The verdict: With a gaggle of hybrid gas-electric technology stuffed under its angrily shaped body panels, the 2017 Acura NSX offers a wholly unique driving experience.
Versus the competition: The NSX leans more toward being an exotic street car than a track-day terror, with everyday drivability and comfort crafted into a surprisingly seamless technical package.
“New Sports eXperience” is the motivating phrase behind the new Acura NSX, which had its first run from model-years 1991 to 2005 as a modestly powered, mid-engine, aluminum-constructed sports car. Pushing the boundaries of high-performance technology today means something very different from what that original car embodied, so the formula for the New Sports eXperience is considerably different in the 2017 Acura NSX: The basics include a hybrid powertrain made up of three electric motors, a lithium-ion battery pack, a mid-mounted twin-turbocharged V-6 engine and a dual-clutch nine-speed automatic transmission.
I got my first drive on canyon roads outside Palm Springs, Calif., and on a 1.8-mile closed-circuit track. The NSX’s $157,800 starting price with $1,800 destination charge puts it in a league with high-end sports cars such as the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo, though the hybrid system and electrified all-wheel drive also parallel the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid, which lives in this price territory.
Exterior & StylingThe 2017 NSX has stayed remarkably true to the concept form we first saw way back in 2012. Styling may be subjective, but I couldn’t pull myself away from taking photos of this beauty, which Acura says was designed using the “form follows function” philosophy. The exterior’s wild shape is filled with functional vents and air intakes that each have distinct cooling and aerodynamic purposes. Underneath the bodywork are 10 heat exchangers serving the gas engine, transmission, lithium-ion battery pack and three electric motors, which rely on the various grilles and openings for sufficient cooling.
Floating C-pillars channel airflow into the huge functional side intakes ahead of the rear wheels to cool the engine and turbocharger intercoolers. Completing the look is the optional $9,000 Carbon Fiber Exterior Sport Package that adds a carbon fiber front splitter, rear diffuser and side sills, plus a dark-chrome exhaust finisher. Drop an extra $6,000 and you can choose between two exterior paints applied with a technology Acura says is common to concept cars, Valencia Red Pearl and Nouvelle Blue Pearl.
How It DrivesThe NSX is an entertaining canyon carver, but it still is more than suitable for being thrown around the track, with tricky moves performed by the intelligent Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. There’s no mechanical connection between the front and rear wheels, much like the Porsche 918 Spyder and BMW i8 — as well as the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid sedan.
Two electric motors independently power the NSX’s front wheels, while a twin-turbocharged gas engine and an additional electric motor drive the rear wheels. The electric motors alone can drive the car at low speeds and recapture electric energy through regenerative braking. The gas engine does most of the work at higher speeds as in a traditional gas-electric hybrid (though with 400 horsepower more than a typical hybrid). It’s eerie driving away from a stoplight and hearing only the whir of the electric components churning underneath the car, especially knowing what the NSX is capable of at full power.
Unlike the i8, however, the NSX isn’t a plug-in hybrid with an electric-only range and the NSX gets an Acura-claimed EPA-estimated 20/22/21 mpg city/highway/combined. Also very unlike the i8 is the NSX’s combined 573 hp, which beats the BMW by 216 hp. There isn’t much of a mileage edge over the best gasoline-only competitors, either, as the 2016 Porsche 911 Turbo S is rated at 17/24/20 mpg, but it is a jump over the 2017 Audi R8 V-10’s 14/22/17 mpg. Let’s take a step back: Fuel economy likely isn’t a priority of the supercar segment, but even so, this hybrid’s innards pay off in performance rather than fuel economy.
The NSX all-wheel drive’s distinguishing characteristic is how the two front motors can drive the right and left front wheels at different speeds to maximize cornering. Varying torque between left and right creates a yaw moment that rotates the car for sharper turn-in and reduces the necessary steering input. Torque vectoring is showcased when approaching a corner a little too hot and the car’s front tires start sliding — a characteristic of the NSX built in for safety: Applying a little throttle corrects the light understeer, and the car rights itself, rotates and rockets off the corner exploiting the instant torque of the electric motors.
