San Jose, CaliforniaIt's been more than a decade since the Acura NSX was launched during the last recession and the last George Bush presidency. Lots has happened since then, but not to the NSX, which has received little more than an optional liftoff top, a manu-matic transmission, a sixth gear for its manual gearbox, and a bit more power. Not surprisingly, the car has languished in the market, with only a couple hundred trickling out of Acura dealerships in recent years.
For 2002, Acura finally has devoted a bit of attention to its forgotten supercar. Most of the new stuff is plain to seeat least when an '02 NSX is parked next to an '01. Fixed high-intensity-discharge headlights highlight a front end that includes a new hood and front bumper. There are also new wheels and lower body cladding, as well as a restyled rear bumper and larger exhaust outlets. To make all this more visible, Acura has added some flashy new paint colors, such as Imola orange and Long Beach blue, which can extend to a two-tone interior. The brightly colored cabins will be more visible now that the liftoff hard top is standard. In the first ten months of last year, only one fixed-roof car was sold. (Attention, collectors!)
Minor tweaks affect the way the NSX drives. Larger tires, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, and a widened rear track are in place to mellow the mid-engined NSX's tail-snappiness at the limit. Nonetheless, ham-fistednessactually, ham-footednessstill can have you looking through a side window to see where you're going. There's also a tiny new lip spoiler at the trailing edge of the trunk, underneath the rear wing, which helps lower the coefficient of drag from 0.32 to 0.30. The improved aerodynamics nudge top speed from 168 to 175 mph, although we weren't able to verify that on San Jose's CA 85 freeway, even in the HOV lane.
Overall, the NSX driving experience remains largely the same, which is to say, this car provides awesome performance despite being no more difficult to drive than a Honda Civic. There have been those who've dismissed the NSX because it's powered by a mere V-6 engine, but the 290-horsepower unit motivates this relatively lightweight (3153 pounds) car with scenery-blurring gusto, and in doing so it makes a great noise right behind your ears. The cockpit, despite its age, still looks remarkably cool, although the lack of an in-dash CD player is an egregious fault. Some point to the Acura badge as this car's Achilles' heel, claiming that the Japanese don't have the history, the heritage, or the snob appeal to play in the supercar league. But with younger and younger millionaires (particularly during the dot-com bubble) less likely to pigeonhole the Japanese carmakers, that strikes us as not much of an argument. We're left, then, with styling as the reason for the NSX's wallflower status. We doubt this tweaking is extensive enough to help much; it's also a half-dozen years overdue. Unfortunately, the beauty of the NSX remains its advanced aluminum chassis and suspension. Maybe rather than orange or blue, the body should be clear.