Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 7, 2018
“Don't meet your heroes,” a wise yet slightly disappointed friend once told me. Apparently Ryan Gosling refused to take a selfie with her. Well the Acura NSX was my hero when I was a child. Believe it or not, it was actually the first car that I drove, and by “drove” I mean I was two years old, sitting on my father’s lap in a 1991 Acura NSX in an empty parking lot. He nervously yet proudly relinquished control of the steering wheel to me while he slowly feathered the pedals, and I still have that picture of us buried somewhere in my basement.
As lady luck would have it, I recently found myself at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park track, standing in front of the brand new 2018 Acura NSX, the second-generation model, hyped up after years of indecision by the Japanese automaker. And it wasn’t just the sharp curves and distinctive lines of the new NSX that gave me goosebumps. Every panel, every piece, and every vent serves a specific function, whether it’s for aerodynamics or for cooling the engine. Perhaps what really got my blood pumping was peering into the transparent engine bay window and gazing upon the heart of the beast. Covered by punched steel grates, the V6 is mounted like a piece of art in the Louvre, and faintly exposes itself with its air intakes, creating an almost alien-like visual. What a sight.
I had the opportunity to get some laps around the Driver’s Development Track and on a slalom course with the NSX, as well as experience the breathtaking propulsion provided by Launch Control. You can watch my video of that above, but a bit of introduction first, because like how the original NSX was the pioneer of innovative technology at its time using all aluminum, this new NSX is also packed to the brim with acronyms and long-enough phrases to make even the best of scholars resort to a cheat sheet. You see, cars back then, at least from today’s perspective, were fairly simple. You had an engine, a transmission, and four wheels. You pressed a pedal, and it went fast.
But today’s NSX has more than just an engine. It employs three electric motors, one that sits between the engine and transmission, and two that power each of the front wheels. What drives the rear wheels then? A mid-mounted 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 that is unique and unlike any other engine that Honda or Acura makes, and essentially turns this NSX into an all-wheel drive supercar. Total output? 573 hp and 476 lb-ft if you must ask. But power is, and never was, the focus of the NSX.
And that is what brings us to the track. Like its father before it, the NSX is all about handling, precision, and body control. You’ll hear the phrase “torque vectoring” being bounced around quite often in the automotive world as if it was the answer for the sphinx but in this application, torque vectoring is the NSX’s holy grail. You see, those two motors in front do a whole lot more than just push the wheels going forward, but they can rotate the wheels backwards as well, allowing the car to pivot and turn like no other car before it. Acura also says that while the wheel is being rotated backwards, it is also regenerating power back to the battery, hitting two birds with one stone. They tell us on a track event like this, the NSX’s battery will never run out even after a dozen hot laps, because it’s a constantly and organically recharging. Talk about being self-sufficient.
Despite weighing 1,725 kg (classified as porky in the supercar kingdom), this all-aluminum NSX, at least around the track and cliche as it might sound, feels much lighter than the numbers suggest thanks to a low center of gravity and an adept suspension that keeps body roll to a minimum. Maximum torque is impressively spread out from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm, the 9-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission fires off shifts with rifle bolt urgency, the magnetorheological dampers ensure optimal balance, and those sticky Pirelli Trofeo R tires are as close to racing slicks as you can get. But the most surprising piece of information I want you to take out of this review is how all these mighty attributes accumulate into a supercar that is not only powerful, but friendly to drive.
You don’t need to be enlisted into a racing series to truly exploit and understand the capabilities of the NSX. As I raced down the main straight and was about to clip the apex, I felt like I was going in too hot, that the car would not rotate in time for me to exit with the front two wheels pointing in the right direction. But the NSX egged me on, and I promptly remembered the two important words: torque vectoring. In simple terms: more gas equals more rotation. So as I clenched my cojones, I pushed the gas pedal even further. Lo and behold, the front wheels pivoted more, the nose dipped and relentlessly bit down hard, pushing me cleanly (sort of) through the apex and kept accelerating to a speed that I was simply too a̶f̶r̶a̶i̶d̶ distracted to look at.
Accessibility to this prodigious multi-elemental power is an understatement: turbo lag is essentially non-existent with the help of those electric motors, allowing you to correct your line mid-corner in a jiffy and launch from a stop faster than a Nissan GT-R. But rather than holding your hand at every corner, the NSX asks you to lean on it, to use the steering as a simple extension of your arm, and the gas pedal as an extension of your leg.
Now the one tradeoff with all this torque vectoring goodness is that the steering has been muted to the point that if you connected a heart rate monitor to the wheel, it would flatline. There is absolutely no feedback relayed to the driver in terms of grip or surface variation. Because of all that electrical wizardry happening with the motors and wheels, it would be insane to directly link them all together - the steering would not be able to keep up with the constant changes in rotation. The same goes for throttle control, also employing a drive-by-wire setup. That’s not to say the steering is terrible - it’s just hard to keep up with other supercars like the McLaren 570S that delivers chatty and overflowing feedback from its superior (yet heavier) hydraulic steering setup.
Compared to its main rivals, the NSX does not sound that great either. The trick exhaust emits a decent grunt and baritone growl that reverberates and excites the cochlea, but it does not come close to the lion’s roar of the Ferrari or the flat-plane crank howl of the McLaren’s V8. The NSX soundtrack just isn’t distinctive enough and fails to be sonically unique - Hondas and Acuras of late just don’t can’t quite nail the exhaust down, the same goes for the new Civic Si and Civic Type R. When viewed alone as a V6 though, the noise is impressive, but not $200,000 impressive. On the bright side, none of the exhaust is artificially piped through the speakers for those worried about auditory trickery: Acura only utilizes a tube that draws sound noise from the engine bay and directs that sound back into the cabin. So what you’re hearing isn’t an mp3 file, it’s the true engine noise. Kudos to that, but you can listen to our Exhaust Notes video to hear it for yourself.
We have yet to drive the NSX on local roads and evaluate its usability as an everyday supercar, which we’ve heard is exceptional (there are even clip-on cupholders and a sizable trunk), but what we can attest to is the fact that Acura has found a way to marry man and machine together into a cohesive package that even the late Aryton Senna would have been proud of. The new NSX has been a long time in the making and Acura had some big shoes to fill, but the hype is real, the performance is visceral, and the track capabilities are astounding. The NSX is back - let’s just hope we don’t have to wait 25 years for the next one.
Model: 2018 Acura NSX
Base Price: $189,900
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,470 / 2,217 / 1,214
Curb weight (kg): 1,725
Powertrain: 3.5L twin-turbo longitudinally mid-mounted V6 + three electric motors
Combined Output: 573 hp, 476 lb-ft
Engine Horsepower: 500 hp @ 6,500 rpm - 7,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 6,000 rpm
Front Twin-Motor Unit Horsepower: 36 + 36 hp @ 4,000 rpm
Front Twin-Motor Unit Torque: 54 + 54 lb-ft @ 0 - 2,000 rpm
Rear Direct Drive Motor Horsepower: 47 hp @ 3,000 rpm
Rear Direct Drive Motor Torque: 109 @ 500 - 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid-engine, AWD
Tires: Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R