By the mid-1980s, Japanese carmakers like Honda had already shown American carmakers that they could beat them at their own game by making better cars and selling them for smaller prices. So naturally, Honda changed their sights to a market that they hadn’t yet conquered: the rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine sports car.
The first Honda NSX can trace its roots back to the HP-X concept, which stood for Honda Pininfarina eXperimental. After all, what better way to create a European-style sports car than to get an Italian design house like Pininfarina to make your concept?
Like most concept cars at the time, the HP-X was rather outlandish--It looked like a cheese wedge turned on its side that had grown four wheels. However, technologies pioneered on the HP-X and Honda’s Formula One team eventually produced the NS-X, or New Sportscar eXperimental.
In 1990, the first generation of NSX hit the roads featuring the world’s first all-aluminum body covering a chassis and engine that could compare with Ferrari for roughly half the price. About 8,900 units were sold around the world before Honda ceased production in 2005. Honda wouldn’t return to make the second generation of NSX until 2016.
Originally, Honda executives had wanted to introduce the new NSX in 2010, but the global depression convinced them to delay the supercars launch in favor of better market conditions. Two years later, the NSX Concept appeared at the Detroit Auto Show, and then three years after that the production model hot the road as a 2016 model.
The second generation NSX has many improvements over the first generation, starting with the name. Now NSX stands for New Sports eXperience. Once again, the experience was to create a car that could compete with European supercars at a lower price.
Whether they succeeded or not is more of an open question.
To start, the NSX is actually a hybrid vehicle with three electric motors to go along with its rear-mounted 3.5-L twin-turbo V6. The V6 alone produces 500 hp, with the combined efforts of all three electric motors producing 573 hp and 476 lb-ft torque.
Thanks to an electric motor pushing each front wheel and the remaining motor and engine turning the rear axle, the NSX features full torque vectoring all-wheel-drive. It also gains the benefit of powerful and instant torque thanks to its trio of electric motors, which helps it get from zero to sixty in just 2.9 seconds. Top speed is rated at 191 mph, with a quarter-mile time in the high 10-second range.
Power is routed through a 9-speed dual-clutch transmission with each wheel sporting regenerative Brembo brakes. Driver’s can select from 4 different drive modes: Sport, Sport Plus, Track, and Quiet. Each mode adjusts the steering, brake, throttle response, and stability control depending on the level of performance required. Quiet mode disengages the V6 entirely and allows the NSX to run silently on its three electric motors.
It’s also the exact opposite of Track mode, which opens the NSX’s active exhaust so the full fury of the twin-turbo V6 can be heard inside the cockpit.
Although the NSX doesn’t feature the sort of active aerodynamics that adorns other modern European supercars, every body panel has been meticulously analyzed to produce the ideal amount of downforce and cooling. It’s also been designed to reduce drag as much as possible, with little touches like recessed door handles adding an air of sleek speed to the car.
Most of the car is made out of aircraft-grade aluminum, but you can request a new NSX to be built with a carbon fiber roof or rear decklid spoiler.
While the outside of the NSX is absolutely gorgeous and worthy of being shown next to the likes of McLaren and Lamborghini, the inside leaves a bit to be desired. There are still the requisite amounts of leather, carbon fiber accents, and Alcantara covering every surface, but you quickly see where Acura cheaped out on some of the components.
The Infotainment, for example, is a 7.0-inch unit that looks like it came straight out of a 2012 Honda Acura. Even the menu system looks dated, and there’s no sign any ability to handle 4G LTE or Wifi hot-spotting. One could argue that you’ve already got a phone so your car doesn’t need such trivialities, but it still makes one of the most important driver interactions seem cheap and dated.
Take the McLaren 570S. At roughly $190,000, the 570S holds a nearly $35,000 premium over the NSX’s $157,500, and the NSX does have more power than the 570S’s 562 hp, but the interior styling just seems vastly improved over the NSX. The touchscreen may be the same size, but the cleanliness of the wheel, center console, and instrument cluster is a stark contrast to the NSX’s busy, even cluttered cockpit.
Is it $35,000 more appealing? Not to most of us, but when you’ve already decided to spend $150,000 on a supercar, what’s a little bit more to get one that’s a little nicer to look at on the inside?
The NSX still succeeds in its historic goal of being a European-style mid-engined sports car that can outperform anything in its price bracket. It can even compare favorably to vastly more expensive cars like the Ferrari 488 or the McLaren 570S.
But the NSX finds itself in an odd age in automotive history, where those wealthy enough to afford a $160,000 supercar can just as easily afford one twice as much. It’s not enough to merely compete on price--a supercar needs to stand out. And what the NSX stands for is just competent performance and little else.
On the other hand, the original NSX has retained its value over the years whereas most European supercars haven’t. Perhaps like a fine artist’s paintings, the true value of a car is only seen after it dies.