Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
  • The 2020 NSX is the mildly refreshed version of Acura's second-generation mid-engine supercar.
  • It uses a twin-turbocharged V6 and three electric motors, including one for each front wheel.
  • Base MSRP of the NSX comes to $157,500. After options, my loaner cost $197,995 MSRP.

I think there should be a rule for when we talk about, think about, and drive the new Acura NSX.

And that rule is: You don't talk about the old NSX.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Fans hold the OG NSX from the 1990s and early 2000s - whether deserved or not - in a sort of godly, mythical regard. It might not have the same "Fast and Furious" pop-culture clout worn by the Toyota Supra of that age, but among car people, it's in the same class: worthy of worship and a whole lot of money on the used market.
Advertisement
The trouble with hero worship of that magnitude, of course, is once you do it, it's nigh impossible for a successor to reach it - let alone surpass it. In that sense, the new NSX was born to lose.
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
This is a crime.

True, the new NSX doesn't have a manual transmission and all the other analog this, thats, and whatevers that people loved about the old car. The only things the two have in common are a name and the fact that they were built as specific responses to the calls of their respective eras.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
A pair of Acura NSXes.Acura
The first NSX was designed and built in the late 1980s. It had a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. A naturally aspirated V6. Horsepower came to 270. Since then, technology - and our own supercar expectations - have marched on by light years.
Advertisement

The current NSX, which finally hit showrooms in 2016, is an embodiment of this period in automotive design and technology. It answers to demands from this market.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
And it does the job perfectly. The new NSX uses a mid-mounted 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V6 and an electric motor to drive the rear wheels and two more electric motors to drive the front. Combined, the total system output is a claimed 573 horsepower and 476 pound-feet of torque. There's a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Mildly updated for the 2019 model year, Acura gave the NSX improved standard features such as dynamic chassis control, power seats, satellite navigation, front- and rear-proximity sensors, and aluminum pedals. Thermal Orange Pearl paint was introduced that year, followed by Indy Yellow Pearl in 2020 and Long Beach Blue Pearl for 2021. But it's still the same striking hybrid supercar that was introduced five years ago, and its looks haven't aged a bit.
Advertisement
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
The first thing you'll notice when walking up to the NSX is how petite it actually is despite its classical supercar proportions. Its low stance and wide front fascia suggest something far more vast, but at 176 inches long, it's actually 1.9 inches shorter than the current Porsche 911. But it hunkers, staring down the world like a wad of muscles bunched up and ready to spring forward.

In bold, eye-catching Pikachu-yellow, the NSX's swaths of black detailing - its wheels, intake grilles, and front bumper - contrast sharply. Around back, the massive carbon fiber diffuser claws its way out of sight beneath the car. A honeycomb mesh grille festoons the body, letting out heat here, giving the engine holes with which to breathe there.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Though a hybrid, the NSX is not a plug-in hybrid. Battery-only driving is possible, but Acura declined to give a range. In Quiet mode, the car will roll forward from red lights on battery power, with the gasoline motor only kicking in when you press on the accelerator more forcefully.

It's an event when that happens too; one second, there's a futuristic and high-pitched whirring sound accompanying your zero-emission, low-speed traversing. But when the V6 kicks on, it does so with a tremor through the cabin and a throaty purr like something that's just been woken up.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
Acura NSX.Acura
Climbing into the NSX demands that you do the DSD, a pretty standard supercar dance: duck to fit under the low ceiling, slide across the big sills, and drop into the bucket seats. Or, if you're my 94-year-old grandmother, you go in butt first and swing your legs in after. Both are acceptable. The NSX's skinny steering wheel fits well in the hand and, frankly, is my favorite part of the interior. Not only does it require very little arm movement to turn, but that petite wheel is also attached to some of the most direct steering I've ever used. Even the smallest inputs twiddled the front wheels, like I was the marionettist making the car dance.
Advertisement
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
The instantaneous torque from the electric motors steps in most obviously under quicker acceleration in Sport, Sport Plus, or Track mode. The NSX leaps forward with a ferocity that a solely turbocharged car cannot normally muster. From what my butt dyno could tell, the addition of the motors effectively eliminated the sensation of any turbo lag from the V6.

And the noise? Furious. At the mid-RPMs, you're urged along by a velvety V6 rasp - more trebly than any V8 - that crescendos into a full-out roar as you ascend the rev range. Let off the throttle and you can hear the turbos whoosh encouragingly.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
You'll find plenty of blogs on the internet of people doing long-distance journeys in the NSX. This is because the car has been billed as the daily drivable, everyday supercar. Certainly, in Quiet mode, it's manageable on long stretches of highway.

But it's still a supercar. And as such, it comes with supercar-isms that make living with it inherently compromised.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
To begin, the price: My loaner, with its Indy Yellow Pearl paint, carbon-ceramic braces, carbon fiber exterior sport package, rear decklid spoiler, carbon fiber engine cover, carbon fiber interior sport package, and carbon fiber roof, came to an estimated MSRP of $197,995. The suspension: Doesn't feel like it'll atomize your bones, but I wouldn't call it soft. You'll never forget it's there.
Advertisement
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
Acura NSX.Acura
The seats: Do not raise, so shorties like me have to put a lot of faith in those proximity sensors and our own depth perception. (The ceiling is nice and high, though, so a racing-helmeted head would have no problem fitting in the NSX.) The rear visibility: Garbage!
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee

The wing mirrors: Must stick out into the next county just to be able to see around the giant intakes behind the doors.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
The infotainment: Seemingly straight out of an MDX from 2014.
Advertisement
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee

And the storage: Laughably bad. There's no front trunk because that's where all the hybrid stuff lives. As my mom acutely observed, "They put too many motors in it and not enough storage space."

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
But fully expecting the NSX to have the practicality of anything else is silly. Anyone serious about it going in already knows about these -isms; hell, they might even welcome them, because, in exchange, you get a driving experience that rips just as well as other supercars that cost $100,000 more. Among its competitors, the NSX stands alone. It is neither the fastest nor the most powerful, but it is the only one from a Japanese automaker. It's also a hybrid, of which there aren't many.
Advertisement
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
The base NSX starts at $157,500; that price jumps to $159,495 after you factor in the $1,995 destination fee. (Autoblog has reported that dealers will knock $20,000 off of NSX prices because nobody is buying them and they want them off their lots. If you manage to score a mega deal on an NSX for this reason, please report back because I'm so curious.)

The NSX isn't cheap by any means - the C8 Corvette is far more affordable and much newer - but every aspect of it feels tighter and more exciting than the Corvette. More special. There, I said it.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
On this side of the new millennium, we have turbocharged cars with so much power that they need all-wheel drive to mitigate all of it. We can give them nine gears to help with gas mileage. We have the option for electric motors and driving without using an ounce of gasoline. What might have been regarded as unthinkable witchcraft in 1990 is today's reality. It's marvelous stuff.

If you're still stuck on the idea of the original, analog Car-That Must-Not-Be-Named, then just go ahead and buy that. Don't cross-shop it with today's NSX because the two couldn't be more different.

Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Rather, enjoy the current NSX in all its funky hybrid goodness. Don't dismiss it just because you don't like its on-paper ingredients. It deserves so much more than that. ♦♦♦
Advertisement
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
Review: The $198,000 Acura NSX lives in the shadow of its legendary predecessor but deserves so much more
2020 Acura NSX.Kristen Lee
{{}}