Halo cars aren't designed to be best sellers. They're vital vanity projects--succinct statements of all a car company wants to be, and what it can do.
They can be culture-shifters. Witness the Audi R8, the BMW i8.
When it made its debut 25 years ago, the Acura NSX was the brand's first halo car. It defined the outer reaches of what Acura might become.
That it also redefined the supercar was incidental. With its transverse V-6 engine, sonorous VTEC soundtrack, and its aluminum body, it was an exotic rendered in almost Lotus-like simplicity.
We're a generation past that pristine original, and after a decade of planning and at least one ditched effort, there's a new NSX.
We drove it briefly last year and left with plenty of questions. Was it Acura's clever remix of the R8 or 918 Spyder? A BMW i8 with its priorities in order? A grown-up GT-R? A perfect polar opposite to the Corvette?
After hours on the privateer track in Thermal, California, and on the public roads outside of Palm Springs, we have some answers.
You're going to want to buckle in for this.
The long and winding road to production
The new NSX has been through a long gestation period. It lands in owner's garages this spring, after roughly four years in development in its current form.
That form only took shape after a stillborn attempt to recreate the car around a V-10 engine failed.
There's a parallel with the decade-in-the-making Lexus LFA, but the end result's far different from that carbon-fiber, $375,000 machine.
What's striking at first about the NSX is that it just barely acknowledged its past. The initials are the same, and there's plenty of aluminum in the new car, and the view to the road ahead is uncannily similar.
The billing is largely the same. Acura sees the new NSX as much an everyday supercar as the 1991-2005 original.
Everything else is different. The new NSX is an all-wheel-drive hybrid, with a longitudinal twin-turbo V-6, and a body composed of three main materials.
With concept after concept paraded around the auto-show circuit, the NSX is familiar to us now. That hasn't affected its essential hotness in one damn way.
Acura's finally broken out of its styling doldrums with this car. The NSX rifles through supercar stylebook, clearly inspired by the R8 and Ferrari 458 Italia without aping them.
The front end sets the track-smothering tone. The grille starts a bare few inches from the earth, spreading wide as it wraps LED headlights in it for a winged effect.
Aerodynamics dictated the big air intakes at the front and at the sides, and the way the side mirrors distance themselves from the body in Ferrari-like fashion. Instead of disfiguring the shape with ducts and scoops, NSX engineers cloaked the air paths at the hood line and in the car's haunches, where it resembles Audi and Lamborghini super cars most strongly.
Cooling for the NSX's complex drivetrain factors invisibly into the design. Airflow moves down the rear glass, where it's diverted to cool the engine and clutch, then directed out through massive rear ducts.
The shape balances out those engineering needs with pretty countermeasures, like the distinct fillip carved into the doors that leads into the side intakes. Simple, telegraphic LED taillamps cap broad, chiseled rear fenders. A big Acura caliper badge breaks up the abbreviated tail.
No more Civic
The first NSX had an arrestingly clean shape, and that extended to its plain cockpit--minus the arresting part. it was so spartan it was compared to the contemporary Civic.
The new NSX knows its way around a couturier, though some touches lay bare the lean development budget. It sweeps the driver and passenger up in a leathery embrace. Broad brush strokes of metallic trim give the cabin a visual skeleton.
Carbon-fiber trim can be fitted in a pricey package, and semi-aniline (less treated) leather and an Alcantara (synthetic suede) headliner dress up the cabin to the same high-wattage standard of the NSX's new rivals.
The first signal the car sends the driver, though, is a mixed one. The gentle camelback of console controls house pushbuttons for the transmission. There's no shift lever at all--one thing in a luxe Lincoln SUV, maybe, quite another in a grand-touring sports car crowding the supercar gates.
It's a relief to find long paddle-shift controls behind the steering wheel. They're there, once you get past the transmission touch switches that seem familiar if you've driven a Honda Pilot.
Look up, and the NSX's 8-inch digital display lays the virtual gauges on a slightly odd plane, tilted away from the driver. The pod's dominated by a tach, and toggles through color schemes from blue to red, based on the selected driving mode.
Switches and rollers run secondary systems from the steering wheel. A second screen--either 7 inches or 8 inches--runs the audio interface or the optional navigation.