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Classic New York Times Articles on NSX

28 December 2001
Orinda, CA
I do not know whether these have already been posted.


About Cars; Acura's NSX: All-Aluminum Exotica

Published: November 11, 1990
WHAT is so amazing about Acura's new NSX is not its blinding speed or the ripping mountain-lion snarl of the engine when you put your foot into it. What is so amazing is not the complex suspension that makes the NSX handle as well as anything yet put on the road. Nor is it the fact that hungry customers are pushing and shoving to pay double the car's sticker price.

No, what is so surprising about this tiger, this first true exoticar from Japan, is that it is such a pussycat to drive. The NSX is maybe the best sports car that ever was, but it behaves with all the civility of a Honda Accord -- which with good reason has become America's top-selling automobile.

Acura is Honda's luxury division, and the NSX is the world's first all-aluminum production car. It is also Honda's laboratory for technology, and it demonstrates what can be done when a major manufacturer puts its effort into making a super-car that refuses even a nod at the usual eccentricities.

The NSX is many things, the first of which is gorgeous. When you cast eyes on it, it occurs to you that this is too much of a museum piece to put out there in the cut and thrust of traffic. What a shame to treat it like an automobile. It is a Ferrari, but better.

Then you get into it, and you know how much better. There is cream-colored leather, accented by hides that are dyed black. There is stitching, but without the quaint handmade look of a Maserati. The gauges are round and readable and everything is the way you think a car should be. It is the car that some of us drew in junior high school, the one that nobody ever built.

But you'd better be feeling sociable when you get behind the wheel, because everybody from dowagers in Lincolns to punks in primered Novas will engage you in conversation. I was not 10 minutes into the car, sitting at a traffic light, when the police went by, stopped, backed up. Normally, a serious uh-oh.

But all the Sir wanted to know was how I liked it, how long I'd had it, how fast was it. Good luck, he said.

The car was red, very. With a black roof. And I quickly realized that a trip in the NSX, despite its hot-rod capabilities, is often slower than that same trip in more boring machinery. The troopers give chase just to lay hands on the pretty flanks, just to look at the car up close.

But close or far, that body is sculpture. It is formed entirely of aluminum, as is every major component, and the elimination of iron and steel has cut the weight by 40 percent. The NSX weighs only 3,010 pounds, and that minimal avoirdupois has been wind-funneled and otherwise honed for quickness and fuel efficiency.

The aerodynamics are particularly noticeable in the passenger compartment, and airflow has been managed so well that driving with an open window is not much different than driving with the window closed, yielding only a quiet breeze.

Everything is of a piece, one part sweeping into the next. The large rear window curves into hind quarters that make one think of nothing so much as a quarter horse (or a Ferrari.) And the back window pops open so you can lift the huge rear package shelf for access to the engine.

The 3-liter V6 is mounted transversely and drives the rear wheels. It is compact, with aluminum block and heads, and its double overhead cams operate four valves per cylinder, generating an incredible 270 horsepower.

Honda has been successful in Formula One racing, and its experience -- and some racing parts -- have gone into the Acura's engine. Acceleration from zero to 60 is on the order of 5.6 seconds, and the NSX has a top speed of 168 miles an hour.

All the same, the car's light weight and technology conspire to provide an economy rating of 19 m.p.g., city, and 24, highway, good enough to avoid America's gas-guzzler tax, which will be doubled under the new Federal budget plan, rising to $1,000 from $500.

For all its deftness, the car feels surprisingly heavy, and part of that is a lack of power steering. That frivolity is available, however, if a buyer shuns the five-speed stick and opts for the four-speed automatic, although it is hard to see why anyone would.

The stick is stubby and leather-covered (what else?) and the shifter's throws are short and tight. The three-spoke wheel also lends a no-nonsense air to driving. It is leather-wrapped but hard and unpadded, and it feels much like the wheel in a Formula Ford. There is, of course, an air bag in the hub, and Honda has announced that all its products will have bags for both driver and passenger by the fall of 1993.

Safety has also dictated massive disk brakes that are hooked to a four-channel antilock system, and the same computer that controls braking is in charge of traction control, automatically reducing engine power whenever it senses imminent wheel spin. That means that you can't twitch the rear end out, even in hard driving.

