As many of you may know, come the end of April, Yahoo Autos will be no more—the lights will be switched off, the doors locked, and we’ll hand in our car keys. There are two ways to deal with this: The first is to sulk, shed many tears, and pour one for my fallen homies. The second: chin up, fly to Palm Springs, rag the crap out of a new 2017 Acura NSX, and go out in a plume of tire smoke.
I chose the latter.
That’s not to say I didn’t mope, or lament what has been a fabulous five years writing for Yahoo. But I did go to Palm Springs, and consumed the entire bottle of gin myself—because hey, I’m unemployed, and therefore won’t be wasting a drop.
As for the car, well, it’s quite something. More to the point, it was the perfect machine to savor the moment—understanding that this business we’re in is both mystifying and wonderful.
It’s mystifying mainly because someone handed the keys of a $156,000 super car to a hung-over British chap, just so I’ll write a short blurb on it. Apparently, my plane ticket to California, my hotel room at the Ritz, the cost to feed me for two nights, and that bag of chips I stole from the minibar are well worth it. (Truth be told, I think they mistook me for a less educated, less sideways Chris Harris.)
I’ll take it.
That’s how this business works. You, the reader, have to determine if said “journalist” is swayed by all the free shrimp. Some most definitely are—their next meal depends on it. Then there are others, the consummate professionals, who—if the car is a piece of shit—will say “hey, you in the comments, this car is a piece of shit.” (I’ll never forget the Buick Regal GS launch, where I read a wealth of reviews praising its sporty demeanor. Snarling GNX this is not. In fact, it’s a giant dog turd that boasts a little show for zero go, and few had the guts to say it.)
I like to think we at Yahoo Autos speak honestly, and with knowledge. This is one of the things I’ll miss most about our team.
Anyhow, I’m getting distracted.
The 2017 Acura NSX. Yes, as you can tell, this ain’t your typical review—too much change is happening for my brain to write that way. And regardless, we have a nicely crafted “first drive” on site already, so check it out if my bemoaning bothers you.
Where to start? Well, we’ve been waiting for a replacement to the old Senna-engineered NSX for what feels like an eternity. And when it finally arrived, it did so with four whole motors—a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 powering the rear axle (good for 500 horsepower), accompanied by a small electric motor sandwiched between that powertrain and the 9-speed gearbox. Then there are two further electric motors turning the front axle, capable of working independently to provide seamless—and very clever—torque vectoring. Unlike a plug-in Prius or Chevy Volt, or even a BMW i8, this hybrid technology does little to help fuel economy. There is no real “all electric” range to speak of, although it will travel at least a few meters in silence. During my day driving through mountains and on highways, I averaged just 15 mpg.
Rather, the powertrain layout is engineered for performance—filling the delay while the turbos spool up with instantaneous electric torque. This ensures zero to 60 mph takes less than three seconds, thanks to a combined 573 horsepower and 476 lb.-ft. of torque rushing to all four wheels. It does so effortlessly, without the plume of tire smoke I was determined to exhibit during my swansong. It doesn’t half feel quick, though—like an army of solar-powered robots forcing you back into the seat.
The cabin is unremarkable, but pleasant—think John Kasich. Whereas the exterior is all flash, low and wide; one approaching in your rearview mirror depicts a scene from Jaws, minus the fin. It also attracts more attention than just about any vehicle I’ve driven.
Everyone stopped. Everyone stared. Everyone asked about it; one guy even took a selfie with it. If the NSX was designed to be noticed, Acura succeeded in spades—which is good, because the lineage between the outgoing NSX—a machine that took on supercar giants like Ferrari at an attainable price—is nowhere to be found.
In fact, you can’t really compare the old NSX to the new one, beyond that they both challenge the established marques by going about things differently. The 2017 NSX is heavy (3,800 lbs.), is not simple (many motors), and lacks the emotional connection the original grasped. But the more you drive it, the more you start to love it.
If you believe the original reviews of the 2017 NSX, you’d deem the car to be sterile and boring. I don’t agree. On track, wrapped in the optional Pirelli Trofeo R tires—which would admittedly make a Yugo lap the ‘Ring in under 8 minutes—the NSX feels, well, a bit like an Audi R8: fast, capable, comforting and precise. The thump out of the turns due to the electric motors is exhilarating, and the carbon-ceramic brakes are perhaps the best I’ve felt on a production car, with the exception of a new Camaro Z/28. It’s worth noting that, due to it boasting a brake-by-wire system, the pedal feel is simulated. And it varies based on driving mode—Quiet, Sport, Sport+, or Track. It’s very clever, and it feels natural, even though it’s not.
If you’re seeking proof that weighty tech like this pays off, Acura says it posted an unofficial time of 2 minutes 49 seconds around Virginia International Raceway. (For reference, during its Lightning Lap competition in 2014, Car & Driver managed a 2 minute 50.8 second lap in a Ferrari F12berlinetta.)
So it corners well, and the trick torque vectoring at the front ensures understeer is kept to a minimum (it is still present, but trail braking eliminates much of it). The various driving modes alter the software that controls the car’s handling. In Track it feels neutral, whereas in Sport it pushes like a pig. The machine transforms at the flick of a switch.
On the mountain roads, however, the NSX makes most sense.
Sport+ mode is where you want to be, otherwise known as “windy road setting” (technical term). Magnetic ride ensures the bumps pose little issue, the low center of gravity (the engine is situated below the driver’s elbows) keeps it planted in the turns, and forward visibility truly is best-in-class. You can ignore that, in a $156,000 car, navigation isn’t standard (come on!), and that a car that is designed to excel more on street than track has just one clip-on cup holder— and it wasn’t even present in our test vehicle, much to the dismay of my Starbucks.
You can ignore all this (just) because it’s damn fun to pedal hard, and completely predictable.
The NSX makes you feel invincible. The instant torque explodes off hairpin bends with barely a chirp (you don’t even notice the 1,000-foot drop to the right). It’ll make a great hillclimb car, and expect two race-prepped NSXs to debut at Pikes Peak this summer.
The engine noise in the cabin is loud and intriguing (it doesn’t sound crappy like most V6s, thanks to a 75 degree bank). You’re also aware of every gush and whine the turbos and electric motors exude, as if you’re at one with the process. From the outside, however, the exhaust note lacks character. This is a shame, but then the battle between Honda Japan and Honda America resulted in over 100 videoconferences arguing about how it should sound (Japanese culture deems pops and splutters crude, whereas we in the U.S. love a good gurgle). It’s no Jaguar F-Type or 911 GT3—a pair of cars American engineers aimed to rival in auditory quality—but then few are.
It is what it is. And that is simply a damn good sports car (yes, sports car, not supercar, as Acura would have you believe). It lacks the excitement, passion and ferociousness of a McLaren, a Ferrari, or a Lamborghini, but it’s more visually pleasing than a Porsche 911 Turbo, and just as useable every day. Despite the clever tech, it feels normal—which could be seen as a compliment or a critique, depending on your viewpoint. If you take it for what it is, and not dig too deeply for that nonexistent connection between it and the old NSX, then you’ll be impressed.
I sure was.
But then what do I know? I’m just a former race car driver that once wore pink, soon-to-be found frequenting the unemployment line.