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The day has arrived
To say that we were anxious to drive the new NSX would be quite an understatement. From a personal standpoint, I was ready to purchase an NSX way back in the 1998-1999 time frame. At the time, I decided that it'd be better to hold off on the NSX purchase until the "next generation" NSX hit the market. At that time there was no indication that the NSX would be updated in the near future, so to hold me over I purchased an S2000 in the fall of 1999. I didn't realize my S2000 would need to hold me for 17 years!
For the global media introduction of the NSX, Acura elected to host the event in Palm Springs, California. This offered a setting with typically warm sunshine and little risk of rain, combined with some great mountain roads and wonderful natural scenery. Also, not far away is the Thermal Club, a private driving club where we would spend the first half of our first day sampling the 2017 NSX.
Our first day with the NSX began early. After a quick breakfast at our hotel, our group was shuttled out to the Thermal Club in gleaming white Acura MDXs. As soon as we reached the Thermal Club, we were hustled into a temporary trackside building where we received a chalk talk by Graham Rahal (the pro driver for the day). Moments later (the first track session commenced at precisely 8:00AM), we were hurtling around a circuit of which we had zero prior experience, driving cars in which we had absolutely zero familiarity. Amazingly, there were no serious incidents. Perhaps this arrangement worked best for the logistics of the event, or perhaps this was done intentionally by the PR and product team to demonstrate how the car could make even newbies feel comfortable.
The day's schedule was tight, so once we got buckled into the NSX, we set off right away. I "started" the NSX, but the engine didn't fire because we were in Quiet mode, which limits maximum revs to 4000rpm and prioritizes the engagement of EV mode at lower speeds. The NSX motored silently and effortlessly down the pit lane. As we approached the end of the pit lane, my passenger (Nick Robinson - NSX Performance Development Leader) mentioned that I could rotate the IDS knob to select Sport+ or Track mode. I selected Sport+ mode and the engine fired instantly. I then went on to select the Track mode, by twisting and holding the IDS knob for approximately 5 seconds. At this point, I noticed that the tach on the 8.0" TFT-based gauge cluster rotated counterclockwise about 30 degrees, changing the location of the redline from the 4:30 position (relative to a clock face) to the 1:30 position. In addition, temperature displays for the coolant temp and TMU temp also appear when switching into Sport+ and Track modes. One additional thing I noticed upon entering Track mode, the NAVI display switches away from whatever is showing on the Display Audio to show an "NSX" logo.
Once we had the appropriate mode engaged, it was time to experience the car. I was immediately amazed by the "zero delay" response of the throttle, the steering, and well, EVERYTHING. When you prod this car to do something, it doesn't just respond. It LUNGES. You will hear Acura and Honda engineers talking about how the machine should disappear when you drive it, and I can truthfully say that's how this NSX felt. Within the limits of ultimate grip (and on the Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tires that we sampled on the track, that grip circle seems to peak around the 1.1-1.2G range), you can command the NSX to go in any direction and expect it to respond to your inputs with a high degree of fidelity and immediate response.
The first immediate thing I noticed was the urgency of the throttle response. If I hadn't known ahead of time that the engine relied upon a pair of turbochargers to create its prodigious thrust, I never would have guessed it after driving it on the track. While out on the track (in Track mode, of course) you don't really hear the turbos or sense that they're lagging behind your throttle inputs, or doing anything non-linear, for that matter. Throttle response is a new kind of "immediate". When you feel the sensation, the phrase "Torque fill" moves beyond Acura PR buzzword status directly into a far more meaningful place. The instantaneous response of the electric motors and their seamless transition to the huge wall of torque developed by the turbocharged V6 engine complement each other brilliantly. Not only do you get an instantaneous surge of torque, but the powertrain continues to deliver. Peak acceleration forces are immense, and then it just keeps on pulling, and pulling. HARD. Like a high performance EV vehicle, the NSX's torque swell is nearly instantaneous, but unlike an EV, the tremendous torque output remains relatively level over a very wide band of operating speeds. All three electric motors are contributing to forward thrust activity up until about 200kph, when the TMU motors reach their terminal velocity (15000rpm) and step out of the equation. The rear electric motor never has to spin much above 7500rpm, as it is coupled directly to the V6's crankshaft, so it can presumably continue to contribute thrust all the way to VMax, at least in the upper gears (the NSX is computer limited to 191mph).
