Lapping Massachusetts in a 2017 Acura NSX
A 700-mile loop helps us understand the hybrid supercar
An android in the automotive world, mimicking its supercar rivals in a wholly convincing but absolutely atypical way. I've yet to be impressed by something as dead behind the eyes as this twin-turbocharged, hybrid 2017 Acura NSX. It's slightly disconcerting driving around Palmer Motorsport Park's rising and dipping, 2.2-mile road course, simply because the NSX feels so far from the norm.
A first encounter with Acura's second-generation supercar requires patience and understanding. Patience as heat seeps into its Pirelli Super Trofeo R tires and $10,600 carbon-ceramic brakes, and understanding as the $200,000 car inimitably communicates how it is happiest laying down laps at the 2-year-old, 14-turn track carved into the side of a big granite hill in the small Massachusetts town of Ware. The NSX slides wide climbing uphill through turns 5 and 6 before the all-wheel-drive system — two electric motors move the front wheels as a nine-speed dual-clutch, limited-slip transaxle meters out power between the foot-wide rears — jimmies the car back on the straight and narrow. Steering is dead-on accurate, which is good, since the 40-foot-wide track surface is bookended by concrete walls and slabs of granite. Intense intake noise bleeds through the car's passenger side, an added benefit of being in Track mode, the most liberal of four driving programs.
"That's a beautiful car," says a wrinkled woman wearing a velour shirt. "That definitely didn't come from around here. "
In Track mode, shifts are wicked crisp but not nearly as brutal as you would experience in, say, a Lamborghini. With the tires holding tight and everything warm, I start to play tough with the NSX. It doesn't dance around under braking, and straight-line acceleration is smooth and startlingly quick. I carry as much speed as I comfortably can through a chicane, but the chassis doesn't wink, dipping side to side with no drama whatsoever. I dig deeper, diving harder into a long, leaning left but then freak a little and lift, causing a slide that makes my stomach drop. I regain control and composure, figuring I should trust the brainy NSX, hoping it will sort out traction if I keep my right foot down. I do just that going into Turn 11, tipping the accelerator well before I get to the apex. The Pirellis howl, the steering wheel shimmies, but the NSX stays focused and flat, rewarding my trust and bravery by going balls-to-the-wall fast — faster than I thought both it and I could. The NSX compromises my driving style by asking me to adapt to its unique approach, but doing so enhances the overall experience.
How does this thing do everything other supercars can but feel so different? How is it simultaneously lifeless and lively? The fact that it isn't like other supercars should be celebrated not condemned, because it's a halo car exactly in line with Acura's identity. I want to learn more about it and discover how its character will fare off the track when it has to assimilate in the real world. I leave Palmer to start a 700-odd-mile tour of The Bay State, heading west toward the Berkshires then following the northern border and winding down along the Atlantic coast to Boston.
I go due north to Quabbin Reservoir, one of the world's largest reservoirs supplying Bostonians with almost all of their drinking water. I take out a small fishing boat, chasing after ducks as their wings smack against the water, which is Caribbean clear. Back on shore I do my best not to hit diving loons as I stand beside the NSX and skip stones. Blood red over a bone interior, the NSX is savage, beautiful, and absolutely out of place. Sharp, angular edges mix with swooping curves, and big geometric vents and heavily textured materials make bold statements. The quad-tip exhaust has two oblong middles awkwardly bordered by two circular outers, the carbon-fiber roof looks detached from the rest of the car, the bejeweled headlights are glitzy, and the giant air intakes just below the hollowed-out, aero-friendly C-pillars are striking. It's a polarizing design that's slowly growing on me, although I think the car's best bits are inside.
The ergonomic flat-bottom steering wheel trimmed with smooth carbon fiber is almost as lovely as the soft, semi-aniline leather driver's seat that I could fall asleep in. Fortunately launch control wakes me right up, propelling the NSX from 0 to 60 mph in just more than 3 seconds. I speed along two-lanes tucked in the lush mountain valleys of the scenic Berkshires en route to The Guesthouse at Field Farm, a modernist Bauhaus-inspired bed and breakfast on a 300-acre farm at the foot of Mount Greylock. At dawn I start the dew-covered NSX and set off for Greylock's peak, the highest point in the Berkshires where the beautiful Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower stands. The road to the top is twisty, paved perfectly, and absolutely empty, but it has an annoying 25-mph speed limit. Almost as annoying, the tower is undergoing renovations.
