Is the NSX the best supercar for the real world?

Most supercars live a life of unexplored potential. In a world where a Toyota Camry can hit 60 mph in a once-shocking six seconds, and six-figure performance machines have to cut that time in half to be relevant, few cars can be pushed to their limits in legal conditions. And the higher the limits, the fewer the chances you have to approach them. That means most supercars spend their days flaunting their looks — along with the prestige associated with their extreme capabilities — between occasional bursts of all-out speed.

  • 2020 Acura NSX - Driven
  • Year:
    2020
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V6
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    500 @ 6500
  • Torque @ RPM:
    406 @ 6000
  • Displacement:
    3.5 L
  • 0-60 time:
    2.9 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    191 mph
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925427

The 2020 Acura NSX was built for such a life.

This is a two-seat 573-horsepower mid-engine machine that could pass for a McLaren if you squint a bit.

You can’t miss this low, wide coupe, and it’s always ready to prove that it’s not all about looks. A base price of $157,500 ensures the appropriate measure of exclusivity compared to, say, a $60,000 Corvette. And three electric motors work together with the 3.5-liter gasoline engine to provide all-wheel-drive and an extra-jolt of low-end torque. At the same time, this hybrid powertrain lets the NSX whir along in near-silence in gentle driving, and to achieve Camry-like fuel economy during those times that traffic conditions dictate a gentle touch to the throttle.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925426

We didn’t take the NSX to a racetrack. But on public streets — some empty, others heavily trafficked, and too many others with just that one slow-moving pickup truck — it proved adept at every circumstance we threw its way. It was mild-mannered and reserved in city traffic and neighborhood residential streets. When sharing twisty rural roads with ordinary traffic, it was responsive and fun, without even hinting at its still-greater abilities. And once all that clears away, or you do book track time, the NSX can hurtle itself to 60 mph in a promised 2.7 seconds on its way to — this part had better be on that closed course — a promised 191 mph. Sharp, responsive steering and handling round out the package.

Of course, once a car costs this much, it has no choice but to be exceptional. Does the unusual NSX justify such a high price? Here’s what we found out from a four-day test.

2020 ACURA NSX - EXTERIOR DESIGN

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925428

When it debuted as a 2017 model, the Acura NSX resurrected the name of Acura’s breakthrough sports coupe — the rear-wheel-drive mid-engine NSX that was sold from 1990 to 2005. The new model avoids sullying the name by abandoning those basics, but Acura pays little styling homage to the original. That NSX was long, low, narrow, and angular. Today’s NSX is less than 2 inches longer or taller, but it’s 5 inches wider. Its front-end design is shared with contemporary Acura sedans and crossovers, not the original NSX. And the curvaceous body is fully modern and undeniably exotic. The only obvious cosmetic tribute to the original NSX is a subtle lightbar that runs between the taillamps.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925435

Up front, the NSX is dominated by black. The small grille has lots of shiny black plastic all around it, covering nearly all the area from the headlights to the base of the bumper. Plus, there’s a large air dam under each headlight. The slim headlights spread from the grille surround almost to the wheel wells, and their “Jewel Eye” LEDs are no less striking here than in lesser Acura models. The grille was designed when Acura still had its chrome “beak” as a defining design element, but the company has since scrapped that controversial design. Rather than more fully redesign the NSX’s front end, Acura took away the chrome in favor of a body-colored strip between the hood and the black grille surround.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925431

The NSX’s curved roofline flows down toward the rear of the car, while the windowline forms a point with the aggressive side scoops that provide cooling for the mid-mounted V6 engine. This clean integration between the air intakes and the windows helps set the NSX apart from other mid-engine supercars, for a cohesive design that you didn’t even realize other supercars were missing. The view from the rear is a little less impressive because you see the width and height, but not the scoops. Look from up close, though, and you’ll see the engine through the rear windshield. Our test car’s unmissable Indy Yellow Pearl paint job is new this year.

