Acura NSX: A Look at the History & Future of Honda’s New Sports eXperimental

1991 Acura NSX

Supercars are meant to be blunt instruments of speed. Fearsome beasts. Tamed by the wealthy, then lorded over the peasants as a sign of power and affluence. In the 1980′s, most supercars were about as refined as a medieval ox cart, and just as difficult to drive. There was often no visibility, the cabins were cramped and hot. They only worked on the third Wednesday of the month, and the build quality was usually so bad, even the Soviets didn’t want them. So Honda decided to do something about it.

Around the same time that Don Johnson was running around Miami playing Cops & Robbers, Honda had firmly established itself as a major player in the global car market. They were also big in the world of motorsports, which gave them a cornucopia of resources to build a supercar with. Their “New Sportscar eXperimental” was intended to show the world that Honda was capable of building more than just economy cars. Their new Acura luxury brand was gaining ground, but to be taken seriously, they needed a “halo car” that was so revolutionary, it couldn’t be ignored. The kind of car that Sonny Crockett would drive.

Tasked with creating “the most sophisticated and most modern sports car in the world”, Honda engineers threw out the rule book, and created the most advanced automobile the world had ever seen. The Acura NSX was the very first production car to have an all-aluminum monocoque structure, with extruded aluminum suspension parts, and dent-resistant body panels. Compared to a conventional steel design, Honda’s supercar was 500 lbs lighter than it should have been. Then they developed the world’s first 4-channel ABS system to stop their lightweight machine, and the first electric power steering system (later models) to point it in the right direction.

1991 Acura NSX cutaway

Sitting beneath the NSX’s rear window was a 90-degree 3.0 liter V6 with the first non-motorsport application of titanium connecting rods, and the very first application of Honda’s now-famous VTEC variable valve timing system. All of this added up to 270 hp, a redline of 8,000 rpm, and a 0-60 time of around 5.5 seconds. The performance was nearly identical to a Ferrari 348, which was the car that Honda had used for its performance benchmark.

Transparent Acura NSX

Not only was Honda’s supercar just as fast a Ferrari, it comfortable and easy to drive too. The interior had a cockpit feel to it, with lots of glass, and ergonomically designed controls. The handling was electric, yet the ride didn’t stab you in the spine every time you ran over a pebble or a twig. The Acura NSX was a car that you could enjoy every day, which is why you find so many examples with north of 200,000 miles on them. Honda had succeeded in creating a supercar that had no equal, and it helped to change the way that supercars were made.

1992 Acura NSX

Several decades have passed since Honda invaded the glamorous super sports car world, and they’re getting ready to do it again with an all-new Acura NSX. Except this time, they’re using hybrid power.

Acura NSX Concept

First shown at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, the 2015 Acura NSX Concept is slated for production in 2015, but the car is still a work in progress. Acura hasn’t released any concrete details just yet, however they have indicated the general direction in which they’re going. The 2015 Acura NSX will be powered by a V6 (rumors suggest a 3.7L with titanium connecting rods) mounted mid-ship, and power will go to the rear wheels via a new wet twin-clutch 7-speed coupled with a hybrid electric motor. Gas mileage is said to be “better than 4 cylinder”, which would make the 2015 Acura NSX the world’s only super-economy-car. Hilarious.

Acura NSX Concept side

Continuing with the hybrid theme, the 2015 Acura NSX also gets what Acura is calling “Sport Hybrid AWD”. Besides the electric motor in the rear, two more electric motors are used to power the front wheels, providing torque-vectoring as the car goes through turns. Acura has released a couple of videos showing a camouflaged NSX positively rifling through turns on a race track. The McLaren P1 uses a similar hybrid system, but Honda’s been doing hybrid tech since the 90′s. So you can bet that their system will be a whole lot more advanced.

Acura NSX Prototype

Speaking to a recent roundtable of car journalists that was being hosted by Motor Trend, the new NSX’s chief engineer Ted Klaus, gave a few insights on how the car is being developed, and where the final production car is headed.

When asked about the design team’s goals and mindset for creating a new NSX, Klaus explained that the car is a “New, experimental interpretation of what a sports car should be. A car made for human beings. A vivid response to, and connection between man and machine.” In regards to the development, he said that the “Frame, chassis, and suspension were developed in the U.S., the powertrain and the electric motors were developed in Japan. The bodywork was started in Japan, then transferred to the U.S.”.

Acura NSX Concept interior

Motor Trend boss Angus Mackenzie then asked Klaus how close the final production car was to the NSX Concept (the car pictured in this article), to which Klaus replied “My opinion is, the actual car is going to be way cooler than that car (the Concept). It has that design motif, that car is clearly along the way”. So it’s safe to say that the 2015 Acura NSX could look even better once it finally goes into production.

Acura has already started to turn its old 184,000 sq-ft Logistics facility in Marysville, Ohio, into the $70 million dollar Performance Manufacturing Center. The drivetrain for the 2015 Acura NSX will be built at Honda’s engine plant in Anna, Ohio and final assembly of the car will be completed at the Marystown Performance Center, by 100 of Honda’s most senior personnel.

Acura NSX Concept rear

Motor Trend estimates the 2015 Acura NSX to be good for around 480-hp, a 0-60 time of 3.0 seconds, and a base price of around $130k-$150k. None of that is official of course. But Ted Klaus did indicate that they used the Audi R8 V10 as their primary performance benchmark, and those estimates are in-line with the Audi’s.

20-odd years ago, the Acura NSX forced supercar makers to start building better cars. So you can bet that the 2015 Acura NSX will set some new standards of its own. After all, it comes from the same company that put a vacuum cleaner in a minivan, and that will probably go down as the best idea in automotive history.


Filed Under: AcuraCar HistoryEditorialsHonda


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