On paper, the 2017 Acura NSX is very much a supercar.
Performance credentials, certainly, are not in question. The 573 horsepower and 476 pound-feet of torque motivate all four wheels thanks to the combined efforts of a mid-mounted twin-turbo V6 and three electric motors (one at each front wheel and a third sandwiched between the engine and transmission). For some perspective, the 2018 Honda Accord 1.5-liter conjures up just a third of the NSX’s output.
Acura’s halo car isn’t wanting in terms of sophistication, either. Apart from its advanced hybrid drivetrain — which can silently scoot the car along at low speeds with only electric power — the NSX’s nine-speed, dual-clutch transmission; multiple drive modes; torque-vectoring functionality; and digital driver display are all on par with the latest six-figure performance machines.
The price, too, transcends the norm: $156,000 to start, plus an easy $50,000 of available options. One fully loaded NSX is worth more than all five of Acura’s other models.
Despite this data in support the NSX’s supercar claim, one subjective measure has the potential to crumble Acura’s case: impact. Fair or not, conclusions about where a vehicle fits in the performance hierarchy are made at first glance; numbers come second.
Rather than describing the NSX’s aesthetic nuances and arguing its curb appeal, I chose a more direct test. Strapped into a highly optioned example, I took to the streets of south Orange County, a center for Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and other established supercar nameplates. What hope did an Acura-badged two-door have when competing for attention with Italian eye-candy?
Even before escaping my neighborhood’s cluster of monochromatic townhomes, I uncovered the NSX’s biggest handicap. Turbos “whooshed” and gears “shunked,” but engine music was confined largely to the cockpit. Passersby could hear little of the NSX’s hybridized wizardry, meaning the car would rely on observational intrigue — a challenge with so many sets of eyes fixed on smartphones.
Undiscouraged, the Curva Red Acura strut its stuff along Pacific Coast Highway, flashing its buttresses to South Coast Plaza shoppers and waving its carbon fiber spoiler at Fashion Island dawdlers.
Bright red brake calipers shone from within gunmetal gray wheels. Carbon fiber exterior trim panels added race-inspired flair to the front lip, roof, trunk, and lower bumper. Thin strips of LED daytime running lights illuminated the rearview and side mirrors of every preceding car. If ever a 2017 Acura NSX had a chance to stir the masses, this would be it.
The first remark came from a construction worker at a business plaza. “What is that thing?” he inquired. “The Acura NSX,” I replied. “Oh…looks awesome,” he blurted after a long pause.
My next interaction was non-vocal, but far more aggressive. Out of nowhere, my rearview mirror was filled with the front end of a late-model Volkswagen Golf GTI. Peering into the tailgater’s cabin, I saw four young faces with slack jaws and wagging fingers. Rear passengers butted heads to see around the front headrests. Forward passengers snapped pictures and Instagram stories. Playing along, I popped the NSX into Sport Plus mode and hammered the throttle, mustering as soulful a noise as possible while leaving my pursuers to their … well, whatever it is teenagers do these days.
The real ruckus started after turning onto Huntington Beach’s Main Street. Surfers, tourists, and families spilled out of taco shops and into apparel stores. I couldn’t have drawn more stares if I’d ridden on a floating, 30-foot ape. “Cool,” “check it out,” and “what is that?” mouthed various groups of onlookers. The NSX demanded attention without prejudice.
Anecdotal evidence was mounting, but it wasn’t until pausing for my caffeine fix that the two-door’s trial was settled. Claiming a wide parking space in a crowded lot, I ambled towards the coffee shop’s entrance. Before I could grab the door handle, though, a man on the patio called out: “Hey, what kind of car is that?”
“It’s the new NSX,” I smiled back.
With furrowed brow, he summoned a new query: “it’s fast, right?
“Very,” I assured.
“Nice,” he concluded, relaxing his expression.
I finally grasped Acura’s success. Whether anyone could identify the NSX or knew its specifications was inconsequential; casual observers needed only to believe this car was extraordinary in some way. One look was all it took.