2020 Acura NSX exterior dimensions
Wheelbase (in) 103.5
Length (in) 176.0
Height (in) 47.8
Width (in, including mirrors/mirros folded) 87.3/76.34
Track (in, front/rear) 65.2/63.7
Ground Clearance (in, unladen) 3.7
Approach/Departure Angles (degrees) 9.2/12.9

2020 ACURA NSX - INTERIOR DESIGN

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Interior
- image 925437
Approach the NSX, and the flush door handles sense the keyfob and pop out for easier grasping.

Open the door and you’re greeted with Acura’s modern-austere design language. To our eyes, it looks a little dated, especially for such an expensive vehicle. The center stack is a wholly conventional sea of buttons below a generations-behind infotainment system (more on that soon). Silvery trim spreads down the edges of the center stack and onto the driver and passenger sides of the dashboard. A high, slim center console rises between the front seats, providing a more intimate and sporty feel than an ordinary Acura. It includes a push-button gear selector for the dual-clutch automatic transmission, whose housing spreads up to hold the center stack’s big rotary knob for choosing drive modes.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Interior
- image 925429

Overall, we weren’t blown away by the interior styling. Materials were suitably high-end, never calling attention to themselves either for their decadent luxury or their cheapness. But the dashboard’s design isn’t so far removed from older Acuras — and their attempted mix of sporty, high-tech, and austere wasn’t always a winner even at a fraction of the NSX’s price tag. We did hear some praise for the NSX’s lack of luxury pretension — that it didn’t distract the driver or push the bounds of taste — but from the overall dashboard shape to the basic plastic dashboard buttons, we think Acura could have done better. Our test vehicle’s all-black interior didn’t help; the NSX also offers dressier two-tone or single-tone schemes featuring blue, beige, brown, and red.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Interior
- image 925425

The infotainment, meanwhile, is inexcusable. The NSX shares its 7-inch screen and touch-sensitive buttons with years-old Hondas that were harshly (and rightfully) maligned at the time. The screen is inappropriately small and unresponsive in a Honda Fit, much less an Acura NSX that costs literally 10 times as much. The navigation system’s cheerful, bubbly graphics are a particular affront, though Acura did work in a digital image of the NSX on the screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration are welcome standard features, but you’ll still miss the physical knob for audio volume and on/off. It’s not unusual for small supercar makers to have clunky dashboard controls, but the NSX has all of Honda behind it, and Honda already has better systems in-house.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Interior
- image 925436
The two front seats are of course low the ground, but they’re well-padded for long-distance comfort, while still holding you in snugly for exuberant driving.

We wished for additional adjustments to improve thigh support, though — you only get fore-aft and reclining, no tweaks to the cushion’s height or angle. Visibility is excellent for a sports car, if not quite as magnificent as the original NSX; you get thin roof pillars and plenty of glass. The side mirrors stick well out from the body, which is a neat look that also helps visibility — not only do they provide sightlines around the wide rear fender well, but they also stay out of the way of your forward view. It’s good that Acura provides this old-school driver-assistance feature (an outward view) because you can’t get blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, a lane-departure warning, or automatic emergency braking. Parking sensors do help as you guide the NSX’s low bumpers toward parking-lot obstacles.

2020 Acura NSX interior dimensions
Headroom (in) 38.3
Legroom (in) 42.8
Shoulder Room (in) 57.6
Hiproom (in) 54.5
EPA Passenger Volume (cu ft) 44.0
EPA Cargo Volume (cu ft) 3.9
Passenger Volume (cu ft) 44
2020 Acura NSX - Driven Interior
- image 925432

Besides the obvious shortcoming of a two-seat interior, and Acura’s missed opportunity to provide user-friendly infotainment, there’s another hindrance to the NSX’s status as an everyday supercar: limited cargo space. You get just 3.9 cubic feet, among the smallest trunks of any car you can buy today. The engine reduces potential space in the back, while electric motors under the hood mean you don’t get a bonus front-trunk like in many mid-engine cars. There’s no tiny rear seat to toss small items like in a Porsche 911 or Nissan GT-R, either. If you’d like to take your NSX on a weekend getaway, you and your companion’s belongings had better fit in one soft duffel bag — or passenger will end up carrying additional luggage in their lap. For smaller items, Acura provides a glovebox and a couple of small cubbies on the center console, including covered ones back near your elbow that are perfect for a phone or wallet. You also get two cupholders that sprout from the center console onto the passenger side, which some passengers would need to remove to sit comfortably. It’s easy to take them out, and said passenger can handle the drink-holding duty if they’ve demanded cupholder removal.

