldn’t tell the difference between the two cars. The Type S seemed a bit more taut, but acceleration was just as brutal. But that’s not too surprising, as the specs between the cars are so similar, with the Type S only taking on mild improvements.
At the end of my day with these cars, I felt saddened that so few have been sold globally. These cars may not have the drama of a Lamborghini, but Honda engineered a fine machine. The NSX is a car that you can stare at all day. It’s also a car that isn’t intimidating for those who aren’t experienced in handling such powerful cars. It’s a car that could probably even be your daily.
That said, I do feel that this new NSX is only sort of a true successor to the original. The first-generation NSX is so mechanical and so analog that it’s a wonderful assault on your senses. The original makes you an integral part of the car’s operation and you feel what that car feels.
From a technology perspective, Acura hit this car out of the park. Like the first NSX, I think the new NSX solidly achieves the goal of being different and looking forward. But all of the advanced technology did take some of the feel out of the drive. For me, the literally breathtaking speed is a fine tradeoff. But for others, I imagine they may want something a little more brash and a little more shouty.
The 2022 Acura NSX starts at $169,500 before options and other charges. Acura says that orders for the 300 allocation for America are pending. So if you want one, you’ll have to call a dealership and get on a list.
I asked Acura’s PR team if there is a third-generation in the works. Understandably, they told me that they do not comment on the possibility future products. I do hope that Honda and Acura give the NSX a third chance, because after all of these years, the NSX still makes dreams come true.