Supercar status, a mixture of Japanese and American engineering and design, made in the USA... That's the abridged resume of the latest Acura NSX, chassis code NC1. The NSX has always represented the pinnacle of Honda engineering, and the NC1 doesn't disappoint. Released in 2016, it is longer and wider than its predecessor, and thanks to electronic wizardry and a twin-turbocharged V-6, it makes more than double the horsepower, too.
JAPAN'S FIRST MODERN SUPERCAR
In the late '80s, at a time when launching premium brands was the rage, the Honda design team planned to make a statement with its next flagship vehicle. Staying true to its motto, "Precision Crafted Performance," the Acura NSX (stands for "New Sportscar eXperimental") was developed with the intention of going up against Ferrari, but with Honda reliability and at a lower cost. The first-gen NSX (NA1) blindsided the competition and was quickly regarded by many as Japan's first modern supercar. It was the first production car in the world with an all-aluminum body, penned by the Italian design house Pininfarina. Underneath its timeless lines lived a 270hp, midship-mounted, naturally aspirated, 3.0L V-6 engine with VTEC. Dig further into the NA1 and it's hard to argue with that assessment.
A NEW SPORTS CAR EXPERIENCE
Acura announced plans for an NSX successor in 2007, targeted for release in 2010. This plan got scrapped before it could get started due to a retreating global economy at the time. Thankfully, as economies recovered, Acura revived its plans for a second-generation NSX, revealing a concept at the Detroit Auto Show in 2012. The details of this vehicle were shrouded by speculation until a production NSX made its debut in Detroit in 2015. This new NSX (NC1) looked like a nod toward the HSV-010 GT race car—certainly the right ingredients for a sporty driving experience.
DEVELOPED IN THREE YEARS, BORN IN THREE DAYS
Engineers developed and delivered the NC1 NSX in only three years. To distill a brand-new vehicle from concept to production in a relatively small window of time without joint-venturing with other automakers (to save time and money) is a remarkable feat. Like its NA1 predecessor, the NC1 features a number of innovations incorporated in its design and construction, starting with the 206,000-square-foot Performance Manufacturing Center (PMC) in Marysville, Ohio (see sidebar). Honda prepared and tooled up the facility to be the birthplace of every NC1 sold in the world. If one were to follow a single car from start to finish, the total manufacturing process yields a complete vehicle in approximately three days!
Similar to the first-gen, the unofficial performance benchmark for this car was the Ferrari 458 Italia. Starting at its foundation, the NC1's core is its multi-material chassis. A combination of extruded aluminum, ablation-cast nodes, 3D-bent and quenched ultra-high-strength steel, and carbon-fiber make up the NSX space frame. To cut the wind, the body panels are composed of aluminum and low-density composites with the option to upgrade with a plethora of carbon-fiber pieces.
The all-aluminum JNC1 engine is assembled at Honda's Anna Engine Plant using heads and blocks cast by Cosworth in the UK. This new engine features a 75-degree cylinder bank angle. Its plasma-transferred, wire-arc, thermal-sprayed cylinders come filled with cast-aluminum pistons and forged-steel connecting rods. A dry-sump oiling system with a six-rotor scavenge pump keeps the rotating assembly well lubricated, even when subjected to high lateral g-forces. Up top, the cylinder heads contain 24 forged-steel valves actuated by chain driven camshafts with variable cam timing. A hybrid fuel delivery system with both direct and port fuel injection quenches this thirsty engine's needs all the way to its peak output of 500 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. With a Direct Drive electric motor between the engine and the nine-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) supplemented by Honda's Twin Motor Unit up front (one for each wheel), the NSX's Sport Hybrid SH-AWD powertrain produces a total of 573 hp and 476 lb-ft.
ALL IN THE DETAILS
So what changes were made for the 2019 model year? The differences could be considered slight, but for those who have already experienced the 2016 NSX, these implementations could be considered significant. To begin, the most obvious change was the addition of Thermal Orange Pearl to the color palette. Exterior grille accents now come in a gloss black finish, while the grille garnish up front comes body colored. If you order your NSX with the carbon-ceramic brake upgrade, the calipers are now available painted orange. On the inside, upholstery options now include Indigo and Red hues.
On the performance end of the spectrum, engineers stiffened the rear hubs by 6 percent, while the front and rear stabilizer bars were stiffened by 26 percent and 19 percent, respectively. The drive system components, including the Adaptive Damping System, Electronic Power Steering, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and the Vehicle Stability Assist, were also retuned to complement the revised suspension. Finally, the tires were upgraded with Continental SportContact 6 tires, which were specially developed for the NSX and contribute to better performance. How much better? According to Acura, these seemingly mild improvements translate to quicker lap times—nearly 2 seconds faster at the famous Suzuka Circuit in Japan. The average Joe may not notice these improvements as much on the street, but they are significant for any fan of the track.
FROM THE DRIVER SEAT
To experience all the little upgrades firsthand—and also to get some seat time at Honda's Transportation Research Center (TRC)—we flew to Ohio, where the NSX is built. From the moment you step inside the NSX, you get the feeling you've entered a supercar. Looking past the steering wheel, we acknowledged the data-packed instrument cluster, which features three analog gauges, including tachometer, fuel, and water temperature. Everything else displays digitally in an easy-to-decipher arrangement in and around the gauges. The ergonomics of the interior is trademark Honda: clean, logical, and easy to navigate and access. The seats are comfortable and feature bolsters that provide the support one would expect.
