The 2020 Acura NSX Is The Supercar You Misunderstood
Acura's latest halo car is another good technical exercise.
When the original NSX arrived in 1990, it received serious praise. Built in a spotless Japanese factory, this halo car from Acura (Honda, for you non-North American readers) was crafted with loads of aluminum in its chassis and body, and introduced the VTEC valvetrain. The early NSX generation showed the world Acura's performace car capabilities, providing a mid-engined performance car that could slay twisty roads, perform brilliantly on track, carry loads of luggage in its huge trunk, fit two tall occupants inside its spacious cabin, and could do all of this for a lot less money than its competition.
After years of anticipation, and a few concept attempts tossed in the bin, the new production NSX showed up in 2017. Acura's decision to build its halo car in America came as a surprise to many purists, but the NSX is still hand-built. Boasting edgy looks, proper supercar performance, and a hint less practicality, this third iteration of the NSX sports a new hybrid powertrain that is more focused on providing speed rather than extra MPGs. In 2019, the NSX got a mild update for better handling, and I got to see it built up close--in Acura's Performance Manufacturing Center in Ohio--before flogging it at the nearby proving grounds.
Having only two brief stints in the current NSX, I asked the folks at Acura if I could test one out for my typical week-long review. After a bit of coordinating, this 2020 example showed up at my home with a full tank of fuel and a week of playtime ahead.
The Important Specs
Acura gives the 2020 NSX its Sport Hybrid powertrain that combines a mid-mounted twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with a trio of electric motors. With a hint of extra electrified power, the 2020 NSX produces a combined 573 horsepower and 476 lb-ft (645 Nm) of torque. Through a 9-speed DCT, the NSX uses its hybrid powertrain and Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system to rocket from 0-60 MPH in just 2.9 seconds on its way to a top speed of 191 MPH. While employing plenty of aluminum in its architecture and body, the hybrid system and its batteries add some weight, making the NSX tip the scales at 3,878 pounds (1,759 kilos), with a 42/58 weight distribution.
While it doesn't look very different from the 2017 and 2018 models, thankfully losing the beak styling up front, the 2019 NSX got a big list of upgrades underneath. With better Continental SportContact 6 tires, Acura fitted plenty of stiffer suspension and steering components while revising its drive system tuning to give the NSX even better handling. The 2020 Acura NSX competes with the Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, and McLaren 570S, and has more power, faster acceleration, shorter braking, and higher Gs registered on the skidpad than its trio of rivals, while having a lower starting price.
The last 2005 model--with its high-revving naturally-aspirated 3.2-liter V6 and precise 6-speed manual transmission--sold for around $90,000, and now the base figure for the 2020 NSX starts at $157,500. My tester checked nearly every option box to add Valencia Red paint, lightweight Y-spoke wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, upgraded leather power seats, premium audio, an Alcantara headliner, and loads of carbon fiber appointments inside the cabin, engine bay, and around the exterior to ring up an MSRP of $202,995.
A Usable Daily Supercar
Practicality and supercar are words that play nicely these days, and the Acura NSX is more than civil for your daily driving needs. Its adaptive suspension is smooth yet responsive, especially in the quiet drive mode, allowing you to smoothly cruise around your city. Even in the sport setting, things sharpen up, but without breaking your back. The hybrid powertrain is calm when you're driving like a normal person, but is ready to pounce when the mood strikes you.
When driving around town, I kept the dynamic mode in quiet, to lighten the steering weight, reduce the conventional engine use, and allow the NSX to engage its EV mode to save gas and operate in silence. EPA estimates claim 21/22/21 MPGs, and because I made sure to give the NSX plenty of exercise, I averaged 19 MPGs during my test.
The NSX's shape will get loads of second looks anywhere you go, and having owned a 1992 example ages ago, there are hints of the current car's shape inside and out that remind me of that JDM icon. The swept A-pillar, low cowl, and plunging front end are reminiscent of the older NSX, and the center console and audio system sweep up toward the front of the dash too.
The NSX's gauge pod is modern enough, but because this car was developed nearly a decade ago, the instrument screen isn't of the highest quality versus the competition. I do like how it changes the data and tachometer depending on which drive mode you select. The steering wheel is just like the ones you've seen in Acuras over the past few years, with practical buttons and controls for all your audio, cruise control, and instrumentation menu selections.
Because it's packed with powertrain and batteries, the current NSX doesn't have the massive trunk its predecessors featured, but can still hold a couple smaller travel bags or a single golf bag. If you're taking a short trip for two, you'll be okay with the storage space. Unlike most exotic cars, the NSX gets a pair of--removable--functional cupholders mounted to the passenger side of the center tunnel.
For Ripping Fun Roads
Different from the high-revving VTEC engines in previous NSXs, the 2020 variant has gobs of torque across the rev range, thanks to the turbochargers and the hybrid supplement. Acceleration is smooth and potent, whether you're leaving a stoplight in a rush or passing a slow moving truck on the freeway. Delivering the power is a bit understated, and without a massive turbo lag-filled shove nor a screaming engine note, the NSX does seem a bit tame for a supercar.
