Top Secret: The 2018 Acura NSX Revisited

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When we first reviewed the 3rd gen NSX, we felt that we might have been a little harsh in our review. After all, we were comparing it to cars in much higher price brackets and we still had some expectations that had been set by the first gen NSX in our minds. So when we got an invite from Honda to thrash the NSX around properly at their secret test track facility in the California desert, we leaped at the chance to really see what the NSX is on its own merits and see how our opinions might change.

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Driving a ways into the desert along the 14 freeway, past Edwards Air Force base and down some small, unmarked roads, we first thought we were being lead to either a body dump site our just into the wilderness for the sake of it. But low and behold, eventually, we found a very nice sign that read: Honda. We turned up the road and found ourselves at a security gate, which the whole experience of entry gave a feeling of entering Area 51 where we knew we’d be seeing some top secret stuff. After getting settled inside the visitors lounge, we were given a tour of the control room, which is straight out of a movie with a giant wall covered in monitors watching everything that’s happening on each section of the track. After conversing with the staff, we were led back into the lounge for a briefing by a few Acura executives and a racing instructor. We were then led outside to get acquainted with the NSX.

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Each of us was paired with a racing instructor, and before we could enter the actual track we had to have our phones inspected by security so they could tape over our cameras. With a lot of new and classified vehicles currently testing, no photograph was allowed on track (many thanks to Acura for providing most of the pictures you see in this article). Once we cleared security, we drove our NSX to a staging area deep inside the test track grounds so we could get another briefing an what specifics paces we’d be putting the car through. For the first section, we’d be doing a high speed oval test, bringing the car to speeds in excess of 130 mph. Next, we would take the car to the acceleration and handling tarmac to test the NSX’s launch control from stand still and it’s handling when put into turns at speed. Lastly, we’d be taking on the full canyon road replica course, which is modeled after some canyon roads in Southern California to provide real-world simulated driving conditions, including a steep, blind uphill climb and steeper down hill decent portion. Mission accepted.

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Taking the NSX on the high speed oval, we had the car in Sport Mode. Despite this, the pull from 40 to 140 mph was rather uneventful. The NSX is incredibly smooth, and with the techno wizardry under the hood working to shelter you from all the violent forces of nature, you don’t actually feel the speed you hitting. The 9 speed transmission responsible for that, as with so many gears the car can shift extremely seemly as you rack up the speed. So far, our initial opinion of the NSX remains the same.

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Next we took the NSX to the acceleration and handling tarmac, where there are some other Honda employees putting some minivans and civics through their paces on the handling part of the track, so we got the NSX into position behind two cones on the drag strip part of the tarmac and came to a full stop. The NSX has 573 combined horsepower from it’s turbocharged V6 and electric motor, so there should be some grunt with a full pedal mash. We hammered the pedal to the floor upon hearing our instructor say “Go,” and the NSX pulled forward at speed. Sadly, again, for something that should get our hearts racing, the full throttle pull was not as eventful as we would hope because the NSX is so smooth on take off. We came back around for another try on the drag strip, but this time we are told to use the launch control. We put the car in track mode, engaged the launch control, and then mashed the pedal just like previous run. Suddenly, the NSX has become a completely different car. Suddenly, one can feel the might of each individual horse in the 573 horse stampede as the NSX rockets forward while trying to tear its tires off. The transmission keeps the power delivery going a bit longer and so in a few quick seconds (and screams) later, we hit the braking point and bring the car to a stop. Sitting for a moment, with a very giddy grin, it seems that the NSX can show the driver its full power. Finally, we’ve gotten a proper glimpse of what the NSX can be, so now we’ve very curious to put it on the handling course.

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We get to the handling course and do a drive through it at a decent pace in track mode so we can get familiar with the car in the corners. We hit some long sweeping S turns that open into larger arcing turns to bring the course around full circle. Our second run through, when we get to the first S turn, we’re told to go full throttle in the middle of the turn. So, being the Yes Men that we are, we complied. In track mode the NSX’s traction control system goes fairly hands free until a certain point and then it manages each tire to let the car sort itself out. Translation: When we went full throttle in the middle of the turn the NSX gracefully arced sideways into a spectacular drift. Naturally, instinct tells you to counter steer, but our racing instructor had us keep the steering wheel straight, and magically, the car sorted itself out and was somehow straight again, despite the pedal being mashed the whole time. This discovery led us to drifting the NSX through the entire handling course for 3 extremely fun rubber-shredding laps (much to the amusement of the other Honda employees, we found out later). The NSX is a shockingly easy car to drift and highlights that it does know how to have some fun. So how does this all come together?