When driven in anger in Sport+ or Track mode, the NSX engine sounds very good. Unfortunately it falls a little bit short of sounding "exotic", but it's a small quibble. On the street drive, I was partnered with another driver, and he complained that the NSX wasn't loud enough for him, even in track mode. To me, the amplitude of the sound wasn't the issue, I just would have liked a more "exotic" sounding quality to it. At slower speeds (in any of the four IDS modes) it sounds a bit more pedestrian. Unfortunately, the quality of the sound diminishes further when the silencers are enabled in Quiet and Sport IDS modes.
As mentioned earlier, we weren't able to hear the turbos while we were on track. On the street, however, we were able to uncover a distinct "whooshing" sound after squeezing the throttle and lifting.
In Track mode, the 9-speed DCT transmission will feel like it's telepathically linked to your brain. The moment you think about downshifting, it's already done it. It bangs off upshifts with instantaneous effect and it's completely seamless - you don't feel any interruption in power or any sort of "shock" when the next gear is engaged. The electric motors help smooth everything out. If you slow down a bit, for a cool down lap or simply to back the pace off to create room between yourself and the car ahead of you, then the transmission logic can become annoying. At part throttle, it holds onto gears long enough to make you want to manually force an upshift or two. In fact, the only times I manually changed gears was when we had to slow down and putter along on the track for whatever reason. In these situations, the transmission logic found in Sport+ mode is more appropriate. On the street, I found that Sport+ was generally my go to when I was enjoying the winding mountain roads, and when I'd settle back into normal traffic on the surface streets, I'd dial it back to Sport mode. I tried Quiet mode a few times on the street, but I'd almost immediately shift back to Sport. The pure EV mode was interesting for a minute, and I was surprised to see the NSX maintaining pure EV mode at speeds of around 60mph, but I just didn't care for the the very conservative upshift strategy.
Sport Hybrid SH-AWD
Much like the turbocharger, the NSX's Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system is a part of the machine that essentially disappears when you drive the car. You don't think about it because it does its job, but it never gets in the way of performing your intended task. There is no corruption of the steering feel. There is no obvious sensation that you're being pulled around a corner, but it provides a high degree of confidence that you can aim the nose in any direction you desire and the car will faithfully respond by pointing the nose exactly where you want to go. With the help of Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, the NSX steers like the steering rack is physically bonded to the road surface. It's incredible.
Like the majority of cars these days, Acura's chassis engineers calibrated the NSX's chassis with natural understeer. This keeps the car nice and stable at high speeds on the Autobahn and very fast tracks, without the requirement for any electronic intervention required to maintain stability. A balanced feel is achieved through the torque vectoring capabilities of the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system. The beauty of the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD setup is that the vectoring is available at any time, under any condition. Unlike Acura's mechanical SH-AWD system, the electric version can apply negative torque to either front wheel (similar to dragging a brake, but without actually involving the brakes), while simultaneously providing positive torque to the opposite wheel, if necessary. As mentioned earlier, at speeds over 200kph, the TMU cannot contribute positive torque vectoring forces, but it can generate negative torque forces (and it can still vary those forces from side to side, if necessary) at any speed. Out on the track the car feels very neutral at steady state. If you overcook a corner entry, you will feel a bit of initial understeer as you exceed the limits of adhesion. You can react a few ways: 1) adjust the speed and correct your line, or 2) you can transition into a state of mild oversteer, by dialing in a bit more steering lock and adding some throttle. This is all possible with the VSA engaged in Track mode - the VSA system is pretty liberal in Sport+ and Track modes, and you likely won't feel it intrude until you probe the extreme limits of the NSX's abilities. If your skills reach the appropriate level, you can completely disable the VSA system in Track mode.
