It was thanks to Acura’s NSX that we got better Ferraris. Come the early 1990s, Ferrari was producing the 348, which was an upgrade of the 328 but a victim of old thinking.
Acura’s NSX–launched in mid-1990–was not. The mid-engine Japanese car dramatically upped the ante in the exotic car world. It had a revolutionary aluminum alloy frame and suspension wrapped in an aluminum body. Ken Okuyama designed the exterior of the NSX for Pininfarina, just as he would the Ferrari Enzo.
Now-legendary Honda Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara was responsible for the V-6 powered Acura sports car. What he created was more than the equal of the 348–quicker to 60 mph, same top speed, equal in handling–for two-thirds the price. And more civilized. I recall a very hot day when we tested a 348 tb versus an NSX. The Ferrari ran too warm all day, its air conditioning overwhelmed. The Acura was as solid and cool as, well, a Honda.
When European road tests began to opt for the NSX over the 348, a Ferrari manager asked why and a noted journalist pointed out, “You can build a great performance car, but you can’t make a cigarette lighter.” Ferrari needed to rethink its approach to building total automobiles.
So what happened?
Ferrari fixed its troubles under the regimes of Luca de Montezemolo and Ing. Amedeo Felisa. The F355 was leagues ahead of the 348.
Honda never did much to further develop the NSX and then walked away from it in 2005.
Now it has walked back in with a new NSX for 2016. We’ve known about the next-generation NSX for years, with a prototype first shown at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in 2012. Since then we’ve learned the car is very much an American supercar, designed, developed and built in Ohio. Lead exterior designer of the NSX is Michelle Christensen, who grew up in Northern California.
While the proportions have changed from prototype to the production NSX, the exterior design remains dramatic, leading with rows of small headlamps and a grille that has a faint smile. Dimensionally Ferrari’s 458 Italia is two inches longer than the Acura, but other major measurements are within an inch on both cars. The NSX body structure includes aluminum and high-strength steel with a carbon fiber floor. Body panels will be done in aluminum and sheet molding composite.
Where Ferrari uses a direct-injected V-8 with 550 horsepower, Acura sticks with a V-6, but adds twin turbos. Asked about the horsepower, Acura reps respond that it will be more than 550 horsepower…so guess what their target has been? Where the Ferrari has a 7-speed gearbox, the Acura features 9 speeds.
Getting power to the ground is when the NSX becomes what it calls a Sport Hybrid for the best possible reasons. Performance and all-wheel drive. The electric side of the design is a three-motor system with one between the mid-mounted engine and transmission, integrated to be part of acceleration, braking and the shifting of the transmission. At the front are independent high-output motors at each wheel. They provide not only instant torque, but can shift that torque left or right as needed to help with dynamic torque vectoring. It’s all part of what Honda calls Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive. Naturally there is a battery pack as part of this system.
As with most high-performance cars these days, the NSX will have a console-mounted dial that allows the driver to opt for Sport, Sport+ or Track modes. Each will make the Acura’s drivetrain and chassis progressively more raucous. Being a gas/electric hybrid gives the NSX an edge over non-hybrid supercars. One element is a Quiet mode for short-term, all-electric driving, while the full-torque-from-zero-rpm of the electric motors will aid “launch” performance.
Acura will start taking orders for the new NSX this summer with first deliveries planned for later in 2015. There’s still no price set for the sports car, but most guesses range around $155,000. And the Ferrari 458 Italia? $239,340.
For a closer look at the 2016 NSX, check out Automobile Magazine’s in-depth video on the NSX from the 2015 North American International Auto Show.