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2017 Acura NSX: First Drive Review

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2016

When the original Acura NSX ended production in 2005 after an impressively long run that spanned more than a decade, Acura was quick to promise that a new version would soon return to the market. A few years later, there were more promises. Then a concept car. Then more promises. Then another concept car. Then a race car that supposedly foreshadowed the next-generation NSX. Then a Super Bowl commercial with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.

Yes, it's been a long time coming. But the 2017 Acura NSX is finally here, in production, in person and ready to go on sale. Here's what I think after driving it.

Inside and Out

Ever since the production-ready Acura NSX was finally revealed last year, car enthusiasts have devoted a lot of time and energy to sharing their opinions -- both positive and negative -- about its design. Such is life when you play the exotic-car game, in which buying decisions are rarely based on traditional factors such as equipment, pricing and fuel economy and are instead based on less tangible elements, such as emotion and appearance.

Personally, I thought it looked pretty sleek -- and I thought most people felt the same way. Or at least, I did until I posted a few NSX photos on Twitter and Instagram and was immediately overcome with negative remarks that suggested the new Acura is merely a clone of the Audi R8.

Well, I'm happy to report that the NSX doesn't really look that much like an Audi R8 in person. Of course, there are some similar lines -- but that's a reality of all midengine exotic sports cars, which have little choice but to use the same basic layout and dimensions. Instead, my feelings about the NSX are about the same as they were when I saw pictures from its unveiling at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: It's sleek. It's eye-catching. It's cool. No, it doesn't have the same distinctive look as its rivals: It doesn't have the lustrous lines of a Ferrari, the wedge shape of a Lamborghini or the carefully evolved design of a Porsche. But I promise you this: When you see a new NSX on the street, you will notice. You will crane your neck to watch it go past. And you will smile.

I wish the same were true for the interior. When you climb inside the NSX, you're immediately faced with one unavoidable reality: You're sitting in an Acura. You're not awestruck that you're in a supercar. You're not excited to find yourself sitting in a high-dollar exotic. You're not overcome with the joy of being in a long-awaited icon. You look around the cockpit, you take everything in, and you think to yourself: "Yep, this is an Acura."

Of course, it's a very nice Acura -- and the driving position in the NSX is a lot different than the one in, say, the MDX. But there are no big surprises here. There's no crazy Ferrari steering wheel that lights up when you're getting close to redline. There's no Huracan-style starter button hidden under a cover that you have to flip up like you're in a fighter jet. There's no ultra-modern center control stack that's suspended from the dashboard like there is in the new R8.

When you're in the NSX, you just have an Acura steering wheel, Acura buttons and an Acura infotainment system. You also have the same power door lock switch as my girlfriend's 6-year-old RDX crossover -- which, I should note, is something I will relish every single time I get in that car and lock the doors.

Behind the Wheel

So the exterior's pretty cool, and the interior's pretty average. But those are things you can figure out for yourself when these cars start showing up around the country. If you're like me, you're probably a lot more curious about how the new NSX actually drives. So here's my take: It all depends on your expectations.

I'll freely admit that I might be the only car enthusiast you'll ever meet who wasn't really moved by the original NSX. I never found its styling that appealing, I was never excited by its V6 engine, and I've always felt that they were a little overvalued. As a result, I didn't mourn the NSX's demise when Acura pulled it off the market in 2005.

As for the new one, I've only kept it in my periphery. Tired of the constant "will they, won't they" approach Acura has taken to releasing this car, I haven't paid close attention to many details about it. In fact, when I arrived at The Thermal Club racetrack in Southern California to drive the new NSX, I wasn't sure what transmission it had (a 9-speed dual-clutch automatic) or even whether or not it was all-wheel drive (it is).

And I loved it.

And I think the main reason I loved it is that I haven't been obsessively waiting for this thing to come out for a decade, refreshing the Acura website every morning in case the configurator goes live, and talking with fellow enthusiasts about how cool/uncool/bad/good/awful/exciting the new NSX is. I just showed up, drove a car on a racetrack and a 3-hour street loop -- and came away highly impressed.

Here's why: The new NSX is a truly excellent vehicle, both in a racetrack setting and on twisty mountain roads. Handling is sharp, steering is predictable and connected, and acceleration is up there with the best (most magazines are recording something close to 3 seconds for a 0-to-60 time). It's also amazing to see how Acura has used electric power to improve the car rather than just give it some meaningless "green" designation. Indeed, electric motors that drive the front wheels can be easily felt, which gives the NSX extra juice from a stop and additional capabilities around the corners.

So why does the NSX's driving experience depend on your expectations? Because when you have a 12-year lead time between the old model and the new one, drivers basically expect the result to offer powered flight, room for 25 passengers and an in-vehicle vending machine.

And indeed, if you approach the NSX with the "it took them 12 years, so this car had better be the greatest thing ever made" attitude, you'll be disappointed. The NSX can't deliver perfection. Instead, when you compare it with rivals such as the new Porsche 911 Turbo, it's simply on par -- and not leagues better. But that's some pretty good company for a newcomer from Ohio.

The Problems

With the exception of its interior, the NSX is pretty cool -- both to look at and to drive. But the car isn't without its flaws. I think there are two crucial ones that shoppers will have to get past in order to seriously consider the NSX on the same level as better-known exotics such as the McLaren 540C, Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo.

No. 1: The NSX has a V6 engine. To me, this flaw isn't debilitating, since its closest rival on price, the Porsche 911 Turbo, also uses a 6-cylinder -- and it does just fine. Plus, the NSX seems to make up for its 6-cylinder powertrain with its muscular 573-horsepower figure, its 3-second 0-to-60 time and a surprisingly melodious engine note that's piped into the cabin in Sport mode. So we'll call that one a possible issue.

The NSX's second (and most glaring) problem is that it's an Acura. Of course, this isn't a flaw on its face: Acura sells thousands of vehicles a year to satisfied customers all over North America. But none of them cost $157,000. That's exactly what they want for the NSX -- before options. If you load it up, you're looking at two hundred grand out the door.

Personally, I don't find this price point especially ridiculous -- on paper. It is, after all, roughly the same as the Porsche 911 Turbo (which starts around $153,000), cheaper than the Audi R8 ($164,000) and the McLaren 540C ($165,000), and far cheaper than true exotics such as the Ferrari 488 GTB and Lamborghini Huracan, both of which are well over $200,000. And with the exception of those last two, the NSX has more power than any of them.

But on paper isn't the same as in practice -- and I suspect a lot of car shoppers will have to think long and hard about whether or not they really want to spend nearly $200,000 with the same company that's currently offering a 1.9 percent interest rate on a front-wheel-drive compact car based on the Honda Civic.

Our Take

The 2017 Acura NSX isn't just a good car; it's a great one -- and I think anyone who says otherwise couldn't possibly have been satisfied following years of development time and seemingly endless concept cars. Whether the NSX will be a success, however, is a completely different question that's based less on objective qualities and more on emotion, perception and public opinion. I don't know the answer.

But one thing's for certain: After spending a few hours behind the wheel, I'm very glad the NSX is finally here.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Acura NSX: First Drive Review - Autotrader