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For the final assignment, we went to the canyon road simulation course which was a mix of straights, sweeping turns, hairpin turns and elevation changes. As we made our way through the course, the most terrifying part is the about 1/3rd the way through there was a blind uphill ascent, which rocketing up a hill at 60 mph that you can’t see over the crest of is scary, but at 75 we had entered a zone of pure terror. Then getting hard on the brakes downhill into a sharp left turn, we were glad we didn’t learn that the NSX uses brake-by-wire tech, which means that the brakes aren’t physically connected to the pedal, until after we had finished the drive. Don’t get us wrong, the brakes are great and responsive, but when you’re convinced your racing instructor is trying to get you airborne off the track, the last thing you want to hear is that you’re trusting your ability to stop with a small servo that relays your brake pedal input to the braking system.

As we got more familiar with the road layout, we were able to really push the NSX around it to get a better feel for the car. But as we pushed the NSX to it’s limits, that’s where met our original problem with the car, but now we fully understood what it really was. The NSX can handle and corners very well and in some really tight turns the understeer will show up and it can start to drift a bit. That’s all good and fine, until you realize you’re using your eyes to do 100% of the driving because the NSX keeps the driving feel isolated from you.

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The NSX is a clever car and it’s loaded with all of the latest tech. But it’s almost too clever for its own good. That’s a problem because when you don’t have a good read on the driving feel of the car, it becomes very difficult to place the car exactly how you want it and you can’t physically feel where the car is. The NSX is actually a harder car to really drive at first, because you can’t feel what’s happening so you can’t feel where the car’s limits are when you’re getting near them. Unlike BMW M cars or the McLaren 570S, those cars are easier to get a sense of because you can feel where they are at all times and you get an immediate sense of the cars limits, so you know how far you can push it much sooner. So the tech makes driving the NSX extremely easy, but that same tech makes the learning curve of the NSX much harder to approach since it isolates so much of the driving feel from you.

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That being said, for what the NSX is trying to do, that approach makes sense as 95% of the owners will never dare explore the limits of the car. So it’s setup to be smooth and event free from a driver feel perspective. We did manage to get a better sense of the car as we pushed it on the canyon course lap after lap, and even managed to set a civilian blind uphill ascent speed record of 118 mph (on that particular run we basically accepted that we were going to fly off track and to our shock we didn’t because the sorcery that is downforce). After our last lap, we brought the NSX back to the staging area for a debrief session and some refreshments.

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We had to admit, we were a bit torn on the NSX after putting it through it’s proper paces. Our verdict is that it’s a supercar trapped inside a luxury car, which makes it like a tiger in a zoo. The car drives very smooth, quiet and easy. But put it in launch control, and suddenly you get a flash of the raw nature of the car, like when a tiger suddenly decides the zookeeper will make a nice snack as we all get a firsthand reminder that at heart, it’s a killing machine. The fact that the NSX is very easy to drift reminds you that in an age of socially responsible cars the NSX can have some guilt-free fun, but it also makes drifting a bit too easy in a point-and-shoot way which is fun, but not a testament of your skill as a driver. Paired with the lack of driving feel, all this adds up to a car that is a very good car. A very accessible car. And a very easy to do what you will with it car. So as a car, it’s fantastic. But this car is a reflection of itself and its engineering, not so much a reflection of your driving skill. So, to properly view the NSX, it should be thought of as a sleek luxury car and not a supercar. As a luxury car the NSX checks all the boxes. As a supercar it falls short because it’s not setup to actualize the driver’s potential.

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So our final thoughts? As a luxury car we like it, it makes total sense when viewed under that lens. If you want a hardcore supercar, this isn’t the car for you. If you want a sleek coupe that’s easy and comfortable to drive with some fun tech, and highly accessible performance, than this is the car you’re looking for. For our taste we prefer the true supercars, so while we enjoyed the NSX for a day, it would not be the car we’d take home for the long term. If our driving style was had a different set of priorities, then this car would be a no-brainer, and we feel this car will steal a lot of business from Porsche and potential Audi R8 buyers.

