Motor control

2020 Acura NSX First Drive: Fine Motor Control

Complete presentation of the Acura NSX

Putting the words “hybrid” and “supercar” side by side in 2010 would have been a mistake. That, or an oxymoron made to poke fun at the monotony hybrids were (and still are) made fun of. By mid-decade, however, the Porsche 918 transformed the conjunctive “hybrid supercar” from irony to whimsy, but it was only reserved for those with immense personal capital. The 2020 NSX, heir to an icon, is proof that the formula the 918 spelled out is alive and well today, but can now be had for less than a quarter of the price.

The first time I drove the NSX earlier this year – a 2019 car – my time with it was limited to an afternoon. My first impression? Quick with a capital Q. Fair enough, considering the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 and three electric motors combined for 573 horsepower and 476 lb-ft of torque.

When I got home that night and told my friends and family that I had driven a supercar that day, the first thing they asked was, “How speed is it? I suspect they meant fast, not fast. Alas, MotorTrend hadn’t tested a refreshed NSX, and I could only quote old numbers. According to our tests, a 2017 NSX sent the 0-60 sprint in 3.1 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 11.3 seconds at 123.6 mph. Impressions confirmed.

Fast forward to December and what’s happening outside MotorTrend’s front door? None other than a brand new Acura NSX, this time a 2020, resplendent in Indy Yellow Pearl. These things keep finding me. This time is for testing too, and I was to be the guardian of the $164,695 super-hybrid for much longer than a few hours this time.

The first order of business was a mandatory trip to the test track. On the 40-mile drive there, I expected to be knocked down by a stiff ride and irritating engine drone, the normal supercar compromises. But the NSX showed none. The ride, although firm, is no harder than a 911 Carrera S set in Comfort mode. Bumps and bumps result in only minor rattles, and the NSX was rarely thwarted by road imperfections.

Leave it in silent mode and the V-6 just acts as a ballast. When limited to its most docile, the NSX cruised at speeds of up to 55 mph as a pure electric vehicle. Speak easy. Finally, it was time for a little theater, so I turned the dial to Sport+ mode to open the exhaust. The engine instantly springs to life with a deep howl. Squeeze the gas and an intake gurgling sound fills the cabin. The nine-speed DCT’s quick shifts make it easy to experience the motor song again and again. Sound? No. Satisfactory? Oh yes.

A post-refresh NSX gets you stiffer link bushings, larger front and rear anti-roll bars, a body-color lip instead of a chrome lip, and, perhaps most importantly, new rubber. The standard tire is the new Continental SportContact 6, custom designed for the NSX and measuring 245/35ZR19 front and 305/30ZR20 rear. The Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R remain an option.

However, the options in our test car didn’t exactly improve performance. A $3,000 carbon fiber fender, $700 red brake calipers, and a $500 satellite radio package—which I didn’t use once—were all we had. No ceramic brakes or Trofeo R here.

On the track, it was time to see if Acura’s modifications to the NSX would result in any sharp improvements or not. Launching the NSX is, frankly, too easy. Turn the drive select knob all the way to the right and hold it for a few seconds to activate Track mode, press both pedals for a moment and take your left foot off the brake. Click. Let’s go.

“Faster than I remembered, and more exciting too,” said Chris Walton, road test editor and acceleration guru. The NSX now rushes to 60 mph in 3 seconds flat and through the quarter mile in just 11.2 seconds at 124.0 mph.

In 2017, an NSX equipped with optional Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R and ceramic brakes stopped from 60 in a world-class 95-footer. The 2020 car we tested lacked both fancy brakes and track-ready rubber. Its 101-foot stop was still good, but nowhere near the mark of something like a 992 Carrera S, which made the same stop in just 94 feet (and can be had for a lot less money).

While it’s easy to scoff at a brake-by-wire system, in the NSX it gets rid of any carbon-ceramic pedal quirks. The orange car I drove in July had the ceramic, and the pedal seemed identical to the yellow car we had for this test, fitted with steelies.

