As a young and eager automotive writer back in early September of 1990, I wasn't really sure what to expect when I rolled into the Acura dealership to see the shiny red NSX. You have to keep in mind that there were basically no "performance" cars in 1990, other than the Dodge Stealth Turbo, Nissan 300ZX and of course the Corvette ZR-1 and the Viper.
Think about those cars as you consider the visual shock of the NSX. The thing I recall most was how low the roof was and how long the tail was. It was like the reverse of the Corvette's proportions. Of course, that's because the engine was tucked in behind the driver, pushing the two-place cabin forward a whole bunch.
As low as it was, the NSX was easy to get into without the usual gymnastics required to crawl over the door sills of the Corvette. The interior was also very different in that the dash was low and away, the seats were tight, but comfortable, and the center console swept down from the dashboard like a ski slope. I had never seen anything like it, or driven anything like it.
Most sporty cars in 1990 couldn't push past 5,000 revs per minute. The NSX's 270-horsepower V6 freely revved to 8,000, which was unheard of at the time. A V6? That had more horsepower than the Mustang and Camaro V8 engines? And to make it rev, the NSX was the first Honda/Acura production vehicle to use VTEC variable valve timing.
It also had titanium connecting rods (employed 15 years later in the Corvette Z06) to hold it together. The NSX wasn't really a quick car, mostly because it had an insanely long second gear that could take you to 80 mph. It was light enough, though, at 3,000 pounds, thanks to an aluminum body, chassis and suspension, which contributed to its impressive track times against much more powerful adversaries from Italy and Germany.
The NSX was significant not only for putting Japan on the map as a supercar maker, but for redefining supercar durability. It's also one of the reasons the modern Ferrari is as good a car as it is. Part of that had to do with then-Formula-One champ Ayrton Senna's input on the NSX program.
I was so taken with the NSX that day in 1990 that I told myself I would someday own one, no matter what. It was the summer of 1997 when I found a low-miles red '91 for sale. You have to understand that Acura only built 8,900 NSX's between 1990 and 2005, which was the final year for production, so finding one for sale was no easy task and it still cost me $50,000.
The Internet was barely on its feet then, which meant calling Acura dealers all over the country on a random basis to see what they had. Don't ever knock how easy we have it now with eBay. I love the NSX just as much as I love my first car, a 1970 Plymouth, which I also still happen to have.
You can drive an NSX three seasons of the year, with the right tires of course, and as far as you want without fear of not making it home. It's a terrific highway car and while it lacks when compared to today's high-performance wonders, especially in straight-line acceleration, the NSX is still one of the most pleasing cars there is and represents fantastic value.
It's a bit raw and noisy by today's standards and provides thrilling views from its virtually unobstructed forward glass area. And the howl of the engine once it hits 5,000 rpm will give you goose bumps. It's like driving an enclosed motorcycle. Through the years, Acura hinted at a replacement and despite a couple of concept cars, just never delivered.
It has been eight years since the last NSX and with Japan now firmly on the supercar map with vehicles such as the Lexus LFA it seemed like a replacement was no longer of any strategic importance to Acura. Perhaps all that on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again talk over the years had everyone so indifferent about an NSX return that when the current concept car arrived a year ago there was just as much excitement as for the arrival of the first NSX more than 20 years ago.
Maybe it had to do with the TV commercials a year ago that featured Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, but the excitement is most definitely back, and what a difference 20 years has made (25 by the time it actually arrives, likely in 2015).
The new NSX will keep its engine-in-the-back layout and its two-person limit, but it will also be one of the first all-wheel-drive hybrid supercars. The gasoline engine will be a V6, likely in the 3.5-liter range, that will be used for cruising down the highway because to be a supercar, the new NSX will have to have something a lot more "super" in a world of twin-turbocharged V8s.
The last NSX could run zero-to-60-mph in 4.8 seconds. The current Nissan GT-R can do it in 2.9. The new NSX will compete using electric motors at the front and rear to aid the V6's acceleration. Performance details are light as of this writing, but if the electric motors could add somewhere around 200 horsepower, the NSX will be in thick of things, likely competing with the likes of the Audi R8. Of course, in the two years it will take to get the NSX to market, the competition will also progress.
At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich., the NSX prototype reappeared, this time with an actual interior (the NSX prototype was introduced in early 2012 with no interior), one example of how the NSX could be fitted, Acura said. Wrapped in carbon fiber, leather and metal bits, it's truly a cut above current sports cars in its expected price range of about $120,000.
All this to ask the very real question: is there really a point to the new NSX. Well, yes. Acura needs its halo car back as an example of what its technically capable of. And, quite frankly, seeing the new car, I get the same goose bumps I had back in 1990. It's just a matter of time before I find one that's a few years old to park beside my original '91.