The NSX features a dual-pinion variable-ratio electric power steering (EPS) system. A double-joint front suspension design is employed to eliminate the nasty effects of torque steer or other unwanted kickback that might be transmitted to the driver through the wheel. The variable-ratio steering is designed to provide stability and high precision for high speed driving while on-center. Off-center, the ratio quickens, enhancing the responsiveness of the steering and minimizing wheel shuffling. This arrangement works very well on both the track and the street. The steering is quite light and easy in Quiet and Sport modes, but the weight increases nicely for Sport+ and Track modes. The resulting feel is very intuitive and precise - we never had a problem placing the nose of the NSX, and as we mentioned earlier, there's not the slightest hint of torque steer that we could sense. Overall, I found the NSX's steering to be quite good.
If you were to order an NSX today using Acura's online configurator, the only brakes you can order at this time are the optional Carbon Ceramic brakes ($9900), and these were the only NSX brakes we were able to sample. Acura says that the "standard" iron-disked brakes will be available for order later in 2016. The carbon ceramic brakes not only improve fade performance under harsh conditions, they are some 52lbs lighter than the iron brakes. (NOTE: the NSX's listed curb weight of 3803 lbs reflects this weight savings)
Up front, the brakes feature 6-piston Brembo aluminum monoblock calipers. The front rotors are 1.3" thick and 15" in diameter if you go with the carbon ceramics, and 14.5" if you stick with the iron rotors. The rear brakes use 4-piston Brembo aluminum monoblock calipers, squeezing rotors that are 14.2" in diameter, regardless of which brake option you select. When customizing your own NSX, you have the choice of three different brake caliper colors: red, black, or silver.
As one would imagine, the brake system is quite advanced. Acura calls it their "super sports brake" concept. It is a brake-by-wire system that seamlessly combines a super high performance friction braking system with a regenerative braking system. On the track, the NSXs brakes were abused for several hours and never once showed any sign of fading, and provided seemingly endless stopping force. Acura's engineers did a fantastic job tuning the balance between the regenerative and friction braking systems - unlike many hybrid vehicles that use regenerative braking, with the NSX it is utterly invisible to the driver. The brakes are very strong and progressive, and not at all grabby. In fact, in Track mode, the pedal effort required for maximum braking was fairly high. Feedback through the brake-by-wire system is all simulated by what Acura calls ESB (Electro-Servo Brake System). Frankly it felt a little bit wooden out on the track, perhaps as a result of the relatively high ratio between pedal effort and stopping power. The system felt better on the street.
The standard wheel for the 2017 NSX is a beautiful super lightweight forged aluminum design – 19x8.5 up front, and 20x11 in the rear. Acura claims that it is the lightest wheel amongst its competitive set. The standard tire is a Continental Conti-Sport Contact high performance summer tire. Two track-oriented options are offered as well: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 or Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R. The front tires are 245/35ZR19, while the rear tires are 305/30ZR20.
For our track portion of the drive, all of the NSX's were equipped with the optional Pirelli tires. Grip was fantastic, especially in the earlier sessions (before folks had figured out how to disable the VSA and engage "drift mode"). One of the NSXs I drove was subject to this treatment prior to me getting my hands on it, and let's just say the rear end was quite a bit more lively than the car I had driven immediately prior.
For the street portion, they switched us to the standard Continentals, and honestly were also very impressed by the way the Contis behaved on the streets. Grip was fantastic, giving way nice and progressively. For such low profile tires, the tires offered a good amount of compliance, and there wasn't much in the way of road noise, either. The roads we sampled contained mostly medium speed corners and that seemed to keep the tires from getting too warm. It would be interesting to see how the Contis would hold up under more severe conditions with tighter radius turns.
The NSX features a 3rd generation magnetorheological (MR) damper system. The system uses magnetic fields actuating a magnetic fluid within the dampers to effect instantaneous and rapid changes in the damping rate. The results of the system are nothing short of amazing. It is designed to maintain optimum contact patches at each of the four corners of the NSX, while keeping ride motions well under control. On the track this means the car works the suspension more than one might imagine - it's not at all floaty feeling but it feels considerably softer (and far less nervous) than the typical hard-core track tuned suspension. When you follow an NSX at speed on the track, or even when driven at a spirited pace over twisty and bumpy roads, the car is eerily placid - almost as if it's hovering just over the surface via maglev. It never looks perturbed. Aso, if you see an NSX driving on the street, it appears to have virtually zero ground clearance - you just can't see any daylight underneath it. In reality it features 3.7" of ground clearance (which doesn't really sound like much), but somehow it never once scraped any of the street surfaces we encountered, and there were a few times where we winced in anticipation of a "crunch" that never materialized. The suspension settings in Sport+ and Track modes may be a bit too stiff for street use over harsh pavement, but in Quiet and Sport modes it rides very well.