Although the brake pedal lacks feel under hard braking, it is beautifully linear through to ABS. Braking power is always at the top of the pedal when riding hard on a good piece of road, and the brakes are easy to modulate. The more you press the pedal, the harder you brake.

Around figure eight, the new NSX clocked a lap of 23.8 seconds, six-tenths the pace of the 2017 car, but keep in mind the old car’s racy tires. It also pulled 1.00g around the figure eight, three hundredths less than our previous test. However, test director Kim Reynolds noted a sharp brake fade.

“I had to get out of a few corners because I couldn’t stop soon enough,” Reynolds said. Maybe ceramic would have been a good idea. “Good power, though, and the gear changes are really great. This car once had an overwhelming video game quality to its handling, but now it’s really authentic and fun.”

Less video gamey than it sounds, NSX quirks still abound. The rinky-dink cup holder (looks like it was pulled out of a Honda Insight) means you’re guaranteed to spill your big mocha latte all over the ivory leather interior, like I did twice. There’s still no place to put your sunglasses, and the trunk is so small it’s almost useless.

The inclusion of Honda’s previous-generation infotainment setup is almost inexcusable at this price, and we’re grateful for the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Look into the driver’s side floor and you’ll no doubt notice exposed wiring harnesses and frayed carpeting. The interior quality just doesn’t fit the $160,000 price tag. Much nicer interiors can be had for the same price (@AudiR8, @Porsche911, @AMGanything). Oh, and fuel economy doesn’t really say “hybrid” either. We averaged just 17 mpg during our time with the car. Fortunately, the rest of the car compensates for these shortcomings.

Despite the quirks and unfinished interior, the NSX is hip. As soon as your butt ends up in the low seat and your hands wrap around the cool leather steering wheel, the NSX knows what to do. Gas mileage and cup holders be damned, let’s go quick. And after carefully chaperoning the NSX on the test track and wowing my girlfriend, her parents, and my parents, I decided that was enough to show off. It was time to see if the refreshed NSX drove as well as it looked.

On a good road, the NSX isn’t just fast, it’s a brute. The two electric motors at the front claw the road in search of extra grip at all times. The SH-AWD system overdrives the outside front wheel, and the effect is, essentially, extra cornering. The NSX is easy to push, even if your fists are made of ham, and as features editor Christian Seabaugh noted, there’s a truly disgusting amount of mid-corner grip.

Although it bullies a road to submission, the NSX is still friendly with its driver. Perhaps the best thing about driving the NSX is that you’re rarely penalized for making a mistake on the road. Overshooting a slow corner doesn’t come up against punishing understeer. Being overenthusiastic with the throttle won’t result in a big slide, or worse. Instead, the NSX calmly puts its hand on your shoulder and invites you to give your full attention to the road and the car. It’s for the best.

When we first drove the NSX in 2015, we said Acura was letting us drive it a few years too soon. Now that those years have passed, we are left with the car we wanted in the first place. Even though the interior is still an ergonomic nightmare and the mpg is still abysmal, Acura’s modifications to the 2020 NSX make it a $160,000 super-hybrid worth its price tag. Oh, and your R8 can’t cruise in EV mode, can it?

This seems good! More details?

2020 Acura NSX
VEHICLE UPFIT Mid-Engine, AWD, 2-Pass, 2-Door Coupe
MOTOR 3.5L/500 hp/406 lb-ft DOHC 24-valve twin-turbo V6, plus 2 x 36 hp/54 lb-ft (front) and 47 hp/109 lb-ft (mid) electric motors ; 573 hp / 476 lb-ft combined
TRANSMISSION 9-speed dual-clutch automatic
CURB WEIGHT (DIST FWD/REW) 3,930 pounds (42/58%)
WHEELBASE 103.5 inches
Length x Width x Height 176.0 x 76.3 x 47.8 inches
0-60MPH 3.0s
QUARTER MILE 11.2 sec @ 124.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 101 feet
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.8 sec @ 0.87 g (average)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.90 lbs/mile