2020 ACURA NSX - DRIVING EXPERIENCE

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925434

Put down your foot, or zig your way around a winding road, and you won’t be thinking about the cupholder or infotainment system. The NSX isn’t a hybrid like a BMW i8 or Lexus LC 500h. Those are fat, gentle cruisers in comparison — they’re still fast and fun by most standards, but with four seats and horsepower ratings in the mid-300s, they aren’t supercars. The NSX is, without question, both in style and in substance. Again, Acura quotes 2.7 seconds to 60 mph, and a top speed of 191 mph.

This output comes from a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that makes 500 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque — plus three electric motors: one in the middle and two in the front.

The total output is 573 horsepower, while the electric motors ensure an instant boost, a steady supply of power, and the traction of all-wheel-drive. This is not a plug-in hybrid; the gasoline engine quickly recharges the small electric battery back to its full capacity for readily replicable performance. And the engine is the right size to snarl when you dig in without being overbearing in gentle conditions. Power goes through a nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and it worked smoothly in high- and low-performance driving conditions. Some critics want the engine to scream with more character, but at the same time, we appreciated the ability to flog it a bit without alerting half the county.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925428
2020 Acura NSX specifications
Engine Type Twin-Turbo Aluminum-Alloy 75-Degree V-6
Displacement (liters) 3.5
Layout Mid-mounted Longitudinal
Bore and Stroke (in [mm]) 3.6 x 3.5 (91 x 89.5)
Power (hp @ rpm) 500 @ 6500-7500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm) 406 @ 2000-6000
Specific Output (hp/liter) 143
Maximum Engine Speed (rpm) 7500
Maximum Speed 191 (estimated)
Acceleration (0-60 mph) 2.9 secs (estimated)

Steering and handling are top-notch, particularly for their ability to engage the driver even at lower speeds and less-demanding conditions. The steering is always firm and alert, and nicely weighted for whatever condition it’s facing. Acura’s SH-AWD (super-handling AWD) finally lives up to its billing in a car like the NSX (rather than its usual home in the Acura MDX seven-seat SUV), proving its ability to guide a sports car with unsurpassed composure. Perhaps better still, unlike too many modern performance cars, the NSX doesn’t feel like overkill for ordinary public streets. And during photo shoots, we executed repeated three-point turns on narrow streets — almost taking it for granted that the steering became as gentle as an Accord’s as we sawed the wheel back and forth to complete the maneuver.

This is no Accord when you push it harder, though, which makes the NSX all the more impressive; it goes, stops, and turns without fuss or drama, yet without feeling cold and clinical either.

You could get a lot more out of this car on a racetrack, but you don’t need a racetrack to have a great time. Acura tweaked the suspension last year to address complaints that the NSX felt too distant, and we can’t argue with the results.

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925430

The NSX has a choice of four drive modes, which adjust the throttle, transmission, and electric motors, plus the steering, suspension, and stability control. Default is “Sport,” with a “Quiet” mode that calms the engine’s revs and makes it a little easier to travel on purely electric propulsion (with an adequately charged battery). You can also get Sport + for maximum excitement or Track mode for the highest performance numbers (at the expense of some driver engagement). Track mode also includes a launch control option for maximum acceleration. Our first choice would be Sport + steering and suspension, and somewhere between Sport and Sport + for the powertrain, but Acura doesn’t let you tailor so specifically. That’s a shame, since it would be especially easy to let drivers mix and match among already-programmed settings.

