Like what the GT-R was for Nissan, and the Supra was for Toyota, the original NSX was every Honda fanboy's dream car when it was born in Japan in '90. With a lightweight all-aluminum body and chassis, independent suspension, Pininfarina design, and even having the hands of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna fine-tune the final product, the mid-engine machine quickly became one of the most iconic and best-handling Japanese sports cars in history. For Robert Chew, owner of the '92 model here, the NSX was the "unattainable dream" he aspired to own since his childhood. Dreams became a reality after he progressed in his career and the market value of pre-owned NSXs became more affordable several years later. Robert originally intended to build a NSX-R clone, but he also had a bigger picture in mind—one that would inspire a larger audience of young enthusiasts to appreciate modified cars, hence why a "trendier" Rocket Bunny widebody conversion was chosen. Since he completed his car, he's displayed his project at SEMA twice, changed up the wheels and color once, and has brought it to nearly every major car show and meet in Southern California. It's one of the biggest head turners today, and arguably even more so of a showstopper than the long-awaited, second-generation NSX...which ultimately brings us to today's question, "Where did the new NSX go wrong?"
Before we delve into why the NSX might be overshadowed by its predecessor, let's take a look at a few of its positives:
Prayers answered. The first-generation NSX debuted more than 25 years ago and we've been waiting ever since for its successor. Honda announced a second-gen would be coming in '07, but it wasn't until '12 that a concept was revealed. The production model finally went on sale in the summer of '16.
It's fast. 573 hp and 476 lb-ft of torque by way of a twin-turbo V-6 and electric assist motor, nine-speed dual-clutch transmission, plus two torque-vectoring motors at the front axle; complex as hell but it works—and works well! Even our friends at Motor Trend have done an independent test to show a 0-60 mph of 2.9 seconds with a quarter-mile of 11.2 seconds at 123.4 mph.
Everyday driveability. It drives very neutral and there's even a bit of understeer built into "Normal" mode to keep it from getting out of control. Speaking of control, the stability systems, electric motors, and grippy tires are all designed to keep you planted, even in the rain. There's even a "Quiet" mode, which keeps the car electric at low speeds so you don't wake up the entire neighborhood or parking garage when you're headed to a meet or track day at 6 a.m. What the pros use. With motorsport campaigns in Japan's Super GT and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Honda is doing well with the NSX considering the company is using a chassis that's relatively new compared to the rest of the field. The Michael Shank Racing team even scored its first victory in the NSX GT3 at the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen last July.
Did it go wrong?
From Super Bowl commercials with Van Halen to the first production car auctioned off at $1.2 million, the second-generation NSX had a lot good vibes from the get-go. But more than a year later, the story doesn't paint the same picture. Sales aren't terrible but slower than what many thought. In '16, Acura sold 269 NSXs in the U.S., and through the end of August, 329 units in '17. In places like Australia, Honda has sold fewer NSXs than you can count on one hand. Yikes!
You can read a gazillion reviews online about how the NSX stacks up against cars like the GT-R, 911, or McLaren 570S, and the differences are marginal at best unless you're a pro Time Attack driver. The bigger question we're asking today is why real Japanese car enthusiasts aren't running to their local dealers to pick up a car with so much history and respect within the aftermarket. So we posed a series of questions to a panel of influencers to shed some light on Honda's little predicament.
Super Street writer; former NSX owner
longtime Honda enthusiast, NSX owner (featured September '17)
NSX owner; L.A.-based marketing agency
RJ de Vera
former Super Street editor; judge of SEMA's Battle of the Builders; customer engagement leader at Meguiar's; former NSX owner
Super Street writer; Honda Prelude owner (featured July '17)
world-renowned automotive illustrator
Was the exterior design a hit or miss?
Aaron: It's not nearly as captivating as the original NSX was when it was introduced, but you're wrong if you think it needs to be. More than 30 years have passed since the first NSX was designed, the people responsible for that car have long left the building, and Honda's a different company than it was then.
RJ: The design is actually a hit. It's rare that a production car looks better than a concept car, but I feel Acura was able to deliver a production car that did look better than the concept. It's sleek and angular in the right ways and it has good symmetric proportions. Nothing seems out of place and the lines flow well, at least in my opinion. That being said, I'm still a fan of the HSC that Honda raced in Super GT in Japan and would have loved an NSX that looked like that car. That felt more like a proper NSX successor in my opinion, at least from a design language perspective. This new NSX is totally different from the first generation, and it's hard to find any ties from a design perspective. As a previous owner with old attachments, I was hoping to find some slight semblance. But then again, I just saw the new NSX GT3 race car in all carbon and it looks mega!
