If the Honda corporation was a person, he would likely be a single man approaching his thirties, searching for some fragment of his younger days, some remnant of the life he used to find so interesting. He would own a passport that expired a decade ago. He would claim an avid love of music without having been to a concert in years. He would be well appreciated by those who knew him, but his best friend would be his dog.
Yes, Honda has continued to churn out brilliantly reliable vehicles, but even despite the zippy pep of the current Civic Si, “zippy pep” is likely the most you’ll be able to say about it, as awkward as it has become. The S2000, Honda’s last daring vehicle, died in 2009, leaving a void for enthusiasts. Honda has lost its soul, and the most recent evidence of this is the 2013 Acura NSX.
To understand what the NSX is, you’ll need to know what it was. It was Japan’s first supercar, a mid-engine wonder from the world’s most reliable carmaker. It enjoyed a 15 year running, from 1990-2005. The fastest models cradled a 3 or 3.2 liter V6 behind the cabin, the latter handily dispensing 290 hp through a six-speed manual upon request. The whole car never weighed much more than 1.5 tons, and even the original, 3 liter version could rocket to 60 in 5 seconds, straight out of the box.
Handling was superb, the RWD platform tuned with the help of racing legend Ayrton Senna, who many agree was the greatest F1 driver in the history of the sport. The NSX was a revolution for the supercar. It was, and still is, one of the most reliable supercars ever built. You could work on it in your own garage with a $20 ratchet set you bought at Wal Mart. It was relatively inexpensive, too, around twenty grand cheaper than the Ferrari 348, its contemporary equivalent. It wasn’t even considered much of a luxury car. The rest of the world got the Honda NSX, while ours was an Acura.
The NSX was a simple, immortal, RWD Japanese supercar with a stick. And the new one spits in its face.
We don’t want to get carried away, here. The new Acura NSX does look very cool. Its angles are futuristic and fast, even while it’s parked. It’s so cool that director Joss Whedon chose it for Tony Stark’s ride of choice in the upcoming Avengers movie. If Acura would ever drop their much-hated unifang grille, it might be downright beautiful.
But looks are where the spiritual succession ends, because although it does have a mid-mounted V6, that mill is handcuffed to three problems.
The first is its seven-speed, paddle-shifted automatic. This bit isn’t terribly surprising, since you can’t buy a Lamborghini with a proper stick these days. But it is a problem, because the NSX was always supposed to be a supercar for those who couldn’t get a Lambo. It was meant to stay well clear of fiddly technology and silly conveniences.
Which is what makes the next problem such a chunk of glass-in-the-eye. It’s got a pair of electric motors to help with movement. Yes, it’s a hybrid, which should make for great gas mileage, a whole lot of extra weight, and a dull driving experience.
But to compensate for all that extra weight, it has all-wheel-drive, which is the third problem (if you don’t count the unifang). The first NSX was a race car, not a snow-plow. Anything but RWD is, frankly, blasphemy. Gee, though, power behind all of the wheels will sure make it safe.
Truly, was the NSX ever built for those concerned with safety and gas mileage over fleet-footed lightness and sheer supercar excitement? If it had only been the hybrid problem, we could scape it off on the PR department, a nice gesture toward the environment for publicity’s sake. “Of course it’s a hybrid,” they would say. “It’s a new car, sure to generate a great deal of hype.”
But this unholy trinity of an automatic, AWD hybrid diagnoses a problem far worse: Honda has lost its soul. So Honda, if you do find yourself to be that man, slowly ossifying into a life of recumbent practicality, we beg you to find yourself again, to go on an adventure. How, you ask? Just go drive a 1990 NSX.