Acura was able to deliver a great driver's environment. On the track, visibility is great - like the original NSX you can easily see all around the front and sides of the car. The rear view mirrors are helpfully pushed away from the body, giving you a clear view around the gaping inlets and wide haunches. On the street you'll find that there are a couple of blind spots in the rear quarters which can make it difficult to see oncoming traffic if you're making a turn at an unfortunate angle.
Ingress and egress can be a little tricky if you're wearing a helmet, but eventually you figure out the optimal yoga pose necessary to avoid banging the helmet into the a-pillar or the roof. For normal street driving, it's easier to get into and out of the car, but keep in mind the seating position is very low and you sit in a fairly reclined position. So emerging from the NSX with grace can be tricky if you're not used to it. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and with the Alcantara trim, they grip you like velcro. The steering wheel feels about perfect, and looks great with the optional carbon fiber trim. It is shaped to provide a comfortable "9 and 3" or "10 and 2" grip on the wheel.
If you've ever spent time on a track, and then wondered how and why you've developed strange bruises on random parts of your body, you'll appreciate the efforts put forth by the NSX team to make sure there are no hard surfaces to smash your knees or elbows against during high-G track maneuvers. I think I still have deep bone bruises from bashing my right leg into the e-brake handle while thrashing TOV's 8th-gen Civic Si project car.
While the interior is quite comfortable, we would have liked to see a few more pockets here and there for the loose gadgets and cords that always seem to be in our pockets. There is a spot where you can deposit a medium sized phone in the center of the armrest area. Behind that, there's another little pocket with a cable passthrough to a small covered storage bin (with the 1.5-amp USB port that connects to the Display Audio/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto system) at the very rear of the center console. Depending upon how you have your seat positioned, you might tear your rotator cuff or shear one or more vertebrae while attempting to reach back to get your phone situated in this spot. The glovebox is decently roomy, and contains an additional 1.0-amp USB port - this USB allows an audio-only connection to the stereo. We wouldn't mind seeing some simple mesh pockets on either side of the transmission tunnel.
Cupholders(??) Though we couldn't find it, apparently there's a cupholder module that sticks into a docking bay/slot on the side of the center tunnel, just to the right of the transmission selector. It's unknown whether this would be a comfortable reach for the driver, but it seems a little bit out of the way, if not a complete afterthought.
Audio and HVAC interface
Apparently the NSX has a pretty good stereo system, with an available ELS Studio option which surely sounds amazing. We were so focused on driving and hearing the car itself, we barely listened to it. It features a 7.0" display audio capacitive touch screen which looks as though it was lifted intact from a 2016 Civic. That means there are no knobs or even buttons to press, which makes us a little bit sad. A car with a stereo approaching 600 watts needs a BIG ASS VOLUME KNOB, at the very least. Fortunately, the HVAC system uses physical buttons, and (speaking of buttons) the transmission selector uses pretty much the same push-button layout found in the RLX Sport Hybrid, 2016 MDX and the V6 TLX.
We must admit, early on we had our doubts about the concept for this new NSX, and given the relatively short development window that Acura allowed themselves, we wondered if they'd be able to truly challenge the cars that they had set as benchmarks. It's still early, but after driving the car for several hundred miles, it feels like Acura has proven that their "New Sports eXperience" concept absolutely works. We expect to see the concept refined in the coming years, but this first cut at it is quite impressive. It seems like they left themselves with plenty of room for power upgrades, but I would like to see some more work done in terms of trimming weight. The Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system is amazing for both street and track, but for pure track duty it might be fun to see what a lighter, RWD version of the NSX would feel like. Last week, we had the opportunity to tour the factory where the NSX is built, and after seeing the NSX chassis at pretty much every stage of the manufacturing process, we didn't see a lot of opportunities for weight savings apart from deleting some of the luxury items, and of course, the TMU.