Jon: It's not thoroughly a hit or a miss. I dig the size of the car, especially in these times when new models are getting bigger and so bloated. But it's hard to deny that the styling is a big departure from the original NSX and seems more like a fifth or sixth iteration of the original.
Leon: I could do with less curvy lines on the front bumper and keep it more aero. As for the sides and rear...I really like it!
Big Mike: I can appreciate the design and the body lines of the new NSX. I believe the vehicle looks classy, futuristic, sporty, and luxurious, but it accomplishes those things without being all that reminiscent of the original, aesthetically speaking. A body that displayed a more visual homage to its predecessors would have been amazing to see.
Robert: The new design took a while for me to get used to. I was hoping the new NSX would pay more homage to the original, maybe the signature taillights or a similar silhouette. I definitely thought it was a miss at first, but over time I've grown to appreciate the look of the new NSX. If I were to change anything, I would probably integrate some styling cues from the original. Overall, I love how the new NSX looks aggressive but clean and simple at the same time. In that sense, I feel both generations are sporty and elegant all in one.
The original NSX was a rear-wheel-drive V-6 sports car, while the new NSX is an all-wheel-drive hybrid supercar. Was it the wrong direction or should Honda have kept the powertrain more in line with the NSX's roots?
RJ: I actually think the hybrid power unit was the right direction for this car considering what the NSX stood for before and what Acura wants it to stand for in the future. Without a doubt, hybrid technology is the wave of the future both for passenger cars and sports cars. It was actually quite exciting to hear that Acura would be the first in the supercar category to look at hybrid technology from a performance standpoint in the same way the latest hypercars did (McLaren P1, Porsche 918, and LaFerrari). From what I understand, the cornering speed and what a system like that can deliver completely change the way you think about sports cars of the future. NSX stands for "New Sportcar eXperiencement" and should have an ethos on breaking new ground on what a sports car should be, so this is right in line with what they've done. That being said, I think most customers would have been more interested in the car if it had a V-8 (whether it was NA or Turbo) along with its electric motors.
Jon: Hybrid technology is the future, and it's inevitable. As long as power, performance, and durability are there, it's hard to ignore the benefits.
Aaron: The original NSX was a simple car. If the goal was to pay homage to it, then the new model's failed. But paying homage to something from the early '90s doesn't sell cars and won't make them meet modern safety standards. The spirit of the two cars couldn't be any more different. The original powerplant wasn't remarkable and yet the car made up for it with its light weight and unprecedented handling. The new one offers 573 hp but weighs 3,800 pounds.
Robert: The original NSX was innovative in a lot of ways, and I think Acura tried to do this again in the new generation. Yes, it's overloaded with technology when compared to cars in the same class, but really it's like a 918 Spyder but for a third of the price. I think as time progresses, more of these types of features will trickle down to middle/entry-level cars and the second-gen NSX again will be known as a car that brought supercar technology to the masses.
The first-gen NSX began selling in '91 at around $60,000. With a starting MSRP of $156,000 and most second-gen models sitting at dealers going closer to $200,000 with all the bells and whistles, was the new NSX priced too high?
Robert: I've been involved in this conversation multiple times. People have said, "If it was only $110K or $130K, that would be a sweet spot." To be honest, the original NSX was unobtainable, too. By the end of production, in '05, the NSX was a six-figure car. I remember in high school I couldn't even dream that big. I was busy hoping to one day own a Supra, which at the time was around $30-40k. In that sense, I don't think it's necessarily too overpriced because the NSX has never been an entry- to mid-level enthusiast car. The original NSX was tested against the F355, 911 Carrera 4S, etc., so if you compare the new NSX to let's say a 458 or 488, then it's still a bargain in comparison. I think they could have cut costs to drive the price down, but the NSX DNA to me is a practical, everyday supercar, and I think in that sense they hit the mark again.
Leon: I say, "Why not sell it for that high?" It has what it takes to keep up with a lot of cars in its category that are way more expensive.
Jon: Everyone would want it to be priced lower, of course, but realistically I feel it's priced fairly with the current market. I won't be surprised if the next NSX breaks the $200K mark. It would be interesting for Acura to develop a model that fits below this one that has a lower price point but retains that sporty profile.
