EAST LIBERTY, Ohio — The 2019 Acura NSX makes sonorous noises behind my ear as the tachometer soars toward 7,500 rpm. My hands grip the squared-off steering wheel a bit too hard as I scrub off about 60 mph and dive into the first corner of the Transportation Research Center (TRC) dynamic handling course. There’s 3,878 pounds of car beneath me, but the front tires do exactly what my hands tell them to, without hesitation, and I’m through the double apex corner without even thinking about the defiance of physics I just witnessed.
On paper, a nearly 4,000-pound track car makes no sense. Yet in practice, it’s just as tossable and eager to change direction as something much lighter. This is the NSX’s party trick, thanks to some magic with the suspension and all-wheel drive system on this car. And while the new NSX is a very different vehicle than its predecessor, it was born of a similar spirit of innovation and forward thinking.
The original Acura NSX hit the streets in 1991, establishing a new set of rules for every supercar released since. Constructed of an aluminum body — still an exotic material mainly used in competition vehicles — with curves that still drop jaws today, it was every bit as sophisticated as a Ferrari. But unlike Ferraris of the time, it was also reliable and easy to drive. Slide behind the wheel of a 1991 NSX, and you’ll be transported back to a time when outward visibility was still in style. You can see the ground right in front of the nose. Turn around, and there’s nothing blocking your view but a low wing. It’s essentially a bubble canopy.
Acura knows owners of the original NSX, your author included, absolutely love this about their cars. The effort to make the cockpit of the NSX similar is appreciated, even if modern crash standards prevent a perfect implementation. There are other subtle throwbacks. Every original NSX made a distinctive intake whine when winding it up to 8,000 rpm, and the new NSX has real intake noise physically pumped into the cabin to replicate this sweet sound all the way through the rev band. Another echo of the original is the simplified, sedate dash layout — eminently usable and likely to age well. A simplified version of the new RDX infotainment system would have fit the bill, too, but sadly it’s not present.
Under way, however, the generational similarities cease. Our time on this trip in the 2019 model was spent solely on track at TRC, and it was a wholly different experience from the old car. Take drive modes, of which the original had zero and the new model has several. Pop the center dial over to race mode, and the 2019 NSX idles loudly but inoffensively in our makeshift pit lane. Easing out onto the track, the nine-speed dual-clutch transmission holds onto low gears awaiting a takeoff run. After pit exit, all 573 horsepower and 476 pound-feet of torque are unleashed. Acceleration is instant. There’s no waiting for the turbos attached to the 3.5-liter V6 to spool up, because the electric motor sends a shock through your system straight away. The original NSX, with its naturally-aspirated V6, is lovely but has no answer for the high-tech assistance the new NSX gets from turbocharging and its wild hybrid system.
When the second-generation NSX came out for the 2016 model year, the steering drew complaints. This refresh focused heavily on fine-tuning the steering and suspension, and it worked. Front and rear stabilizer bars are 26 percent and 19 percent stiffer respectively. Rear toe link bushings are 21 percent stiffer, and rear hub rigidity has increased by 6 percent. Much-improved tires — the Continental SportContact 6s — replace the less sticky SportContact 5Ps. Tying it all together is a total recalibration of the SH-AWD system, magnetorheological dampers, electric power steering and stability control settings. If you want the Pirelli Trofeo R rubber, it’s still available as well, but we didn’t get to try those out.
It all works together perfectly, creating that quasi-telepathic connection that the best drivers’ cars have. Of course, it sets blazing lap times with ease, something the original can’t touch. But there’s also an impeccable balance through long sweepers. The car doesn’t feel like it wants to oversteer, but it’s easy to kick the rear end out in corners, then control it with the throttle in race mode. Stability control is still there, imperceptible but under the surface, and it doesn’t interfere with the fun. You can switch it off entirely if you’d like. The operation of the SH-AWD system, sending power front and rear, is apparent as it yanks you through corners.
The magic is that the complex torque vectoring spits you out on the other side of the corner, making it feel like you did it all by yourself, rather than with the help of a lot of computing power. That could easily make the NSX feel cold and clinical, but it doesn’t. It produces grins that last long after you’re off the track.
Subtle, but tasteful changes were made to the design, too. A new orange paint color is available (it seemed popular during our tour of the NSX’s Performance Manufacturing Center in Ohio) along with a blue and black interior scheme. Full red leather is another new option if you were looking to pop some eyeballs. The front beak directly above the grille was silver before, but now is painted in whichever paint color you choose — a huge improvement. Acura made several cost options standard too, like the four-way power seats, ELS audio system, navigation and proximity sensors.
Driving feel is something that the original NSX did better and arguably still does better than nearly any other car on the road. Gordon Murray thought the connection between the driver and road was so perfect in the original NSX, that he sought to make the McLaren F1 emulate it. Now that’s a compliment.
But I’m not prepared to say the new one matches it. Electric steering can never offer as intimate of a connection to the road as the manual steering in the original NSX does. This is where we’re supposed to accept the inevitable march of “better” technologies, but there’s still a bug in my head telling me it could be better. Getting the 2019 NSX out onto real roads will be the test to see how much it’s improved. For a track, it was good enough with the tires talking to me and some amount of simulated road feel.
While the 2019 NSX updates seem small on paper, the sum is appreciable. You keep the neck-breaking acceleration, but the rest of the car is taken up another notch. It’s no Type R-style upgrade, but think of it as going part-way there.
All of this extra equipment and performance comes with a small price hike. The 2019 NSX starts at $159,300 including destination charges, a $1,500 increase. If you were to tack on some options, the price begins to approach $200,000, which hurts the value proposition it is at base price. We tested cars with the $10,600 carbon ceramic brake rotors. You probably don’t need them, but if you’re going to be using this car for what’s it’s designed to do, they’re the most important option box to check.
Another roadblock to success the NSX faces is the stiffer competition today versus when the original went on sale in 1991. Nobody expects supercar sales to be robust, but Acura sold just 11 NSXs in September this year. The original NSX died off because Acura couldn’t sell any of them, and they were significantly more expensive by the end of production. Now Acura has to deal with the Audi R8, McLaren 570S and even the 911 Turbo at or near its price point. Those cars are no slouches themselves.
Living up to the legendary reputation of the first Japanese supercar is difficult too. The original NSX is a tough act to follow, particularly in terms of driving feel. But the new NSX is so incredibly dazzling on track, it’s easy to forgive the few areas in need of some polish. The bottom line is that the ’19s gain welcome and noticeable improvements that make it a better supercar. Consider me smitten.