Sunday, April 12, 2015

2016 Acura NSX Dissected: Powertrain, Chassis, and More

Acura clearly wants to get this thing right. The original aluminum-intensive 1991 NSX was a stunner, a sunrise of engineering inspiration that chased away the darkness in the realm of sports cars and laid bare the multitude of sins being committed there. For the first time, a large automaker that took quality seriously had applied itself to a segment rampant with all manner of pop-riveted, glued-up, hammered-down, and wiggy-wired silliness. In the presence of the $60,000 NSX, the self-important air-puffed mediocrities of the eroti-car industry scurried for cover.

It didn’t last. Everybody else got better, with newer and faster cars, while the NSX mainly just got more expensive, chained as it was to the rapidly inflating yen. The final targa-topped NSX went off the line in 2005, and hardly anybody noticed. Since then, Acura has launched, scrubbed, relaunched, rescrubbed, and re-relaunched projects intended to replace it. In the first two tries, the car got as far as a fully styled and drivable prototype, which in NASA parlance is 30 feet above the moon, before Acura aborted.

 There was that coupe with the V-10 in its big schnoz screaming around the Nürburgring in 2008. Corporate canned it later that year, figuring out something that To­yota never did during development of the Lexus LFA: An interstellar unicorn that is seriously into six figures will do little for a brand that sells most of its vehicles for less than $50,000. The next attempt was a Porsche 911 fighter. It was a mid-transverse hybrid that plucked the parts bin for a version of Honda’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6. Concept cars were shown, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld made a Super Bowl ad for one of them, and a fully clothed prototype circled Mid-Ohio in August 2013 in front of thousands of IndyCar fans.

But even as NSX version 3.0 made its first glory laps, Acura had already decided to scrap major elements of the design. According to NSX project leader Ted Klaus—notably not a Japanese citizen, for this project is U.S.-based—it was in mid-2012 that “the performance targets were changed.” Meaning upped considerably, to confront an era in which Nissan GT-Rs have more than 500 horsepower and a Dodge Charger can make more than 700. According to Klaus, the transverse, single-cam 3.5 was maxed out trying to make just so-so power, which didn’t give the NSX any room to grow. So it was back to the CAD stations for changes.

Out went the shared 3.5 and in went an all-new, longitudinally mounted, dry-sump, twin-turbo, four-cam, 75-degree 3.5-liter V-6 with exactly nothing major in common with any other Honda production engine. Not even bore centers are shared. A new, nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox integrated with an electric motor drives the rear wheels and collaborates with two electric motors that power the front wheels. Total output is a secret, but plan on more than 550 horsepower. The NSX is back to stalking Ferraris again.