How the Original Acura NSX Changed the World

How the Original Acura NSX Changed the World

Words and photography by Vijay Sankar

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Highway 35 was uncharacteristically empty on that Saturday evening after a downpour earlier in the day. The greasy tarmac and its adjacent back roads didn’t make for the best conditions for my first taste of a certain mid-engine supercar from the 90s. Yikes?

Contrary to my fears though, the midship Acura, draped in its signature red, decided to outplay the conditions, and proved just how impressive and approachable it is 30 years on.

The NSX is a culmination of the visionary methods of Honda that have led the way in automotive innovations over the decades, democratizing safety, reliability and fun for the masses. It feels, sounds, smells and drives very much like a Honda, and in the best way possible.

The Sights

The styling of the NSX is a tour de force. Enter Pininfarina with its elegantly simplistic 80s linework and confident midship proportions that make this a very striking car. If you want to know what timeless looks like, here it is. Everything flows together in harmony, and there are no unnecessary embellishments that strain the eye.

The designers steered clear of distractions like digital clusters and gimmicky interior trends at the time, making the cabin space yet another exercise in timeless design–minimalist analog dials, functional knobs, a single continuous line flanking the entire dash and console. Everything in here works as intended and exists for a purpose, without having to shout about it.

The NSX’s counterparts from Italy were no less than rolling sculptures, but they were ergonomic headaches at the time. Seating position and comfort were heavily compromised, leaving the driver to make up for the shortcomings. Honda decided to put the exotic car scene on notice by doing away with these vices. Perfect driving position, pedal spacing and visibility are the hallmarks of this cabin. The wide windshield with its excellent outward visibility is the closest you’ll get to experiencing an F-16 Fighter jet; the cockpit is spacious and far forward.

Some period reviews called the car a bit dull to look at, but it’s none of that. Just gaze at the ignition key alone–it’s amazingly sculptural and sophisticated!

THE ENGINE

Honda did their business with the engine. It’s a rev happy engineering marvel that keeps you coming back for more. The linear rise in power output encourages you to push it to within an inch of its life every time you get in the car and turn the hefty key. Smooth, effortless and predictable are the words that come to mind. Feel free to visit the redline at 8300 RPM whenever you wish to, it exudes such robustness that it could keep ripping till eternity. This is a driver’s car which compels you to do just that–get in and drive. No worries of extensive maintenance headaches or reliability gremlins. It’s still a Honda, it’s fine.

It is for this reason that there are many examples of NSX owners racking up 100 or 200,000 miles on their car.

Over 3000 RPM, the engine starts stretching its legs, from 6000-8000 RPM, it’s the stuff VTEC dreams are made of–in fact, it’s the first US model to have kicked in yo! With no sucker punch jump in noise at 6000, it’s silky-smooth all the way to the top with a subtle VTEC kick, and shot through with motorsport aura. I had zero complaints of dullness. And the best part is that all of this can be accessed at reasonable and safe speeds on the road. The car enjoys being wound out in true Honda fashion, and it’s keen to respond to the driver’s requests to do so. If this is not the hallmark of a classic NA sports car, what is?

You don’t have to be driving above 6000 RPM everywhere to make it work either. Unless you want to, which you will, because it sounds beautifully mechanical and alive up there. Making a V6 sound this soulful is no mean feat. The mid-range grunt is ample for back roads, and the chassis being super light helps a great deal with agility and perceived acceleration.

THE TRAnsmission

The shifter is super precise, with very positive and hefty engagement. I’m surprised to say this, but it feels far better than even period Porsche 911s.  The control weights are brilliantly well-judged, and ensure that you can focus on enjoying the driving experience rather than having to make amends.

The first gear runs to 45 MPH, and the second gear to an absurd 81 MPH. It’s such a wonderful shift action that I really wish I could work through the box more often. The NA2 with the 6-speed is on my list, as a result.

STeering and handling

The steering is among the most direct, weighty and tactile I’ve experienced, belonging in the league of Lotus Elise and air-cooled 911s. It’s instantaneous with its feedback, conveying the state of the front tires independently with exceptional clarity. It has no dead zone, and offers solid on-center feeling. The wheel loads up big time, offering a workout around hairpins with its slow rack, and demanding a lot of arm movement on tight corners. This 1995 NSX T is thankfully equipped with power assistance to the steering that disengages only above 50 MPH.

As for the throttle response, you can be very heavy on the pedal, and not be worried about getting crossed up. It’s very forgiving and approachable. I drove it at length on greasy roads around Highway 35 with supreme confidence. It’s so simple and intuitive, letting you focus on enjoying yourself rather than worrying about being bitten. As you start pushing harder, it shrinks around the driver, and feels shorter than its wheelbase suggests, egging you to keep driving harder, nudge closer to the limits.

The double wishbone front end makes corners effortless during turn in, but beware of the unassisted steering loading up.

There are no vices to this car. It is easy to drive fast and hustle around–a perfect benchmark for how a mid-engine sportscar should be done.

It has the right amount of body motion that plainly communicates what the car is doing without upsetting the directed trajectory; another confidence inspiring trait. Plenty quick and enjoyable on a technical stretch of road, while being completely benign as you demand most of what’s on offer from the engine. Devoid of a hint of intimidation or rough edges, the NSX has been sculpted, tuned and polished into a state of quiet perfection. Very sophisticated feeling, yet very connected and mechanical through all the avenues of driver interaction.

Another revelation is that this is one of the most comfortable cars I’ve ridden in. You’d be surprised to know that it rides better than commuter cars these days. Anybody can jump in, drive for five hours, and come out feeling fresh as a daisy. Indeed the best of all worlds.

Closing thoughts

Some period remarks on the NSX were harsh: too soft, civilized, livable and mundane, but the beauty of this machine lies in the fact that it can be enjoyed on a backroad today, rain or shine, with no fear of losing your license.

Honda did not need to make this car from a business standpoint, but they did it anyway, and in the process, changed the supercar world for good. It exemplifies what they do best: simple, reliable and fun. Not only is it fast (enough) and striking in appearance, but it starts up every day and is eager to be driven hard.

The first generation NSX is the distillation of the philosophies of the Japanese marque that have often poised it as the model for other manufactures to follow in the footsteps of. It is effortless in everything it set out to accomplish, it kicked down barriers to high performance motoring, setting new standards on the way, and the supercar world is all the better for it.

Oh, and it has pop-up headlights and a fabled Ayrton Senna connection! What more do you need?


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