Back in the late 1990’s, Honda decided it was going to show the world what most motoring enthusiasts already knew — that Honda is the real deal. What Honda is most known for is sensibly priced economy cars and bulletproof reliability. However, few people know of Honda’s prestigious motorsport pedigree. Honda used to make engines for McLaren in Formula One and has long been one of the greatest sports car makers on the planet. But most people don’t think of performance when they think Honda, so the Japanese brand decided to change that with the original Honda NSX.
Badged an Acura in North America, the Honda NSX shocked the world. Here was a sports car that had a recipe more fitting for a supercar; mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, manual gearbox and aluminum chassis construction. At the time, that was as sophisticated as any Ferrari or Porsche. However, it didn’t sell well enough, as its badge wasn’t as prestigious as anything from Maranello or Stuttgart, despite the fact that the NSX had some Italian and German engineers very worried and scrambling back to their whiteboards. The NSX was easily one of the greatest handling cars of the ’90s, but no one knew about it outside of the motoring world.
Well Honda is back at it with the new NSX and the Germans might want to start getting nervous again.
Again badged and Acura, except in all markets now, and made in America, the new NSX has its eyes squarely on BMW, Audi and Porsche. The NSX is considered to be a budget supercar of sorts, something that the Audi R8 has always been marketed as, so these two will but heads. The NSX approaches its performance in very different ways than the R8, however.
While the Audi R8 uses naturally aspirated V10 fury and brute force to make it fast, and it is very fast, the NSX uses science. We all know the Audi R8 V10’s specs; 5.2 liter V10 making 610 horsepower (in Plus trim) mounted in the middle, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and Quattro all-wheel drive. The Acura NSX uses a mid-mounted twin-turbocharged V6 and an electric motor to power the rear wheels through a nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox, but also uses two electric motors to power the front wheels, giving the NSX real-time torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. The NSX is capable of 0-60 in the low three second range, according to Honda, and can achieve real-world mpgs in the high twenties. So while the Audi R8 is a supercar in the old-school sense, using a big-displacement naturally-aspirated engine, the NSX is a supercar from a new breed.
The NSX is in good company with its technological approach. The Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and BMW i8 all use similar setups. The main difference between the NSX and most others, however, is the price. The NSX starts life at around $150,000, while the Porsche, McLaren and Ferrari all cost over $1,000,000. The BMW i8 is the only car of the sort that is cheaper, at $135,000. But the NSX’s low starting price hurts the R8 even more, as the R8 V10 Plus costs over $200,000. So for around $50,000 less, you can get a car with almost identical performance and better fuel economy. Obviously, the R8 is better looking, more exciting and has better brand prestige, but there’s no doubt that the NSX is a compelling package.
After some first drives from some other publications, we can discern that the NSX is a very fast, very effective and very competent car, but it lacks a bit of character. This is to be expected, however, as it is made by one of the more sober sports car companies and is a hybrid, so flash and pizzaz aren’t going to be its strong points. But there’s no denying its incredible on-road ability. It can simply attack a twisty road with ease and is very, very fast. But most drivers were wanting a bit more engine noise and a bit more flash. The R8 V10 gives you both of those things in spades, however, it will cost you the price of an Audi A6 on top of the NSX to get it.
The Acura NSX is a masterpiece of technology and an incredible performance car (could be a sports car, could be a supercar, we’re not sure which) but it lacks a bit of excitement. The Audi R8 V10 is very advanced, but seems like a turntable in comparison to the iPod that is the NSX. Though, most sound enthusiasts will tell you that everything sounds better on vinyl. So which is better, the newer, more efficient performance car, or the exciting, more thrilling, if a bit dated by comparison, supercar? Should Audi be getting nervous?