However, if you feel a sincere craving to steer with the accelerator, you can turn the system off with the push of a sensibly hard-to-get-at button up by the 185-m.p.h. speedometer. The other gauges are a 9,000-r.p.m. tachometer with a 7,900 redline, and meters for oil pressure, temperature, volts and fuel. The controls, like the rest of this car, are pretty much perfect, and the NSX is the first car that I have seriously considered running away with.

Apparently, a lot of people feel that way, and would-be buyers are queuing up with obscene amounts of cash in hand. Honda last week raised the sticker for the second time this year, pushing it from the original $58,000 to $61,000, but that is laughable, given the going price.

Most American dealers have received only one or two of the cars thus far, and a lot are keeping them for themselves. Those who aren't are selling them for $75,000 to $80,000, and private speculators are offering them at well over $100,000.

In Japan, the NSX costs even more, and there is a waiting list in the homeland of almost three years. But 17 lucky residents of Hiroshima won't have to wait that long. They won a recent lottery, and the prize was permission to buy the cars for a paltry $65,000.


BEHIND THE WHEEL/Porsche 911 Carrera vs. Acura NSX; Two Faces of Hedonism

Published: October 16, 1994
AND what is milord's pleasure today? The Day-Glo turquoise Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe, with its bulging postmodern fenders, souped-up engine and gadgets to monitor the gadgets? Or the screaming-red Honda Acura NSX, with its fighter-jet cockpit, all-aluminum body and 21st-century engineering?

Such choices seem a throwback to an era when investment bankers roamed the earth in Lamborghinis and only hippies and plumbing contractors drove vans. But it's always nice to stay abreast of what's new and decadent, in case hedonism makes a comeback. Besides, it makes a change from all those car reviews focusing on cup holders, 5-mile-an-hour bumpers and ozone-friendly air-conditioning.

Start with the Porsche Carrera, a 32-year-old body design that has evolved just enough to remain the standard of comparison in upscale pocket rockets. All the expected techie stuff is here: anti-lock brakes, computerized traction control, dual air bags. And in the 1995 version, the venerable air-cooled six-cylinder engine has been given an extra jolt of testosterone -- enough to push the version with a six-speed standard transmission from zero to 60 in five seconds.

This Carrera does make a bow toward creature comfort, with lumbar adjustments to reduce back strain, filters for dust and pollen and a sound system with enough bass to simulate an earthquake. But the image masters back at the factory have taken pains to forestall comparisons with your brother-in-law's Lexus: The interior trim remains utilitarian, the air-cooled engine grates on the ear and the accelerator pedal is devilishly angled to maximize fatigue.

From the Porsche lover's perspective, of course, the implied sacrifice is all part of the ritual. Nor must you be a Porsche groupie to appreciate the virtues of this classic driving machine. The surge of power after a downshift into second gear is a serious turn-on. And the new rear suspension, plus larger front disk brakes, makes it the most maneuverable and predictable 911 ever -- a joy on the twisty, shoulderless roads of rural northwest Connecticut.

So how does the new 911 stack up against the Acura NSX? On paper, the two have much in common: 270-horsepower engines, acceleration times, braking capacity, traction control, safety equipment. But one short spin makes it clear that the NSX is aiming at a different, and higher, standard.

The NSX's leaner body and mid-engine placement leave barely enough room for driver and passenger. And by first appearances, the low-slung seats look like chiropractor bait.

But appearances deceive: The NSX is snug all right, but comfy-snug. The seats offer few adjustments, but wrap the driver in a soft leather cocoon. Once ensconced, the driver has a view to the front and sides that is uncannily clean; even the view to the rear, the bane of exotic sports cars that put sex appeal ahead of safety, is unobstructed. Switches and stalks are within inches of the adjustable steering column, and in classic Japanese style, they feel great to the touch.

Ergonomics alone do not a super car make. And in spite of the fact that the NSX has changed little since the car was introduced for the 1991 model year, it is the remarkable engineering that creates a driving experience like no other.

The short-throw gear lever on the five-speed standard moves effortlessly and precisely. The clutch hardly depresses, seemingly anticipating what you expect: Rank amateurs can downshift smoothly the first time, even at very high engine speeds.

