It’s Sleek and Sexy . . . So Why Is the NSX a Tough Sell?
Measured in dollars per pound of performance or horsepower per ton of excitement, the Acura NSX is one of the world’s finest sports cars.
It also sells like used tennis balls.
Last year, only 460 of the flattened-down two-seaters found good homes. Those are parking garage numbers. Porsche sold more 911s at Christmas, and Greyhound bought more buses. Even the Nissan 300ZX did four times better business than the NSX in 1996, and that was the year it went out of production.
At $84,000 for the basic NSX coupe, it could be a matter of price. Yet . . . similar exotic interstate racers--Ferraris and Lamborghinis, Porsche Turbos and Mercedes SL500s--cost small ransoms, plus proceeds from a bank heist. And performance differences between NSX and the rest will be felt only by the most sensitive of seats in the softest of silk pants.
Maybe there’s a shriveling market for two seaters, especially mid-engined mounts. But . . . the astonishing success of Mazda’s Miata, back orders for the new Corvette and roadster triplets from BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz drain the oil from that argument.
Could it be that boy racers and Vroom Hildas simply do not equate Japan with the production of bloodthirsty, pur-sang sports cars? Can’t be . . . not with Acura-Honda’s racing record at merciless Le Mans, Daytona, Indianapolis and world Formula One circuits.
Perception might be that only European builders install high technology in their sporty pacemakers. Yeah, right . . . with an aluminum body, forged suspension bits, titanium and carbon-fiber engine pieces, drive-by-wire throttle and an ignition coil for every plug, the NSX is further advanced than a Microsoft-sponsored space shuttle.
So, feel free to telephone Acura with solutions to its sales and marketing problems. Or buy an NSX and see for yourself how much sagacity and appreciation of finer things actually exist within a buying minority.
Meanwhile, Acura has hurled itself back into the paradox with the 1997 NSX-T, which has a slicker transmission and is more powerful with bigger brakes. Just in case any of those aspects are part of the sales drought.
And with this growlier edition, the NSX expands to a line of two, as a coupe or T-top, with automatic or manual transmission and choice of two engines.
There’s the new, standard power plant, a 3.2-liter, all-aluminum V-6 good for 290 horsepower, an increase of 20 ponies. With it comes a close-ratio, racing-quick, six-speed manual replacing last year’s five-speed.
Choose Acura’s SportShift four-speed automatic--a flick-change lever mounted on the steering column, and another legacy of Formula One racing--and the engine is last year’s lesser 3.0-liter V-6, producing 252 horsepower.
Decide on the bigger boy, and the base price climbs to $88,000.
The NSX has always been an exercise in dissociation, a lead the Ferrari 456, even the latest Lamborghini Diablo, were wise to follow. In one mode, beneath a hard foot and firm intentions, an NSX is gnarly enough for any racing circuit. But lolling around town, with you snuggled into its leather buckets and enjoying automatic air-conditioning, cruise control and George Shearing on the Bose, this is an Olds Aurora with a removable lid.
Steering can be caressed. That six-speed’s throw is shorter and sweeter than a Nintendo joystick. It most certainly is not some hard-bouncing beastie requiring constant monitoring of its bodily functions and direction of travel.
We--being easily impressed by tequila shooters, Wolverine work boots, Pete Sampras’ slam dunk and similarly aggressive instruments of life--chose an NSX-T that came in Spa Yellow. We are not sure what spas feature yellow water and will not dwell heavily on the possibilities.
Apart from a reshaped front spoiler and quite lovely seven-spoke alloy wheels, visuals are indistinguishable from the 1991 day the NSX was born. Acura’s mechanical improvements, however, feature significant changes.
Cylinders have been bored wider, aluminum pistons improved, and connecting rods made from titanium, a production-car first. Honda’s patented Variable Valve Timing and Electronic Control (VTEC)--which alters valve lift and timing, ergo engine efficiency at higher revolutions--remains untouched. But craftier use of lighter, stronger aluminum in body panels and suspension keep the car within ounces of last year’s weigh-in; a significant upgrading of power-to-weight issues.
So it’s very quick, with a 0-60 mph time of five seconds.
It’s also wickedly fast, ungoverned and, for those who dare jail time and confiscations, there’s a top speed of 170 mph.
For the learned who know a little about matching engine revolutions to road speed, the power train develops leaping, finger-snap responses in all gears. And the sound. Play it like a clarinet; hear it growl, whine, gurgle, shriek, chortle, sing and build notes to match anything that comes from an Italian throat or exhaust pipe.
Acura brags about a 312-degree sweep of cockpit visibility. Unfortunately, that leaves 48 degrees to be filled by rear window pillars thick enough to enlarge blind spots on both sides. Although leg room is enormous--the seat powers back far enough so even 6-footers will stretch for foot pedals--headroom will brush hairdos. With the lid removed--and removal is a no-brainer--those tall of trunk might bonk backs of heads on the rear window frame-cum-roll bar when getting into the car.
When the NSX was introduced, critics made noise about dim lighting of LED displays for radio, heater and clock. That has not been rectified. With sunlight beaming from the rear, numbers and graphics still close their eyes.
And the trunk lid. It’s a slammer. Again and again until you fear that delicate aluminum is bruising.
Yet all is forgotten and forgiven when underway and there’s a high-performance chemistry between car and driver. Senses will gorge on the pace and precision, and feeling folk will again wonder about the NSX’s basement sales curve.
Still, our domestic auto industry seems to recognize a winner when it sees one and is quick to imitate the good stuff.
Take a look at the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette.
There’s the unmistakable look of NSX to the set of its low front and the rise of its rear.
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1997 Acura NSX-T
The Good: High-tech, high-speed daimyo among world-class sports cars. Striking, neoclassic lines with long tail and short nose. This second generation accelerates quicker, stops faster and firmer, yet shows the docile side of a daily driver with room for luggage and larger persons.
The Bad: Rear visibility and the price, with luxury tax weighing heavy.
The Ugly: Not being able to drive such a car at least once in any lifetime.
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1997 Acura NSX-T
* Base: $88,000. (Includes dual air bags, six-speed manual transmission, automatic climate control, anti-theft system, power windows and doors, removable roof panel, anti-lock brakes, traction control, alloy wheels, telescopic steering wheel and leather seats.)
* As tested: $92,825. (Adds luxury tax and destination charges.)
* 3.2-liter V-6, developing 290 horsepower.
* Mid-engine, rear-drive, two-seat exotic sports car with targa top.
* 0-60 mph, as tested, with six-speed, 5.0 seconds.
* Top speed, manufacturer’s estimate, 170 mph.
* Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 19 and 24 mpg.
* 3,164 pounds.