Driving the original Acura NSX, and falling in love again
When, exactly, does a new car become an old car? Is it when the next model year comes around? When the next model generation comes around? When the tech inside, or the stuff under the hood, is rendered obsolete?
I’ve been pondering this question the entire magical week I’ve spent driving a nine-year-old Acura NSX-T around as a refresher course in awesomeness. The impending arrival of Acura’s hyped-to-the-heavens successor, due later this year as a 2015 model, has made me nostalgic for the first-generation model. Upon learning that Acura had a 2005 model with just 41,000 miles in its press fleet, I jumped at the chance to rekindle an old flame.
Acura’s mid-engine NSX, of course, was designed in the late 1980s, introduced in late 1990 as a 1991 model, then sold with only minor enhancements for the next 15 years — an eternity for any car, but especially sports cars. Yet the NSX was way ahead of its time in 1990, and in many respects, remains completely relevant today. Thanks to its aluminum construction, its body weighed only 462 pounds in 1990, and we’re seeing more and more vehicles (including the next-generation Ford F-150) embrace the lightweight material for both improved performance and fuel efficiency. It had a racecar-like, four-wheel double-wishbone suspension and four-wheel anti-lock vented disc brakes. The mid-mounted engine contained sophisticated technology like variable valve timing and titanium connecting rods. Furthermore, it proved to be — are you sitting down, Ferrari 328 owners? — reliable.
Just as significant, the NSX was the first mid-engine exotic to take ergonomics seriously. It brought Honda-like sensibility to the interior controls at a time when Ferrari would have put the radio in your lap if it would make the car go faster. It was low—really low—but nonetheless was an exotic you could drive every day, not just on weekends or the racetrack. It also featured a small but usable trunk behind the engine and, after 1995, was available with a removable roof panel that stowed beneath a carpeted panel above the engine. Needless to say, that’s where that panel of this car has spent most of its week with me.
The particular NSX I’m driving was already an old car when it was brand new in 2005. As I stare at the dashboard, I see not just the NSXs I tested before, but I also see my college ride, the 1992 Honda Accord that I owned for most of the Clinton era. Most of the stuff with which one interfaces in the NSX—the fat-hubbed steering wheel, little horn buttons, window toggles, cassette player (!) — was shared with other Honda products of the time. Big round gauges — again, right out of my old Accord — are front-lit at night in a dim orange, and the analog odometer is positively quaint.
The only things conspiculously bespoke inside the NSX were its chunky appendages sprouting from the steering column containing the cruise control, wiper, and hazard switches, as well as the headlamps, rear defroster button, and turn signal stalks. That and the snug, supportive seats, which only slide and recline—no heated and cooled massaging barcaloungers in here.
However impeccably maintained by Acura itself, this particular car nonetheless has an endearing patina throughout. The steering wheel rim has been rubbed shiny after years of clipping apexes; the outboard seat bolsters are a bit cracked but the upholstery remains firm and un-torn; the dashboard stitching and padding have held up remarkably well, pulling up a touch at the base of the instrument cowl but with no visible tears. This NSX is rolling proof that exotic style and durability are not mutually exclusive.