At the peak, I park the NSX and hear, "Ho. Lee. Shit." One of the hard-hatted workers yells down from his scaffolding, "Is hat the new NSX?" I nod, and he giggles like a giddy little girl, pulling out his phone to take pictures. I look over Greylock's edge at low-hanging clouds snaking through valleys covered with puffy treetops and realize just how perfect the road I drove up here is, so I slink back into the NSX and haul ass down the mountain. This NSX isn't pure or analog or whatever other words one would stereotypically use to describe a driver's car, but the NSX is a driver's car through and through. The car comes off as a clinical, geeky, overwrought engineering exercise, what with its complex and intricate powertrain; sci-fi material mix, inside and out; and 107-page user guide that meticulously breaks down new-fangled and almost incomprehensible systems, like the electrically operated clutch actuator, thermal-sprayed cylinder walls, ablation cast frame nodes, and split twin fuel tanks. Yet the experience of driving an all-new NSX is anything but clinical. It's organic and engaging, and the car is as playful and mischievous as the best out there, if one only takes the time to appreciate the Acura's unique way of doing things. The NSX's long mirrors slap against thin, overhanging twigs as I burn down the narrow highland pass, and the car stays cinched down until we come to a tight hairpin toward the bottom of the descent, back toward civilization, when the tail breaks loose and has me laughing uncomfortably.
My blood is pumping, and the brakes are ticking when I get to Linda's Cafe in North Adams, a post-industrial town that fell on hard times after a keystone factory closed its doors in 1985. "That's a beautiful car," says a wrinkled woman wearing a velour shirt, the steam from her coffee fogging the bottoms of her big, round glasses. "That definitely didn't come from around here." We talk over omelets before I head down the street to Mass MoCA, the country's largest contemporary art museum that has upside-down trees hanging outside its front doors. One of its marketing associates, Jasper Nash, is a lifelong Automobile reader, and he lets me look around the museum before it opens. I wander through 110,000 square feet of sprawling, open space, staring in awe at imposing and imaginative works by artists Alex Da Corte, Anselm Kiefer, and Sol LeWitt. We walk up through the boilers that used to power this factory when it dyed uniforms for the Union Army and end up at the door of a battered Airstream that looks like it parachuted from space and crash-landed here. It still doesn't look as alien as the NSX parked just below us.
We return to the Acura. Nash climbs into the passenger seat and directs me to some back roads just outside of town where I open the NSX's taps. His hands are shaking, his smile is wide, and he can't stop thanking me. "I don't need my morning caffeine anymore," he says as I leave to head east. The NSX switches into front-wheel-drive, all-electric mode as I crawl through small towns, like Shelburne Falls where the gorgeous Bridge of Flowers is. People ask what kind of car I'm driving, and few believe it's an Acura. It takes only a handful of hours to cross the state and arrive at The Inn at Castle Hill, an adorable white Victorian on the 2,100-acre Crane Estate. The NSX causes a stir in downtown Ipswich when I park it on the street and go for dinner. Back at the inn, an older couple comes outside to ask about the car as I stare into the flawless night sky, full of bright and beautiful stars.
After a morning swim at a nearby private beach, I load back up for the last leg to Boston. I've now perfected the art of angling my luggage into the small, shallow 4.4-cubic-foot trunk that at most can hold two overnight bags. A trip to Salem — the infamous town in which 19 people were killed in 1692 after being found "guilty" of witchcraft — is short-lived. The best thing about this tackily commercialized place is Allen, a young guy wearing a puffy black jacket who runs through traffic, stops in front of the NSX, and screams, "This is first one of these I've seen on the street! I'm so psyched right now!" He's hilarious, almost as funny as the overweight cop with a bad crew cut who pulls me over for "traveling unlawfully in my lane," which I'm fairly sure isn't a thing. He hands me a written warning and asks, "By the way, how fast is that?"
The NSX attracts a lot attention in Boston, even now surrounded by Ferraris and Maseratis and one black-over-black Porsche Cayman GT4. At every stoplight comes an outpouring of Boston-accented praise. I stop at a few cool spots throughout the city including Bodega, an unmarked, high-end streetwear shop that uses a shabby convenience store to mask its entrance, but it doesn't take long for me to break free from jam-packed Boston and get back to roads where I can jab the NSX, see what it throws back at me, and learn a little more about Acura's android.
I hesitate to say this is the "New Sports eXperience" the NSX badge promises, but the car offers a unique set of talents and characteristics in an engaging package that's undeniably alluring, even if not universally adored. So what if the hybrid powertrain has quirks, the complex drivetrain offsets the benefits of a lightweight body, and the badge on the hood doesn't make passersby melt? The NSX exudes uniqueness from every pore, and it doesn't come off as delicate or in need of being pampered. It enjoys being driven — hard — and that it doesn't drive like traditional supercars makes the NSX refreshing, if intially off-putting. The car can assume a few different roles during a single back-road drive, transitioning seamlessly from cutthroat supercar to comfortable grand tourer to quiet EV, and it plays each part convincingly. Even in my last moments with the car, I'm learning about it, discovering new ways to drive faster as I listen to what it's trying to tell me. The NSX is far from the norm and better for it.
2017 Acura NSX Specifications
|PRICE||$157,800/$202,500 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.5L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/500 hp @ 6,500-7,500 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 2,000-6,000 rpm
plus two front electric AC motors/36 hp, 54 lb-ft, plus one rear electric AC motor/47 hp, 109 lb-ft; 573 hp combined
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||21/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||176.0 x 87.3 x 47.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.4 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||191 mph|