Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Editorial: Does Acura Need to Fix the 2016 NSX?

Image courtesy of Road & Track
When the Acura NSX made its debut back in 1990, people were skeptical that a manufacturer like Honda could build a super car. "What is a Japanese company that builds people movers for a living doing trying to building a mid-engined super car?" But rather than some tepid, boring, wannabe sports car, the NSX stunned the automotive world. This was a car that performed as well as, or some times better than, super cars from Europe. In fact, the NSX's performance was so stunning, that it actually made manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini worry. "These guys from Japan built a car that rivals the performance of our cars, costs half the price, and starts every time!" If you own a modern European super car, you can thank Honda for the fact that your car will start most of the time.


Image courtesy of Motor Trend
Unfortunately, for the next 14 years, the NSX would remain largely unchanged. Mid way through its life cycle, Honda replaced the original 3.0 liter V6 with a higher output 3.2 liter, and replaced the old five-speed manual with a six-speed. Towards the end of its life cycle, the NSX would get a face lift, as well as a few additional modern safety bits. Ultimately though, development on the NSX remained relatively stagnant through the end of its life cycle in November of 2005. This did not mean that the NSX became a terrible vehicle as time wore on. Despite its horsepower disadvantage compared to similar cars of the era, it was still a very competitive vehicle, especially in Type-R form (which we never saw here in the United States). The biggest issue was that its price tag did not match its performance anymore. Even though the NSX has now been out of production for ten years, it is still a widely sought after used vehicle, with some examples selling for near the original price of the vehicle. With Acura finally getting close to launching the new NSX, prices of first generation NSXs are expected to steadily climb.

Image courtesy of AutoBlog
Speaking of the new NSX, Acura has recently started inviting the automotive press to test drive production ready prototypes a few months ahead of the scheduled on-sale date. I think this is a smart move on Acura's part as it will allow them to get some early feedback and decide if anything needs to be changed ahead of its mid 2016 launch date. After reading and watching some of the reviews of the new NSX, it sounds like Acura really has their work cut out for them if they want to justify the price tag they've attached to this car.

The absolute biggest complaint I have read or heard about the car is with the way it drives. Much like the Nissan GT-R, the car is controlled primarily by software. Everything is electric, and everything is controlled by a computer. Ultimately, driving the car feels soulless and disengaged. Even though you can power out of a corner with reckless abandon, you apparently do not feel it through the steering wheel. Driving the car in anything but "track" mode makes the car want to understeer like a mad man. Most of the press does admit that much of this has a lot to do with software calibrations, and the car's electric all-wheel drive set up, but they seem unable to get over the fact that it "doesn't feel quite right."

Image courtesy of Motor Trend
The other big complaint I have heard is that the NSX is trying too hard to be the "everyday super car." This is supposed to be one of the major selling points of the new NSX, but has it instead just pushed too much compromise? For example, the car comes standard with regular Continental sports car tires; stuff you would expect on something like an S2000 or an M3. Most reviewers that drove the car with the standard tires commented that the tires just are not up to the task. Acura does offer an optional tire with the NSX: the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2. These are the tires most manufacturers equip on their supercars as standard equipment, yet Acura opted to make them an additional paid option. Every review I have read or watched has said that equipping the Michelins completely transforms the car in the best way possible. Steering feels more immediate and precise, and the car has much more grip. I wonder why it is necessary to pay extra to "transform" the car when it should drive like the transformed car right off the showroom floor.

For those of you that did not know, NSX was originally short for "New Sports Experimental." This moniker worked for the first generation NSX, as it was introducing, at the time, many new and ground breaking technologies that would eventually trickle down into Honda and Acura's mainstream vehicle line up. If we are to believe that NSX still stands for "New Sports Experimental," then I believe the all new 2016 NSX hits that mark. We are talking about a car with an all new, twin-turbo V6 (which is a first for Honda/Acura), and an electric assisted all-wheel drive system with the ability to drive the car in full electric mode for a short distance. Along with these new technologies, the NSX includes a whole host of new features that may some day find their way into the mainstream Honda and Acura line up.

Image courtesy of 3D Tuning
On the other hand, many view the NSX name as a legacy, not an acronym. Considering the light weight, high revving, precise handling nature of the first generation car, this new NSX fails miserably if we are to treat it as a legacy successor rather than just a name successor. The all new 2016 NSX weighs an astounding 3,800 lbs., tries way too hard to be the super car Acura wants you to drive everyday, and makes some compromises that really make no sense. The first generation NSX was a no nonsense, hardcore sports car that scared the crap out of European super car manufacturers. This new NSX seems like nothing Ferrari, Lamborghini, or even Porsche should be worried about at all. 

While the first generation was widely loved, I wonder if this new one will receive the same sort of reception. Obviously, there are some tweaks that need to be made before the new NSX can be delivered into customers' hands. Thankfully, it seems most of those tweaks are software related. The question is though, should Acura make those tweaks? Even if I believe everything I have seen, heard, and read about this car so far, I find it difficult to make that sort of judgement. When Acura began working on the prototype on this particular revision of the NSX successor, I had read that Acura wanted this car to match the performance of a Ferrari, but be much more usable on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately, if that is Acura's goal, then perhaps they have met it and do not need to make any tweaks.

Image courtesy of Car and Driver
There is a part of me that does hope Acura makes the tweaks that the automotive press is complaining about. For me, I do not fall squarely into either camp, believing that the NSX should be a worthy legacy successor or nameplate successor. Instead, I fall right in the middle. I believe that the new NSX should not only introduce brand new, ground breaking technologies worthy of its name plate, but I also believe that the NSX should drive like a super car all the time, making it a worthy successor to the NSX legacy as well. This whole "everyday super car" thing seems completely bunk to me, and could very well be what makes the 2016 NSX a failure. I really do hope I am wrong.