Most importantly, want to extend our thanks to Acura for having us, for hosting one of the best driving events we’ve ever been too, and for their insanely awesome staff. We’d honestly go back in a heart beat just to hang with the staff, we wouldn’t even need to drive, they are just that fun to be around and passionate about cars. It was a treat to give the NSX a proper thrashing and review, especially on a top secret test site seldom seen by civilians eyes. As the NSX is a great luxury car, our hope is that as we departed for home during the sunset, in an unmarked garage on the far side of the top secret facility, a more hardcore version of the NSX is being worked on, because while presently the car is more beauty than beast, we know there is a wild animal at the heart of this car that’s trying to claw its way out.

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Cheers,

-JB

 

Weapons of Choice II: The McLaren 570S Spyder Vs The Lamborghini Huracan RWD Spyder Vs The Acura NSX

If you recall from our test last year, we took out the McLaren 570S Coupe and the Lamborghini Huracan Spyder for a head-to-head line up. The Huracan won that contest, but it got us thinking this year that it would be more fair to make the playing field a bit more even. Spyder vs spyder, rear-wheel drive vs rear wheel drive, that should make the results a bit more interesting. And just to add spice to the mix, why not toss a wild card into the mix as well. This year we did just that with 3 supercars:

The Cars: Lamborghini LP-580 Huracan Spyder VS McLaren 570S VS Acura NSX

The Location: Carmel, California

The Lamborghini LP580-2 Huracan Spyder:

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As Lamborghini fans we were exited to see how the real-wheel drive setup would impact the feel of the Huracan compared to the all wheel drive. Starting at $220,000, it’s $42,000 cheaper than the All-Wheel drive Huracan Spyder, so it has that going for it.

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Compared to the All-wheel drive version, the Rear-Wheel drive Huracan is virtually identical in appearance except for the front and rear bumpers, which looks slightly more aggressive on the All- Wheel drive car. The Rear-Wheel drive car also has 30 less horsepower, so instead of the 610 of the All-Wheel drive version you have “only” 580 horsepower.

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Turning on the Huracan is an event, as the V10 roars to life. The naturally aspirated engine provides instant power and terror and it’s nice to see that despite having less power than the All-Wheel drive, the same amount of punch is delivered. The handling is the hugest difference between the All-Wheel drive and the Rear-Wheel drive variants, as the LP580 feels more nimble and agile than the AWD version. The LP580 actually feels a lot like the McLaren 570S in how accessible the car feels, which inspires confidence as you throw it around the turns at speed. The RWD drive also feels more responsive to direction input from the steering wheel, making the car feel that much more impressive rather than terrifying.

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The McLaren 570S Spyder:

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When we drove the 570S coupe, we felt it was a solid car but not an exciting car. Over the last year we must admit the styling has grown on us a lot more (maybe because we don’t care for the front end of the big brother 720S), but if the Spyder was like the coupe, then we’d be in for a purely technical drive with subdued engine sounds and less-responsive-than-we’d-like-it-to-be braking.

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Having our pick of Spyders to thrash, we opted for the smurf blue (Curacao Blue) which we thought was a stunning color on the car. Turning it on we heard the twin turbo-charged V8 growl to life, which was unexpected because the coupe we drove last year sounded subdued. The Spyder starts at $211,000, which is $16,000 more than the coupe, and we must say it’s more than worth it.

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What we didn’t like about the coupe, the lack of emotion and sound, seems to be what McLaren directly addressed with the Spyder. The Spyder had all of the things we loved, which was the solid feel and confidence inspiring handling, but somehow the Spyder felt more analogue and connected to the driver. It was a bit weird because the McLaren is very anti-analogue: It’s got electric steering, a turbo charged engine and more computing power than silicon valley. And yet it somehow felt old school, playful and a little more raw. If we had been blind folded while in the coupe and the Spyder we would have sworn that they where to 2 completely different cars.

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Did the 570S Spyder also address the other things we disliked about the coupe? Well, when it came to the brakes, not at all. The brakes still take too long feel like they’re working which forces you to radically adjust your braking zones because you know in your mind that they will work but you instinctively don’t rust them as the brake pedal has to travel a little too far for comfort. The exhaust note issue has been thoroughly and gloriously addressed, as the Spyder growls aggressively, especially when in track mode. The only other annoyance is that even while in track mode the transmission automatically kept shifting up, instead of letting us cruise in a lower gear. We know better than the machines and it annoys us when they take our power of choice away. If those two items get fixed in future updates of this car then the 570S Spyder is going to be tough for anything to beat.

