You have to give Honda credit for keeping its Acura NSX alive. In an era when many Japanese sports cars are becoming extinct (the Nissan 300 ZX, Subaru SVX, Toyota MR-2, etc.), ultra-slow sales of the low-slung NSX would have given Honda a
legitimate reason to pull the plug. Through June, just 218 NSXs have found homes, down from the 252 sold through the first six months of last year. And this year's lower sales come despite a host of improvements on the 1997 model that was introduced
in January. But the NSX is Honda's technical masterpiece, and even though it sells in tiny numbers compared with every other Honda product, it does bring a measure of prestige to the Japanese automaker. It is - arguably - the only civilized
supercar you can buy. Unlike a Ferrari, Lamborghini or some other exotic, it doesn't need an army of mechanics and extraordinary maintenance to keep it running. For those who can afford it, the NSX is a nice way to get from Point A to Point B.
PERFORMANCE, HANDLING Honda offers the NSX with two V-6 engines. When you order the car with the four-speed automatic transmission, you get a 3.0-liter, 252-horsepower motor. If you chose the six-speed manual transmission, which is new for 1997,
the car comes with a 3.2-liter V-6 that makes 290 horsepower. Both engines are among the most advanced in the world. In addition to double overhead cams and 24 valves, this pair of V-6s features Honda's Vtec valve timing system and Variable Volume
Induction System. The heart of the Vtec system - a Honda acronym for variable valve timing and electronic lift control - is a set of unique camshafts. One set of lobes (bumps on the camshaft) operates the valves for maximum efficiency when the engine
is running a low speed. When the engine is revved to 5,800 rpm, another set of lobes on the same camshafts opens the valves. The second set of lobes maximizes engine breathing and horsepower by keeping thevalves open slightly longer. The variable
volume induction system ensures that the optimum mixture of fuel and air reaches each cylinder. All this really means is that when you put the hammer down, the V-6 engine will respond with a space shuttle-like rush of thrust, and the car will rocket
forward in the blink of eye. A recent road test in an auto magazine pegged the 0-to-60 mph times at just five seconds. The NSX is one of the few cars that can do that without relying on a supercharger, turbocharger or 12 cylinders. In its own way, it
is a highly efficient power plant. Few six-cylinder engines deliver this kind of performance while using fuel in what must be considered a miserly fashion for a supercar. In combined city-highway driving using the air conditioner most of the time, the NSX
delivered 22 mpg gallon. Because the engine can be revved safely to more than 8,500 rpm, I rarely shifted into sixth gear. I cruised at 70 mph on the interstate easily in fo
urth or fifth gear with the engine nowhere near the red line on the tachometer. The car had enough muscle to move past slower traffic without downshifting. I found the clutch pedal to be somewhat stiff, but because the shifter moves so precisely into
each gear, the car is easy to drive. Despite its exotic sports-car looks, the NSX is not a car that shatters your spine with a rock-hard ride. In fact, the NSX offers an extremely comfortable ride - when driven both slowly and at the extreme limits.
The NSX is outfitted with a double wishbone independent suspension system front and rear. The car's body feels very stiff. The suspension system absorbs the energy without transferring much turbulence to the inside of the car. This year's NSX has
bigger brakes and an improved electronic steering system. The brakes haul the car to a stop extremely quickly. Base price: $88,000. FIT AND FINISH When it comes to cars, Japanese automakers have been able to
imitate and duplicate and improve, but they have never really learned to build a car with charisma, soul and personality. I didn't care for the NSX the first few days I drove the car. Leave it to a Japanese automaker, I thought, to sanitize and
sterilize a supercar. Truth is, I later discovered, the NSX is boring only when driven slowly. It doesn't come alive and doesn't have much of a personality until you take off the roof panel and drive the car hard. And even then something doesn't
measure up. Perhaps the engine isn't quite loud enough. Maybe the interior is somewhat dull. There is no unique NSX logo; nothing, in fact, to make the NSX feel any different inside than a run-of-the-mill Acura Integra. The car also is lacking
some must-have items. By the time you pay luxury and sales taxes, you are looking at spending a cool hundred grand for this car. For 100 large, I want a CD changer and remote door locks. Imagine dropping $100,000 on a car and being nickeled and dimed to
death on the little things. The floor mats, for example, were an$85 add-on. Those gripes aside, the NSX was built well, and it performed flawlessly. Two latches inside hold the roof panel in place. It takes about two minutes to remove the roof and
place it in its special holder on top of the rear-mounted engine. The panel can be taken off and reinstalled easily by one person. The leather bucket seats were extremely comfortable and came with power adjustments. Even though you sit low, visibility
is good up front and to each side. The rear view isn't quite so good because the rear window is narrow. The trunk offers a decent amount of room, but it is not very deep. It can hold a suitcase or a couple of small travel bags, but that's about it.
The list of standard accessories includes traction control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control and automatic air-conditioning system. In looking at the prices of used NSXs, the car doesn'tappear to be a smart way to spend a lot
of money. A 4-year-old NSX can be bought for about $40,000 to $45,000. Still, if you can afford it, the NSX is an enjoyable car to drive fast. And, if you want a dependable supercar that you can pile on miles without fear of expensive breakdowns,
the NSX is in a class by itself. Specifications: 1997 Acura NSX-T LENGTH Overall 174.2 FRONT COMPARTMENT Headroom 36.3 Legroom 44.3 WARRANTY Four-year,50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 24-hour roadside
assistance. MECHANICAL Drivetrain layout: Transverse mid-mounted engine and transaxle, rear-wheel drive. Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel disc with ABS. Engine: 290-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 with 24 valves and
double overhead cams. Transmission: Six-speed manual. OTHER MODELS N/A Truett's tip: The 1997 vers
ion of Acura's supercar is the best yet. It's faster and more fun to drive than ever. But its very high price will keep it a rare sight.