Rocketing perfectly describes the NSX’s uninterrupted acceleration when the gas engine and electric motors are pushing the NSX flat-out. Acceleration lag is non-existent thanks to the electric motors filling in the dull spots before the twin-turbochargers sing their song. Launch control takes advantage of the hybrid system in the best way, initially launching the car with the instantaneous torque of the electric motors before the 500-hp gas engine pushes you the rest of the way, clicking off lightning-quick gear changes. There’s little falloff in seat-of-the-pants acceleration as the speed increases.
Standard summer tires are Continental ContiSportContact 5 P versions tuned specifically for the NSX by Acura and Continental. Out on the track, our NSX wore the optional Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires sized 245/35ZR19 in the front and 305/30ZR20 out back. Even with the aggressive Pirellis, the front tires don’t communicate road feel with the kind of feedback it takes to feel comfortable right out of the box. Unfortunately, squealing front tires at the limit of a driving line give more indication of the car’s grip than any hint communicated through the steering wheel. Gaining familiarity with the NSX takes more than a few hot laps. Once faith is gained in the car’s abilities, you can pick up the throttle earlier than expected, relying on the all-wheel drive to keep the power planted and the nose on the driving line.
Braking, on the other hand, is instantly good. Pairing the NSX’s hybrid regenerative braking with the optional carbon ceramic brakes seems like a horrible idea on paper. On their own, each of these can be grabby, nonlinear and a pain in the butt to drive smoothly. The NSX with track tires and $9,900 carbons delivers unexpected precision at high speeds but with the everyday smoothness of a regular old braking system. Anything but regular, the NSX’s electro-servo-assist braking system electronically controls the hydraulic braking action at each wheel, as well as the feedback of the brake pedal. Thanks to this electronic intervention, the pedal feel is as linear and responsive as any well-done traditional braking system. The carbon ceramic brakes are actually the only brakes available at the start of production until the standard steel brakes become available later in 2016.
An Acura-developed nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is another shining piece of technology that avoids the typical shortcomings associated with its type (or in this case, both types: a dual clutch and nine gears). Jerky starts and constant gear hunting are completely foreign to the NSX. There’s no reason to switch to paddle shifters on an open track when Track mode is chosen. The transmission automatically downshifts and rev matches to the right gear during braking, holds a gear through the corners and keeps the engine revs right where they need to be.
Driving modes make all the difference in transforming the car for street duty, because Quiet, Sport, Sport+ and Track modes have huge swings in operation. You’d think Track mode would be the most noteworthy on a car like this, but Quiet mode is perhaps even more impressive.
Adjustable driving modes often adjust steering assist, suspension, transmission and accelerator response. The NSX hybrid system’s unparalleled adjustability can dial down sensitivity to near kitty-cat levels of inoffensiveness: Quiet mode shuts up the active intake and exhaust noises, numbs accelerator and brake sensitivity, softens the adaptive suspension’s firmness and prioritizes electric-only operation during light acceleration, effectively turning the NSX into a Honda Accord coupe.
The NSX comes alive when the mode dial is turned to the right, transforming the car into a racier experience. The aural experience is perhaps the best indicator of the NSX’s modes. Just like with the rest of the car’s systems, electronic wizardry plays a part in how the NSX sounds. Most of what’s heard is real mechanical noise. The engine’s intake sound is piped into the cabin through tubes positioned at ear level, so you hear the whooshing of the engine intake and whistling of the turbochargers. On the exhaust side, flaps divert exhaust gasses past silencers when the car is set to the more aggressive modes. There’s some electronic augmentation through the stereo, too, but the end result is an exotic experience so enjoyable my co-driver and I didn’t even bother turning on the stereo.
InteriorSitting inside the NSX actually is refreshing for a “supercar.” There aren’t any weird doors to climb through or to drop into like the exotically designed BMW i8. A traditional set of doors accesses a surprisingly roomy and comfortable interior with a natural seating position and fantastic forward visibility. The A-pillar structure is a world’s-first design, according to the automaker, using ultra-high-strength steel to create the thin pillars. They combine with a low belt line and tall glass for excellent visibility. The clear forward view is as welcome on the track while pointing the nose toward an apex as it is on the road when providing a good view of pedestrians.