The 2017 Acura NSX:

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As fans of the original NSX, we must admit that we had mixed feelings about the new NSX before we drove it. We where excited to see the moniker return sporting some fun new technology, but we also were not exactly thrilled with how far away from the original NSX concept the new version deviated. The original NSX was about simplicity and superior handling. The concept for the new one seems to be more about the latest technology and driving aids over the pure driving experience, but we didn’t want to rush to judgement.

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The NSX starts at $157,000 with only a few minor options, so what you see is pretty much what you get. At that price, it’s about $50,000 cheaper than the Lamborghini and the McLaren, so it seems to be the bargain car to buy. On the exterior the NSX was draped in a gorgeous red. Though we liked the color we felt the design of the NSX to be a little underwhelming…The original had a very unique look but the present generation one looks a little too much like the Audi R8. The interior of the NSX is small but fairly cozy. The ergonomics take a few minutes to get used to which is a stark contrast to the original, which was just a seat and manual transmission. But, we were not here to compare the new NSX to the old one, so compared to the McLaren and the Lamborghini, the interior did feel rather nice, though the Lamborghini’s was the easiest to navigate.

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Firing up the NSX is not much of an event, as it starts up in silent mode. That’s perfectly fine if you want to start your car so your wife won’t hear you leave as you head to your girlfriend’s house, but if you compare it to the McLaren and the Lamborghini, both of those cars give you the feeling of the car coming alive, where as the NSX just lets you know that car is on with a change in the dashboard display.

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Stealthily cruising our way out into the road in Eco mode, we put the car in sport mode and suddenly we heard a little life coming from the 573 horsepower V6, which is turbo charged. We took the NSX up a winding canyon road and we had to admit that it felt very solid when going around turns. While not the fastest feeling car the NSX does feel planted at speed as the AWD system works to ensure maximum grip at all times. So what is there not to like about the NSX? Not too much, which is a problem, because that’s the exact same answer when you ask the question of what is there to love about the new NSX? Not too much. The NSX is a good car, but in this day and age good isn’t good enough to be special. Especially compared to the McLaren and the Lamborghini. Sure they both cost a lot more, but those cars also feel uniquely special and magical in their own ways. The NSX is a great machine, but it doesn’t really standout in anyway, it looks too similar to another car, it sounds nice but not exceptionally special, and the driving feel is good, but nothing to brag about. It’s a grade A trying to compete in a field of A+ candidates, and that is where the NSX falls short.

The Verdict:

It was an interesting group, with all the cars having similar power but drastically different price points. Overall we still love the Lamborghini but were surprisingly impressed by how much more we love the McLaren 570S Spyder over the 570S coupe. The NSX is a bargain in comparison to the other two, but it seems to be a case of you get what you pay for as we where disappointed with how minimum level the car feels.

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Ranking in 3rd place is the NSX. Despite having similar numbers and being a huge bargain over the other 2 cars, the NSX feels very minimum level for a supercar. It has the minimum level of speed, of handling, styling and sound to be a supercar. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a good car. But as we mentioned before, in this day and age, being a good car isn’t enough to make it stand out. Frankly we feel that the Lexus LC500 has more personality and feel and at $100,000 it’s more of a bargain than the NSX, so if you want a special car from Japan that may be the way to go.

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In 2nd place, only by a few points is the McLaren 750S Spyder. We seriously love this car. Compared to the 570S Coupe we thought the 570S Spyder was 10 times more superior and it was a blast to drive. McLaren pulled off a very brilliant and difficult trick: They engineered the analogue feel into a car that isn’t analogue at all. In the smurf blue it looked really good, the exhaust note was amazing and car’s handling was sublime. Our only issues with the car are the auto-up-shifting from the transmission and again, the brakes where our biggest gripe. But no lie, we did spec one out for ourselves on McLaren’s website after our drive, we loved it that much.

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In first place and still champion is the Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2 Rear-Wheel Drive Spyder (that’s a mouth full). The 570S Spyder gave it a great run for it’s money, but the Lamborghini was able to edge it out because it has the looks, sound and classic Lamborghini insanity in the feel of the car that makes it the definitive supercar. Paired with very responsive brakes and a transmission that will let you red-line the engine as much as you want all day long, the Huracan beats the other two on that front as well. The V10 is hard to beat, and with the feel of the rear-wheel drive matching the feel of the McLaren, that is what solidified the decision for us. If we could take all of these cars home we would take the McLaren and the Lamborghini, but if we could only choose one, we’d have to go with the Huracan.

