On the racetrack, the Acura NSX howls like an Indy-500 racer. But on the street, in its Quiet mode, it purrs like a Honda kitten.
In 2012, Acura announced it would bring back its high-tech sports car, and this time, it would be a supercar with a hybrid gasoline-electric power unit.
While pricing starts at $157,800 (including the $1,800 freight charge from Ohio), the price with all factory options is just about $203,400 (with metallic paint).
For that, the buyer gets an all-wheel drive, two-seat exotic powered by a turbocharged, 3.5-liter V-6 integrated engine with three electric motors, a small battery, and a nine-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Most of those elements are American made, engineered, designed and tested. The NSX is an aluminum-intensive car, with a lot of carbon fiber and some sheet-molding compound (a kind of fiberglass-reinforced plastic) on some of the shapely body panels.
With 573 total horsepower — between the engine and motors — and 476 foot-pounds of torque, the power pours forth from launch to 6,000 rpm. The car redlines at 7,500 rpm. The V-6 powers the rear wheels, while the two front motors add boost and yaw (spin) control. The third motor (between the engine and transmission) is for “torque fill” — to add instant power on takeoff as the twin-scroll turbos catch a breath and begin to wail. The unofficial zero-to-60 acceleration takes less than 3 seconds, an engineer told me.
The gasoline-electric integration is so slick that I could not sense the car was hybrid or part-electric. Driving just on the battery is only possible for a short distance, such as sneaking out of the garage or stealthily returning home.
While I couldn’t touch the 138 mph that Rahal clocked in my hot lap, I did hit 134 and 135 mph a couple of times on the back straight of the 1.8-mile West Palm track at The Thermal Club in Coachella Valley.
There was no turbo lag, hesitation or odd pedal feel to the regenerative braking, and the automatic stop-start at idle was almost a curious extra in Quiet mode.
I drove an advanced-tech sports car, and it made me a better driver. While behind the wheel, I once glanced at the speedometer and then at the braking cones just before a sharp left-hand turn, when I heard the engineer-coach in the passenger seat yell, “Brake, brake, brake — hard.” I was grateful for those 15-inch vented carbon fiber brake rotors ($9,900). What is not noticeable is the car’s 3,800-pound curb weight. That’s hefty considering the large Jaguar XF sedan weighs 3,700 pounds.
The nine-speed transmission is among the most cooperative I’ve tested. There is no hesitation when clicking off a downshift, which is quicker than lightning.
As power-rich as this car is, performance was not the team’s only mission. The goal was to build a beautiful beast that can be driven every day.
The powertrain has Quiet, Sport, Sport-Plus and Track modes. Quiet is the neighborly, responsible mode that uses more electric power and keeps the quad exhaust pipes toned down. The electronic stability aids can be deactivated, though I drove with those controls on.
The interior was designed for daily-driving comfort. There are good sightlines over the hood, the doors open very wide, and there is plenty of elbowroom and headroom, even for robust 6-foot-5 occupants.
Trunk space behind the middle-engine layout is just 4.4 cubic feet, but it was configured to hold two modest-sized golf bags. There is adequate room for a couple of small bags.
I picked up on three key elements in the first 50 feet of driving: the steering, the suspension and the Indy-car blare of the exhaust. Some of that glorious sound is piped back into the well-soundproofed cabin to help the driver to listen to the rpm’s for shift points.
The steering felt perfect for its light weight, and it clearly communicated what each front tire was doing. Hours and hours went into designing the steering wheel, which has a flat arc at the top and a flat bottom. The grip points, wheel girth and surface smoothness are all driver-engagement points. And the flat top helps sightlines because there is no seat-height adjustment, although the wheel tilts and telescopes.
But there are a couple of areas to consider:
• The skimpy visors are almost useless, and they don’t have mirrors. But that’s because a fuller, more functional visor proved severely dangerous during computerized crash testing.
• The detachable cup holders are wonky and positioned on the right of the center console.
• There is little interior storage space.
• The fuel economy seems light at 20 mpg city, 22 highway and 21 combined on the required premium fuel. But does anyone care?
• After a four-year gestation, the wait will have been worth it for those considering this beautiful $200,000 beast.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage