Quick spin: 2019 Acura NSXby Byron Hurd
We got seat time with Acura's newest NSX, plus a little bonus.
When we reviewed the 2019 Acura ILX this week, we mentioned the fact that our time with Acura's compact sedan was limited. That's because Acura invited us to sample its entire lineup at its engineering and production center in Marysville, Ohio. As an added bonus, we had access to the Transportation Research Center outside the neighboring city of East Liberty.
The TRC is not a Honda facility, strictly speaking. Its R&D teams have direct access to it via a private road, but the center is open to anybody with a budget and the need to perform on- or off-road testing on a new vehicle. TRC is also home to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA's) crash test lab. It's America's proving ground, if you will.
So, we had access to this massive playground, but only one day to exploit it. Acura split us into small groups and rotated us through, giving us roughly an hour to experience its vehicles in different testing areas. We drove the ILX on the road (along essentially the same course Acura's engineers use for on-road evaluation); we drove the RDX and MDX on a gravel track; we took the TLX and RDX out on a slick skidpad for drifting stunts.
And, yes, we were handed the 2019 Acura NSX for some hot laps around the TRC's dynamic handling course, which is essentially another way of saying race track.
The 2019 Acura NSX
They flew under the radar a bit, but the 2019 NSX did get some updates. The new Thermal Orange paint is one of them, but the more important changes were mechanical rather than aesthetic.
Under the metal, the 2019 Acura NSX got stiffer stabilizer bars, new rear toe-link bushings and redesigned, stiffer rear hubs. The Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive, power steering and adaptive dampers were all fine-tuned as well. Arguably, the most significant update is a new tire compound from Continental. The 2019 NSX wears the SportContact 6, replacing the previous 5P.
We've labeled this feature as a "Quick Spin" for a reason. As we mentioned before, we got no more than an hour at each of Acura's stations, and we did not have a 2018 or older NSX at our disposal at the DHC for direct comparison, so we're not in a position to articulate the differences with any reasonable degree of precision.
But man, it's good. With the Integrated Dynamics System in Track mode, the NSX will let you get away just about everything but murder. The new Continentals are sticky, but forgiving, and paired with Track mode's nearly hands-off chassis nannies, let you get the 2019 NSX on the silly side of its traction peak without anything getting scary.
The NSX is not simply a fast hybrid; it's a fast car. It's fun. It's an experience, which plenty of fast cars are not. Even last year's NSX was accused of being lifeless by some, and it's certainly not the only car to face those charges. Sure, there's a lot going on underneath the skin, but it has all become so transparent as to simply be irrelevant to the driving experience.
We live in the era of the electrified, two-pedal supercar. The Nissan GT-R has become anachronistically analog. Godzilla itself, the poster child for the electronically controlled driving experience, is old-fashioned now. Ponder that.
Thanks to Acura, we had ample opportunity to contemplate the progress of vehicular performance. In our ILX review, we mentioned that Acura has produced its share of automotive legends (small "L"). Let's talk about that for a second.
Acura hit the ground running. Sure, they were just Hondas in disguise, but they were good ones. The Integra. The Legend. The NSX. All of them were phenomenal cars; few people who were alive to see them are in any position to dispute that notion. But just in case we forgot, Acura brought a couple of them along for us to experience.
When we arrived at TRC, we were greeted by two icons. Built ten years apart but still contemporaries, the 1991 NSX and 2001 Integra Type-R are true time capsules. They represent Acura's original vision in a way that, until very recently, its modern products have not.
The Integra Type-R, with its abrupt VTEC changeover, its heavy but direct steering (and large wheel to match) and its almost complete absence of noise isolation connect the driver every bit of the experience in a way that has been refined out of modern sport compacts.
The NSX is ten years older, but simultaneously at least a decade more precise and refined, a true showcase of performance engineering. The shifter is perfect. The engine note is the best any V6 (or anything like a V6) has ever produced, with the intake wailing just over your shoulder as the revs climb (which they do, forever).
Everything about the original NSX was engineered for the driver's benefit. It's not a beast that needs to be tamed; it's a well-broken thoroughbred that will give 100% to the driver who understands that and isn't afraid to push.
It has been widely acknowledged within the automotive enthusiast community that Acura spent the better part of a decade stumbling over its own identity. The period from 2008 until about 2016 was a dark one for Honda's premium brand.
The most puzzling part of that downturn was that the issue was mostly aesthetic. The products were still good, they just didn't look the part, and in this business, looks are incredibly important.
Why do we say puzzling? Well, simply put, it's because Acura's designers were coming off of one of the best stylistic winning streaks in modern Automotive memory. And it wasn't just because Acura was the only one making attractive sedans. In fact, Acura wasn't even the only Japanese company making cars people liked to look at.
Think back to 2004. Nissan's redesigned Altima was everywhere, and say what you will about it's quality, but it was a looker. Infiniti's G and M? Both winners. Mazda6? Mazda3?
And Acura? RSX. TSX. TL. Yes, that TL. With a nod to the fifth-generation Volkswagen Passat, the 2004 Acura TL may well be the best-looking mainstream sedan sold in the past two decades.
And that's what made Acura's fall from grace so dramatic. In the space of just a few years, it squandered all of its equity. Place the 2004 TL next to its successor and what do you have? Ugh. Beauty and the Beaks.
The Leftlane bottom line
The 2019 Acura NSX is the new performance halo the brand desperately needed to put itself back in the go-fast spotlight. The only thing missing is something the young people it is trying to attract back to the brand can afford. With the ILX redesign, Acura has put most of its aesthetic issues to bed, but there's still the accessible performance niche to consider. Our expectations are high. Let's see if Acura can validate them.