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Cheers,

-JB

Skyline Road: A San Fran Road Test Of The C7 Covette vs McLaren 650S vs Gen 1 Acura NSX

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During our recent San Francisco trip, we decided to reach out to a few friends and go a for a drive up San Francisco’s amazing Skyline Road on Highway 84.  What a drive it turned out to be.

The C7 Corvette Stingray Convertible

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Utilizing the app Turo, we snagged a C7 Corvette Stingray convertible with a Z51 package for a great price. The 450 Horsepower V8 in the Vette is a formidable weapon to be in control of, but fortunately it’s very accessible in the C7 platform. Unlike Corvette of old, where mashing the gas peddle was a game of Russian-roulette where either you went fast or went fast sideways into a tree, in the C7 the car is planted and stay planted so you can enjoy the full bellowing of the exhaust note as the world zips by.

Unlike the base model one we drove before, this one had the Z51 package which means that the car has a sportier feel, especially when taking it in the twisties. Top down, race mode on, and the road ahead, we zipped through the forest chasing the other two cars in a drive to be remembered. The Vette held its own on the twists and turns and really made up ground on the straights. The balance of the chassis is really impressive on the car, and if you’re familiar with it’s family heritage it’s very hard to see any relation. That’s what makes the C7 platform special; it’s undeniably American Musclecar glory at it’s best, but it’s also proper fun, it handling amazingly, and you can actually enjoy driving the car instead of trying to wrestle it under control.

The Generation 1 Acura NSX

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Back in the early 1990’s, Honda shocked the world by saying they were going to build a car similar to a Ferrari and then they actually did it. The original NSX is one of those milestone cars because it had the looks and driving feel of a supercar during it’s time, but also had the quality and the reliable family cars that Honda was making at the time. This paradigm shift-cause other supercar makers to get better, and in the big picture it lead the market to make some ridiculously cool cars that had this new thing called quality in them.

In the modern area, the Gen 1 NSX looks like a dinosaur, a remnant of a time long past. But that doesn’t mean the “cool” factor has worn of. Quite the opposite, the NSX is like a velociraptor on the road. It might be ancient, but it can run. It’s handling is sublime, and this particular example has a racing inspired exhaust on it which makes the tiny 6 cylinder engine roar. In the hairpin turns it murders the other 2 cars because it’s crazy light and hyper-agile. In the straights it gets left in the dust, but then again, it was meant to be the best handling car, not the fastest in a sprint.

The McLaren 650S Spyder

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The 650S may seem like an unfair contender to throw in this contest, but we’re not going to complain about that…ever. Yes the McLaren costs 3 times the combined price of the NSX and Corvette. Yes it is insanely faster in the straights, more hardcore in the turns, and has all the computing power of Silicon Valley built into it. But that’s what makes it a great addition to this group, it’s a third philosophy of cars and that’s radically different than the other two. The NSX is old school, bare-bones go-kart style handling. The Corvette is power on top of more power for great speed and screaming exhaust…because America. The 650S is about using science and engineering to engineer the most superior machine possible. Every millimeter of the 650S reflects that thought process, each polish panel and perfectly aligned bolt was designed with maximum performance above all in mind.

While the Vette and the NSX have very loud and distinct sounds, the 650S is more humble in that regard. But speed wise it is the king of the three, as on the straights it makes the other 2 appear parked and in the turns it can devour them a a frighting pace. But that’s the brilliance of the 650S, it’s not just a driver’s car, it’s a race car driver’s car. It’s the car you take when you need all the 10/10ths you can get. It’s the weapon of choice for the racer who wants to set a new lap record. Simply put it was created for one purpose and it does it brilliantly.

Final Verdicts

Corvette – America summed up in car, the C7 has proven to be a proper car and a boat load of fun. Yeeha!

NSX – Old-school and zippy, the Gen 1 NSX is a car every car buff should drive at least once.

650S – Mad science at it’s best, the 650S will blow the doors off of most things and connects with your inner Le Mans driver.

If we could, we’d just take all 3 home with us. Each one is a distinct and unique take on the idea of what a car should be, and stacked head to head they each shine in their own right. Which would you take home with you?

Cheers,

– JB