Speaking of engine speeds: The NSX's power plant, a 3.0-liter beauty with ultralight titanium connecting rods and Honda's variable-valve timing that maximizes combustion efficiency under a wide range of driving conditions, is built to turn at 8,000 r.p.m. without complaint or even excessive wear. Indeed, it almost begs to run at full throttle, rewarding hard use with instant response and a whine reminiscent of a Formula One racing engine.

More impressive yet is the NSX's intangible feeling of oneness with the pavement. In hard turns, the wheels claw the asphalt like one of those old cartoon ads for Uniroyal Tiger Paws. And unlike virtually any other high-powered, rear-wheel-drive car, the NSX is forgiving. It shrugs off amateurish maneuvers -- the mistimed braking or panicky lift of the throttle in a curve that would send lesser cars into spins.

These impressions are heartfelt, if not entirely original: The guy's guys who review for the car magazines have been drooling over the NSX -- and labeling it a bargain at $70,000-plus -- ever since Honda added this jewel to the Acura line.

But in contrast to the less ambitious Porsche, of which 350,000 have been sold in various permutations since 1963, the NSX is proving a marketing nightmare. Sales numbered a mere two a day last year, roughly a tenth as many as Honda expected to build when it dedicated a special factory in Japan to assemble the best-handling, most comfortable, most reliable sports car in its class -- maybe in any class.

One explanation is that the NSX was introduced just as the car-as-collectible bubble was bursting. The first few hundred buyers, many of whom paid big premiums on the list price, were stuck with depreciated assets. And the aftertaste irrationally carried over to the NSX's reputation as machinery for having fun.

Another is tire wear: the NSX's high-performance tires are integrated with the suspension for precise handling, shortening their lives to 10,000 miles and sometimes less. Some regulators and consumer groups have made much of this, but it is hardly a scandal; the wear is easy to see, and replacements are not a big expense in the context of the maintenance costs of exotic sports cars. But it has proved an embarrassment for a company like Honda, whose reputation was built on set-it-and-forget-it reliability.

Actually, reputation -- more broadly, cultural misunderstanding -- may lie at the heart of the NSX's marketing problem. Honda apparently assumed that American buyers of upscale sports cars wanted all the pizazz of European exotics without the hassle. But the two experiences have apparently become intertwined; half the fun is in complaining about a car with a twitchy rear end and the difficulty of finding a mechanic in tune with its innards.

The NSX, it seems, is just too easy to drive and the joy of running it near the limit is too accessible to the uninitiated. Besides, who wants to have to explain to the Ferrari-owning cardiologist at the country club why you bought a $70,000 Honda?


BEHIND THE WHEEL/Acura NSX-T; Refreshment for Two In a Pop-Top Container

Published: July 9, 1995
IT goes without saying that exotic cars require money. But the four-wheeled fantasies of the world also call for something more. They require time.

When you drive such a beastie, there is no short stop for gas, no drop-it-and-run at the parking garage. Whatever the destination, you have to allot time to talk about The Car.

When it's in the driveway, you have neighbors who want to deposit fingerprints on the flanks and breathe on the glass. In my case, too, there was the teen-ager who yakked and yakked, who finally offered $5, then $20, then $50 just for a ride in the latest rocket.

The object of his affection was a screaming red NSX-T, a doff-top version of the mid-engined sports car that Honda's Acura division trotted out in 1990. For '95, the technology has been honed, and the "T" stands for targa, which is to say that the car is now available with a lift-off metal roof. But it still looks like the coupe, and for my money, that means it looks better than anything else on the road.

Up front, concealed headlights hide in a low nose that sweeps back over a sharply raked windshield. At the rear, a thin spoiler spans the trunk, and there are now huge round exhaust tips, one on each side of the rear grille.

The body is aluminum and so is the chassis, all of it weighing about 40 percent less than steel, but with the same rigidity and impact protection. Lightness and stiffness were two of Acura's original goals in the NSX, both for performance and for fuel economy, and the engineers succeeded.

With the removable roof, however, more engineering was needed, and reinforcements have been added. As a result, the "T" weighs about 100 pounds more than the coupe, but the company says the body remains stiffer than every competitor's.