Don't mistake it for being slow, as in less time than it takes to read this sentence, you can go from a dead stop to speeds that'll have you wearing handcuffs. Engage launch mode in sport+ or track mode, and you'll get a better indication of the efficiency in which the NSX can rocket ahead, watching the digital speedometer indicate massive numbers in a blitz. Grip from Acura's SH-AWD is nicely supplemented by Continental's SportContact 6 tires. Measuring 245/35/19 up front and 305/30/20 out back, the Continentals offer tons of stickiness in the bends, even during longer stints. The trade off is a bit less traction in the rain, paired with some extra noise on the highway, but they're not much louder than my favorite Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
Simply put, the NSX slays the twisty stuff. Because of the trio of electric motors, with two of them driving the front wheels independently, this fast Acura manages all sorts of grip. Attribute some of the NSXs good behavior to having a front track that's two inches wider than the rear (65 vs 63), and a 103.5-inch wheelbase. Steering feedback is a bit light with your hands gripping the just thick enough wheel, and I crave a hint more input required to make a car of this sort change direction at speed.
Acura's SH-AWD does a brilliant job of managing torque between all four wheels, seamlessly putting the grip where it's needed. Less than talented drivers will look like a pro behind the wheel of the NSX, much like I experienced in the Nissan GT-R I recently reviewed, but this Acura is much more composed at any speed. A departure from the first generation NSX, which demanded a more talented driver with steady, clean hands to exploit its capabilities, this new Acura's software and hardware do the heavy lifting for you. The NSX's four dynamic drive modes are nicely differentiated, as opposed to some performance cars I've tested over the past year, but Acura doesn't give this car a custom mode.
The NSX possesses huge amounts of stability in the bends, with zero body roll, and supreme steadiness--thanks to tons of tech under you--as you smash the throttle when exiting a corner. That extra thick optional carbon fiber rear lip spoiler, roof, and diffuser (which will cost you an extra $15,000 combined) are more attractive than functional, but there's a hint of extra downforce while shedding a couple pounds. Gear changes are seamless, with response that's almost as quick as a Porsche PDK, through Acura's 9-speed DCT, but I wish the plastic paddles had a firmer click up or down.
Acura stuffs Brembo's massive 14.5-inch rotors and six-piston calipers behind the front wheels, with 14.2-inchers with four-piston calipers in the rear, and the front disc diameter goes up to 15 inches if you opt for the carbon-ceramic stuff. If you're not tracking your NSX, but still want to carve the canyons, drop the extra $9,900 for the carbon-ceramic rotors that drop 52 pounds (23.5 kg) of unsprung weight and provide huge amounts of confidence during hard applications over long durations without the slightest hint of fade.
Some Really Good Things
Much like its earlier generation, the new NSX is easy on the eye, with fantastic proportions. I love the sharp lines, low and wide stance, and the big, functional vents everywhere. With only a few hundred NSXs produced each year, it's rare to spot one on the road, which makes it special to me. Even though most exotic cars are known for being miserable to get in and out of, the NSX is remarkably easy to access. I love the glass engine cover that reveals the NSX's power plant--which can be encompassed in carbon fiber for $3,600--while having a futuristic look in the engine bay.
Creature comforts aren't overlooked in the Acura NSX, despite what you'd expect from a supercar. The center console has a cool spot to secure your key in one bit of a compartment that nicely fits a mobile phone while plugged in. The NSX's seats look the part of an exotic car, and provide a great amount of lateral support while being wide and plush enough to keep the heftiest occupants comfortable. The interior fit and finish is fantastic, with soft leather and the right amount of Alcantara, and a solid feeling from every single panel.
Mid-engined setups typically eat into the cabin, but the NSX has a surprisingly large cockpit, capable of seating two tall occupants--even with a helmet on during track days--with plenty of shoulder space and a spacious greenhouse. I appreciate Acura's integration of its push button gear selector that keeps the cabin clear and has a space age look.
Less Than Splendid Stuff
I'm a driving purist, and loved my NA1 generation NSX. It was light, analog, and mechanical in all the right ways. This new generation sports plenty of new tech that makes it cool and fast, but that adds weight and takes away from the old sensations I crave. Progress had to be made.
Because of a ton of hybrid and drive unit bits being stashed up front, there's no frunk like you get in many modern mid-engined supercars. The NSX's smaller rear hatch area is all you get. Should you be making a bigger grocery run, you'll have to crush the top of your paper bags a bit to make them fit into the shallow trunk space. A dated infotainment system graces the NSX's center stack, and it's missing a volume knob. Yes, there's Apple CarPlay installed to better sort out interactions, but the screen's resolution isn't so hot. I stuck with using the audio system's steering wheel controls, and that made things much easier.
The price point of the NSX can't be overlooked by those who have purchased the older models. Yes, those are commanding a premium these days, but the new car can hit $200,000 after options. Fortunately because of some lighter demand than anticipated, there are some big incentives available should you find an NSX sitting on a dealer showroom.
This Is A Different NSX, And That Is A Good Thing
Comparing the classic NSX to this current generation is typically framed as an unfair one, because most of us associate that Radwood legend with being lightweight and mechanical while providing an analog driving experience that's matched by few exotics of its era. Acura built the NSX as a technical exercise in that day, showing what was possible, while setting a standard for performance at a good price that made the much more expensive Italian and German marques back to the drawing board.
What the modern NSX does similarly is that it displays an application of state of the art technology and engineering knowledge that you'd spot in cars like the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1. The difference is that those hypercars I listed commanded three to four times the price of the NSX when new. It's unfortunate that the annual sales figures don't reflect the desire by buyers. Acura's new NSX offers a clever hybrid powertrain and exceptional performance in a somewhat practically-priced supercar package.
Don't compare the modern NSX to the classic as a bloated money grab, but instead look at it was a fine execution of what was possible at the time. For that, the Acura NSX should be considered a success.
Yes, that is a Zanardi Edition trio.