RJ: The price, to me, is where the new NSX really missed the mark. Even though the starting price is at $156K, the reality is that you're not going to get one without the options one would want less than $185K. I'm sure all that technology comes at a cost, but the draw of the initial NSX is that you could get Ferrari-like performance and styling at a fraction of the price and with much greater reliability. Also, there was really nothing else competing with it at the time. Sure, this new one is still cheaper than a new Ferrari 488 GTB, but there is a lot more competition in the price point that they have put the car in with marque brands and vehicle models that have a lot more cache and where reliability is really no longer an issue. Think Audi R8 V10, McLaren 570S, Porsche 911 Turbo S, and Mercedes-Benz AMG GTS/GTR. It's true that the NSX could definitely match those cars from the performance perspective, but from the cache side it's simply not at the same level. Let's face it—cars in this price point aren't simply bought for performance factor alone. In my opinion, if the NSX was priced more like a "sports car" and less like a "supercar," I think it would be more appealing to a larger number of buyers. It's exactly why many people buy something like a Corvette or a Nissan GT-R. They get a ton of "supercar" performance but at "sports car" pricing, and they're usually very proud of that. I knew I was when I had my NSX. The current GT-R starts at $109K, and a fully loaded limited-edition NISMO GT-R is $175K for reference. What if the NSX started at $115K with fully loaded models at $150K (which, by the way, is the price of a pretty loaded AMG GTS) and a limited production Type R that could be offered around the same price as the NISMO at $175K? Then I would like to believe there would be many more on the road.
Any last words?
RJ: Acura has built a great car. I still need to get behind the wheel of one, but from what I've been told, it's a fantastic car to drive. I just believe it's priced more than it should be.
Jon: The original NSX is pretty iconic, bringing back memories of being in awe seeing how impressive it looked out of the box. It would be cool to see them utilize a few of those styling cues for the next NSX. Going back to the original NSX proportion and silhouette that we all loved, combined with well-sculpted wider hips and a shorter front overhang should give it the proper Hypercar aesthetics this model deserves. With that said, this current model has a lot of potential and it would be cool to see different variants of it, for example GT3, Clubsport, and Lightweight models.
Big Mike: Honda's VTEC and naturally aspirated motor designs are legendary, so a turbocharged, hybrid powerplant wasn't necessary. Creating a vehicle that could and would be on par or outperform exotics and supercars priced dramatically above it was what Honda did the first time, and it would have been great to see them do that again this time.
Leon: It doesn't show a following of its older brother and doesn't scream exotic. I think the hype of the new NSX is just burnt out because of the "10 years too early" info on the car. If it came out sooner, sales would've been better.
Robert: The current NSX gets a bad shake because too many people compare the used first-gen NSX to the current car market, so it's a steal. Time will tell if the new one takes off. I think it depends on how it is marketed and how the economy is as well. I think it potentially will go the path of the original NSX, underappreciated as new and worshiped a few years down the line when it becomes affordable to enthusiasts.
Design. There's always going to be things here and there we'd like to change. As for the new NSX, sure we'd like to see it pay a bit more homage to the OG one or even have a slightly aggressive look, but in terms of the Japanese sports car world, it's the new benchmark. That is, until the GT-R gets a makeover or until Toyota releases the Supra.
Technology. Like many critics, we're a bit old school and love a car that's powerful yet raw. Electric motors? Meh, right?! Well, times are changing and after a brief stint behind the wheel of the second-gen NSX, we can appreciate how linear the acceleration is, how quiet the powertrain can be, and how well it turns in and takes on corners, much due to the technology we doubted in the first place.
Price. Most current shoppers of the NSX are the guys who have a 911, R8, or Aston Martin in their garage. More than likely, they probably weren't wrenching on Civics in their childhood, so a hybrid supercar with a Honda/Acura badge at close to $200K is definitely tough to sell to them. The enthusiasts who do care more about the new NSX are the guys like you and me—the ones who looked up to the JDM supercars of the '90s and had a poster of an NSX or GT-R pinned up on our walls. So with a hefty six-figure tag, yes, we do feel Honda missed the mark with its loyal following, but it's not too far off from what the original cost back in the day, and it's not to say you don't get what you pay for because it drives like the everyday supercar Honda intended it to be.
We might be several years away from a strong cult following and heavy aftermarket support for the new NSX, but until then, we can appreciate more first-generation examples like Robert Chew's supercharged and widebody example to help remind us about everything we fell in love with on Honda's flagship sports car. While it may not be as fast, comfortable, and advanced as the new model, it is still as beautiful and respected as it was more than two decades ago.