Areas liberally covered with Alcantara faux suede add a racy flare to the interior that’s otherwise very Acura-like in its design simplicity. Materials are authentic and borderline lavish with varieties of colors and materials delivering unique combinations more along the lines of what Porsche or Audi offer. Red, saddle and orchid colors mix with the standard manual seats’ Milano leather and Alcantara upholstery. Optional power seats are covered in semi-aniline leather with Alcantara highlights or in full semi-aniline leather. An available Alcantara headliner and a genuine leather-covered dashboard are touches often seen in high-end luxury cars; most dashes use imitation leather.
What could have been a strikingly unique feature is the push-button gear selector. That is, if it didn’t already exist in the Acura TLX midsize sedan (when equipped with nine-speed automatic transmission) or the Acura MDX three-row SUV. The feature’s odd usability for the sake of styling is a novelty more appropriate for a high-end sports car than the other models — but here it comes across as something we’ve already seen in a family SUV.
Ergonomics & ElectronicsThe NSX comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as part of the standard 7-inch Display Audio touch-screen system. The USB port compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto is located in the rear console storage box, while a second USB port in the glove box is used for charging or for other MP3 devices. The user experience is pretty typical of other Acura and Honda vehicles with touch-screens, meaning the lack of physical controls for volume and tuning is just as annoying in the NSX. Somewhat odd for a halo car is that the NSX wasn’t used as a platform for the debut of a one-off user interface or a next-generation multimedia system with improved usability. Multimedia options for the NSX include an upgraded, more-powerful ELS Studio Audio system and navigation as part of a Technology Package that also includes front and rear parking sensors. Satellite radio is an option only available with the Technology Package and is a feature some may want to seriously consider skipping because it disrupts the clean lines of the NSX’s roof by adding an antenna puck painted gloss black.
Cargo & StorageUnder the NSX’s rear hatch is a 4.4-cubic-foot trunk Acura says can fit one golf bag or a weekend’s worth of luggage for two people. The size and shape aren’t out of the ordinary for the class, though most mid-engine cars place their luggage compartment up front like the Audi A8 (8 cubic feet) and Porsche 911 Turbo (4.1 cubic feet). The NSX’s is more like the i8 (4.7 cubic feet), where the luggage compartment is at the rear. Compare specs of those models here.
SafetyLow production volume means the NSX likely won’t be crash-tested. Standard safety features include a backup camera with multiple angles and predictive backup guidelines, driver knee airbag, side airbags and side curtain airbags. Available safety features are backup and corner sensors, but you won’t find forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning or a blind spot warning system.
The NSX’s large side mirrors provide a decent view of what’s behind the NSX, though it’s still a mid-engine car so rearward visibility is limited and a blind spot warning system could add an extra layer of comfort to daily driving. Of the R8, 911 Turbo and i8, the i8 is the only one with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, while the 911 Turbo is the only one offering blind spot monitoring.
Value in Its ClassThe NSX is Acura’s first build-to-order vehicle. As it plans to make only 800 per year, Acura is taking a page from Porsche and Audi in personalization options, straying from the package-based formula of its more pedestrian models and entering the realm of asking big money for individual options. Some of those big-ticket items include asking $6,000 for optional exterior paints Valencia Red Pearl and Nouvelle Blue Pearl, $9,990 for the carbon ceramic brakes, $2,500 for full leather seats and $9,000 for the carbon fiber exterior package. Before you know it, the NSX is full steam ahead to a $200,000 asking price.
At 3,800 pounds and nearly 600 horsepower with the help of two turbochargers, the NSX might not be the lightweight, naturally aspirated machine purists remember, but staying true to the New Sports eXperience mantra has pushed Acura toward the technologically extreme car that is its 2017 NSX. Well over $150,000 might seem extreme considering some of the interior parallels with more common Acura vehicles. It’s the technology driving the NSX that’s pushing the envelope in this segment and that allows the NSX to be a sweetheart with a comfortable cabin and whisper-quiet interior when in toned-down modes, but a rip-roaring 573-hp supercar belting out ear-melting racecar noises at the flick of a dial.