Those competitors actually are few, since the midengine NSX has carved out a tiny niche in an already small segment of the market. Porsche, with German luxury and rear-engine performance, is certainly one vehicle that might be considered, along with the home-grown Corvette. But those cars have their own personalities and their own fans. The Japanese NSX is more a stylish stiletto, more like the far-pricier Ferrari.

Not that the NSX-T is cheap, you understand. The base sticker price is $81,720 with the manual transmission that the test car had. An automatic will add $3,500, and other accessories like a compact-disk changer, telephone and keyless-entry system can run the bill up another $3,000. Pretty soon, that targa-roofed beauty looks like real money.

The roof, a 19-pound aluminum panel, is held with latches above each door. It stows in a compartment over the engine and under the rear window, and like most such arrangements, it is something of a pain. The roof is light enough, but it rides backwards in its compartment, and that means turning it and managing the various lids.

One good thing is that storage of the top doesn't deduct from room in the trunk, which is behind the engine, and the car has surprising cargo space for its size and configuration. You can't, however, stand a grocery bag up in it.

Inside, it's a different story. A padded door on the right side of the dash promises a glove box, but the passenger air bag sticks down so far that the "box" behind the large door is really just a slot for the owner's manual. And a shallow bin in the console between the seats would hold only a thin cellular phone or a fat wallet, nothing more.

Likewise, the "engine compartment" up front is of no use for cargo, filled as it is with the radiator, suspension parts and the anti-lock braking system, which has enough tanks and tubes for a modest distillery.

The tiny space-saver spare is there as well, and it comes sans air -- to give you an idea of the tight quarters. A small inflator plugs into the cigarette lighter socket to pump it up in case of emergency, but one wonders what one would do with the full-size flat.

Groceries and convenience are not what you buy such a car for, of course. You buy this car for its swoopy body, its spectacular engine and its road manners.

The 3-liter V6 (all-aluminum, naturally) produces 270 horsepower when mated to the standard five-speed stick, and 252 horsepower with this year's optional Sportshift auto-manual transmission. Technology under the rear hood is nothing short of amazing, and the ignition system of the hand-built 24-valve engine uses individual coils on each spark plug instead of a single coil for the entire system.

Connecting rods are made of light titanium alloy, common in racing engines but unheard of in production cars. And computerized hydraulics change the profile of the overhead cams according to the need for power. A new "drive by wire" system also replaces the conventional gas-pedal cable arrangement with electronics, making the cruise control more precise.

Power goes to the road through molded alloy wheels, 16 inches in front and 17 inches in back. The wheels have open spokes that reveal the big disk brakes, and there are high-speed tires, fat and gummy but with a low, low profile. Tire wear has been a problem for the NSX, and the tires are very expensive, but if you have to ask . . .

On the road, the car sticks like a Formula Ford racer, and there is that terrific growl behind you, especially when you wind the engine in second gear. One problem, of course, is that the growl gets you going quicker than you may want to go, and you really do have to watch it, at least in terms of keeping your license.

In every other way, the car will take care of you. Engine placement gives the NSX a near-perfect equilibrium, and the low seating and low center of gravity are good for everything but getting in or out. It is truly hard to get out of this car -- but then you don't really want to.

As for the neighborhood teen-ager, I took him for a ride, but I didn't take his money. I won't say I wasn't tempted.
Nice thanks.
Good Read...

Funny how he mentions that a grocery bag won't stand up in the trunk.
A reading of articles written when the car was first released helps remind one of the euphoria at the time in the automotive press. That sort of thing helps bring back some of the appreciation, makes you want to go out and look at the car again.
How regrettable to read that only 25% of the cars initially planned for were built and sold.
Remember like it was yesterday, I was 30 in 91 and could not justify / afford a $70,000 sports car! (well over 100k in todays dollars)
All I could afford at the time was 60's muscle cars, mid year BB vetts etc.......:tongue:

But never forgot about NSX..........:biggrin:
Great post.

I love this comment in the first article: "What a shame to treat it like an automobile. It is a Ferrari, but better."

Anyone care to post this on the ferrari forums? ;) :D