3, 2, 1, LAUNCH!
Like many of the vehicles equipped with a DCT, the NSX offers a launch control mode. As we made our way around the TRC test facility, we were given the opportunity to launch the NSX from a dig repeatedly. Anyone familiar with drag racing can attest, this is possibly the most torturous test for a driveline. Honda let us borrow a '16 model test mule that had endured more than 170 launches without any issues and without any special treatment.
With launch mode enabled and the left foot on the brake, we pinned the throttle to the floor. Once the engine stabilized at 4,000 rpm, we were free to side-step the brake. With the twin turbos already spooled up, the boost pressure translated into g-forces that pressed us firmly into the seat as all 573 hp catapulted us down the track. The NSX blistered the pavement without so much as a chirp or even a hint of stepping out of line. It was that stable!
Our next activity would take place at a dynamic handling course, which offered a combination of technical and high-speed sections. A driving coach familiarized us with the car and track so we could explore the NSX's virtues quickly and within a short window of time. During the warm-up lap, our coach pointed out the braking zones, the turn-in targets, and apexes, then we were given the green light. As we entered the front straight, we felt the fury of the twin-turbo V-6 propel us forward. Once into the first braking zone, the carbon brakes provided fade-free slowing, reigning in speed with confidence. Entering the first turn quickly, the stiff space frame and the tuned suspension delivered predictable, tack-sharp handling with excellent feedback. Rolling back onto the throttle, the NSX performed like it was having just another day at the office as we negotiated the course. Throughout this experience, the NSX never became unsettled, building confidence with each successive lap.
BACK IN THE SUPERCAR GAME
Pure exhilaration assaults the senses when you stab the throttle of the Acura NSX. We'd even be so bold as to say it's got a comparable "feel from behind the wheel" as a much more expensive Ferrari 458 Italia. The NC1 embodies the pinnacle of Honda performance coupled with Honda driveability and reliability. It's got supercar attributes with just about every option for less than $200,000—far less than a 458. Acura returns to the supercar arena with a contender worthy of comparison that will certainly have fans of the "prancing pony" looking in their rearview mirror.
MADE IN U.S.A.
For many years, import fans have come to expect premium models to be manufactured in Japan and withheld or diluted for the U.S. market. Thankfully, those days are long gone, and, in the case of Acura's NSX, the supercar (and most of its Acura family) is manufactured in the good ol' U.S. of A! In Marysville, Ohio, Acura's Performance Manufacturing Center (PMC) serves as the birthplace of every new NSX distributed internationally. This 206,000-square-foot facility employs an elite staff of skilled technicians, tasked with hand building each NSX. Admittedly, it is a low-volume supercar, but witnessing the manufacturing process is a truly remarkable and memorable experience. Like a life-sized Lego Technic project, the PMC crew can go from individual pieces of extruded-aluminum and sheet metal to a fully assembled NSX in just three (seemingly brief days.
The PMC lobby showcased a skinless NSX along with the finished product and its predecessor.
Sheetmetal stampings awaiting assembly. The aluminum hood panels mate to skeletal reinforcements to add stiffness to the hood assembly.
Precision jigs ensure each assembly lines up perfectly before being bonded or welded.
This jig, CNC-machined from billets of aluminum, forms the foundation of the space frame and passenger cabin. Note the three-dimensionally bent frame members that form the A-pillars and roof frame.
Once the sheet, cast-, and extruded-aluminum components have been aligned and mounted to a chassis rotisserie, precision robotic welders ensure flawless and penetrating welds at every joint.
After welding, digital quality control measures ensure the frame is spot on before it's sent to the next stage of assembly.
The space frame combines extruded-aluminum tube with ablation-cast aluminum components from the foundries at Honda's Anna Engine Plant. These materials ensure crash safety while optimizing weight loss and chassis rigidity.
The bare aluminum frame is then dipped in a series of baths in preparation for a coat of zirconium-based primer.
Once the primer coat has been applied, the frames receive sealants at critical seams.
In this sequence, the frame is lowered onto the twin-turbocharged V-6 engine.
Every nut and bolt is hand threaded and digitally torqued for precise fastener application.
Further along in the assembly, the front suspension and hub assembly are installed.
The body panels are arranged on fixtures prior to placement in the paint booth. Once there, the panels receive more than 10 coats of primer and paint, both by robots and by technicians.
Once properly cured and polished, the panels are hand-fit to the frame.
It's time for an alignment.
Last but not least, the NSX spends approximately 25 minutes in the suspension testing room, where each tire rides on hydraulic pads that simulate road conditions. This process not only tests the suspension, but it also helps reveal any creaking or irregular sounds that could indicate a quality control issue.
If you've got at least $500,000 in expendable assets and want to race in IMSA or FIA competition, PMC also manufactures the NSX GT3 race car. This carbon-fiber-clad machine includes a factory 'cage and numerous weight-saving measures that tip the scale at a featherweight 2,788 pounds. Compared to the 3,878-pound road-going NSX, the GT3-spec is nearly 1,100 pounds lighter!