Sport tends to upshift aggressively when you’re cruising at a steady speed, and the engine doesn’t sound great at lower RPMs. To overcome that, you can choose the gears manually or switch to Sport +, but that means the gasoline engine will always be running. And that robs the NSX of one of the side benefits to its hybrid drivetrain: the ability to drive without using any gasoline. The nine-speed transmission’s top gear is perfect for highway cruising, keeping revs down near 2,000 rpm at 75 mph.

2020 ACURA NSX - FUEL ECONOMY

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
- image 925434

Much has been made of Quiet Mode, which is tailor-made for gas-free (or gas-light) cruising in city traffic, through a residential neighborhood, or in a parking lot. But we didn’t find it any more difficult to do the same in the default Sport mode, accelerating gently up to 30 mph — better than we’ve experienced in some efficiency-focused hybrids. What’s more, the gasoline engine will also cut off while you’re cruising at a steady speed, as long as you’re in Sport or Quiet modes and have entrusted gear selections to the car’s computer.

We topped 30 mpg while puttering around the narrow streets of Annapolis, Maryland, and our overall average for the four-day test was 28 mpg — well above the EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.

However, our test vehicle arrived with the previous 900 miles of fuel usage still saved in the trip computer, and whoever was driving it before had managed a mere 20 mpg. Our thrifty observed mileage stemmed from moderately spirited driving without aggressively overtaking fellow motorists. We can only assume that the previous driver or drivers either found emptier roads or felt less constrained by traffic conditions. But our experience proves that this supercar is happy to sip fuel during the times you keep it on a short leash.

2020 ACURA NSX - PRICING

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
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The 2020 Acura NSX starts at $157,500 plus a $1,995 destination charge. Our test vehicle swelled to $197,995, thanks to add-ons that include the Indy Yellow paint ($1,000), carbon-ceramic brakes ($10,600), and carbon-fiber exterior trim ($12,600). Standard features include heated leather seats with four-way power adjustability, a nine-speaker ELS sound system, dual-zone automatic climate control, a navigation system, and front and rear parking sensors. What you can’t get is a sunroof, cooled seats, additional seating adjustments, upgraded infotainment, or Honda/Acura’s usual driver-assistance technology.

Acura pits the NSX against three European supercars: the Audi R8 ($169,900), Porsche 911 Turbo ($170,800), and McLaren 570S ($192,500). It holds its own on the spec sheet in this esteemed company, while offering a sterling blend of everyday refinement and driving enjoyment. And at least on the outside, it has nothing to worry about for distinctive design. We’d also expect prospective buyers to consider the Mercedes-AMG GT, which brings top-tier prestige and style at a starting price of $115,900, though not the Acura’s extreme performance. However, like the entire supercar world, the NSX faces the performance upstart Chevrolet Corvette — which looks great, now has a mid-engine configuration, can hit 60 mph in less than 3 seconds, and starts at just $58,900. The NSX’s hybrid configuration and all-wheel-drive are an advantage in some driving conditions, but it’s hard to argue it’s worth $100,000 more. Still, when money is no object, the NSX is an even more focused performance machine. And you’re more likely to have the only NSX in town than the only ’Vette.

2020 ACURA NSX IN A NUTSHELL

2020 Acura NSX - Driven Exterior
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The NSX stacks up solidly on the spec sheet and even better on public streets. Supercars are in large part about bragging rights, and some of the Acura’s most distinctive strengths — how well and how economically it drives when you aren’t pushing it — aren’t the usual proud boasts for a supercar.

Still, this is an exquisitely engineered machine that’s great to drive in all conditions. Its smooth ride, easy steering, and thrifty fuel economy are perfect for the times between bursts of explosive performance. But Acura doesn’t provide those qualities at the expense of either thrills or top performance figures once you are ready to open it up. It’s frustrating that Acura got so much right only to let the easy stuff compromise the overall vehicle; couldn’t the NSX use one of Honda’s newer infotainment systems and allow more drive-mode flexibility? Even so, the NSX has proven itself to be a rightful member of the supercar class, whether you beat the EPA fuel economy estimates or not.

Brady Holt
About the author

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