By Frank Markus
Photos Wesley Allison
Acura's 1991 NSX put an end to the era when sexy supercars could be unreliable, ill-handling, ergonomic disasters. The all-aluminum mid-engine marvel delivered laser-sharp handling and high-revving acceleration suffused with Japanese quality, while advancing the state of the production-car art with firsts like four-channel ABS, titanium con-rods, and electric power steering.
Since NSX production ended in 2005, the world has eagerly awaited its replacement. A front-engine V-10 layout was proposed and developed by Acura Design as the Advanced Sports Car Concept. Everyone involved agreed that it was cool, but it wasn't an NSX. The car you see here is.
Expected by 2015, the new NSX will employ a mid-mounted V-6, complete with titanium connecting rods coupled to a wet twin-clutch seven-speed transmission and hybridized with an electric motor driving the rear wheels. Two more electric motors will spin the front wheels, providing torque-vectoring under acceleration and braking to help the NSX turn into corners better under all conditions. This Sports Hybrid AWD system is purported to deliver big-V-8 performance with "better-than-four-cylinder" fuel economy (let's assume they're talking big turbo fours there).
We asked Honda's global CEO Takanabu Ito (who started his career as an engineer working on the NSX's aluminum monocoque structure) whether he felt it was important that the next NSX still be made of aluminum. He replied what was more important was that the engineering team face as great a challenge as his did as they work to offset the new car's hybrid drivetrain mass. When asked whether he'd established a weight-to-power target for the team, his coy answer was, "I hope it is better than the first car's."
But if we assume that here again he expects to challenge his engineers to an equal extent, and we know that the first NSX matched Ferrari's 348 with 11 lb/horsepower, we can expect the 2015 car to at least match the current 458 Italia (and Lamborghini Gallardo) with around 6 lb/hp.
The sexy, show-stopping shape features Acura's softening Keen Edge design. Dimensionally, it measures 3.7 inches shorter in length on a 1.8-inch longer wheelbase, so overhangs are cropped. It's also 3.3 inches wider and 0.4 inch lower than the 2005 NSX. The concept rides on 255/35-19 front and 275/30-20 rear rubber. The low-profile headlamps are LED-based, and while there is no interior in the concept, design chief Jon Ikedo presumes the battery will package in the center tunnel, luggage compartments will be fitted fore and aft, and the fuel tank will slot in just ahead of the engine as before to preserve weight distribution as the fuel level drops. With production slated for "within three years," the shape has yet to undergo extensive computer or physical testing. Ikedo says early scale-model clays are performing well in the wind tunnel, but cautions that crash development is likely to grow the car somewhat. That development work, by the way, is all happening in the USA, and the car will be built in Ohio.
Acura claims the next NSX will represent the "ultimate expression of man-machine synergy," with driver and car working in unison, rather than the driver being taken for a ride by a highly robotized car.
Indeed a three-motor, mid-engine supercar sounds like the ideal halo car for a brand attempting to distinguish itself as delivering luxury and performance without waste or excess. It may even shake up the supercar-world order again. We just hope Ito's engineers overcome their biggest challenge: programming those electronics to deliver realistic, not robotic, road feel.
The NSX won't be first with a hybridized twin-clutch tranny, but, unlike the Jetta Hybrid's, its electric motor connects to (we're guessing the odd) gear shaft instead of the input shaft. By releasing both clutches, more energy can be regenerated with no engine braking effect, and by connecting the motor to the (odd or even) gear with the most advantageous ratio. Under acceleration, power is transmitted through a preselected odd gear even when an even gear is in use.
2015 ACURA NSX
BASE PRICE $130,000*
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 3.7L DOHC 24-valve V-6 + 2 front and 1 rear electric motors; 480 hp comb*
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-cl auto
CURB WEIGHT 3100 lb*
WHEELBASE 101.4 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 170.5 x 74.6 x 45.7 in
0-60 MPH 3.0 sec*
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. 2015