First Drive: 2019 Acura NSX
Hot laps in the updated New Sports eXperience offers more confirmation of what we already knew
We're hauling some serious NSX along the backstretch when the brief circus ride commences. Flat out into the dip at the top of a sweeping right-hander, the Acura supercar unsettles and suddenly there's that feeling as though the body's lifting off from the chassis while your gastrointestinal tract is heaving upward. In an instant, the car flattens and wiggles and we giggle. (Note to self: When I'm in the driver's seat, I'm hitting that thing—hard.)
As we pull back into the pit area of the Takasu Proving Ground, I ask the driver who's been hustling me in the updated 2019 Acura NSX during some recon laps around Takasu's fabulous, 17-turn, 3.85-mile circuit what he's noticed the most about the changes to the car. "It corners flatter," he says, in a typically understated Japanese way. Copy that.
It makes sense given the changes to the 2019 NSX from a performance standpoint are limited in scope to a number of upgrades designed to make it, well, corner flatter, thanks to a team helmed by NSX development lead Satoshi Mizukami out of Japan. Hardware swaps included the addition of new, stiffer stabilizer bars front (26 percent) and rear (19 percent). More attention was paid to the rear of the car to shore up the bushings (21 percent stiffer) and the NSX's rear hub setup is 6 percent more rigid than before, according to Acura.
Tune up the hardware, and you're going to need to tighten up the 1s and 0s of some of the software as well to make sure everything works in concert. So Mizukami-san's team went to town on the NSX's electric power steering, the all-wheel drive power unit (the NSX has its own unique version of Acura's SH-AWD system), active magnetorheological dampers, and the car's stability control setup.
Then there's the matter of the NSX's base tire, which took a beating with a rubber hose by some critics when the new-generation car first debuted.
Acura NSX chassis design lead Masafumi Inoue made sure to let us know about the new standard fitment tire for the 2019 NSX, the Continental SportContact 6, sized at 245/35ZR19 at the front, 305/30ZR20 rear. Acura worked directly with Continental on the tire, which has further rigidified sidewalls and a slightly softer compound as opposed to the previous tire. "The result is about a 15 percent increase in grip, and an uptick in lateral g in the .01-.02 percent range," Inoue-san said. He also added that improving wet weather traction was a focus. Through it all, the team had one overarching goal in mind: increase cornering performance.
While you can still get a set of optional Pirelli Trofeo Rs for the NSX if you're looking to eek out a tiny smidge more at the limit handling, Acura officials we've spoken with and been spoken to about the car have always stressed the importance of being able to drive the NSX in any condition—any day, every day—and tires are a huge part of that equation. But enhancing the performance envelope of the Contis was clearly a big emphasis point. When Acura trumpeted that the 2019 NSX was two seconds faster around Japan's Suzuka circuit than the 2018 model, the team set the mark in a car shod with a set of SportContact 6 rubber.
When it was time to get my laps on around the Takasu's Winding Course, all of these factoids were swirling around in my helmeted head. I also attempted to access my dusty memory banks for information on my behind the wheel experiences in the 2017 NSX. Everything was familiar. The cabin, save a fancy new optional Indigo blue semi-aniline leather and Alcantara trim package the test car was equipped with, hasn't changed. The sport seats are that same blend of comfort and snug bolstering that make you feel like you could lap in it all day and night. Turning that familiar knob in middle of the center stack to Track mode sharpens the NSX's Spidey senses. The same 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 wails, whizzes, and whirrs behind your head, supplemented by three electric motors that produce 573 horsepower and 476 lb-ft of torque all in. A 9-speed dual clutch tranny is still swapping the gears with fluidity and precision, and its brakes slow it all down forcefully and progressively (you can also order the calipers in multiple colors). On the outside, there are a few new shiny black trim bits, a color-keyed grille top piece. Oh, and don't forget the Thermal Orange Pearl paint option. Acura won't let you even if you wanted to.
We're in a lead follow situation around Takasu's killer circuit, which has been modeled in sections to mimic the Nürburgring, and in fact both The Green Hell and Takasu have played a role in the development of the first generation NSX as well as the new car. Takasu's track features 188 feet of elevation changes in addition to its 17 turns. Then there's that crazy whoop-de-do. It was even more of a riot from behind the wheel.
Without the benefit of a back-to-back stint in a previous model year NSX, it was nigh impossible to truly discern how much the changes have changed the behavior of the 2019 NSX. And honestly, these are the types of subtle modifications that only seasoned pros like our own Andy Pilgrim could likely feel with any real certainty. But what we did re-learn about our former All-Star was how much we love driving the NSX at speed. The only thing holding us back was the lead driver once we got a feel for the track (probably a good thing). This car can make you believe you're a hero—it dares you to drive harder, to stretch your limits as its digital gauge symphony and piped-in redline wail assault your mindspace. When you run out of talent, it's there to reel you back in, as it did when I cooked it too hard into Takasu's back side set of esses. Does it corner flatter? We're not sure it needed to, but any kind of incremental improvement to a car this good is welcome as far as we're concerned.
We also had a chance to play with the NSX on some Takasu's other featured attractions during our day at the facility, which is located on roughly 2,000 acres in the central region of the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido. Lush with birch and pine forests and framed by volcanic mountains, much of Hokkaido is sparsely populated farmland that other than the Japanese stuff wouldn't look out of place in the upper Midwest.
Built in 1993 in the wake of Honda's first Nürburgring development experience, Takasu has grown to include a high speed oval, which we had a chance to experience a part of at speeds approaching 140 mph—and a lovely little blindingly fast twin-turbo blast it was. There's also a major skid pad and several stretches built to mimic roadways in the U.S. and Europe, some of it even features imported dirt and other materials from the roads they're attempting to mimic. Given its northern Japanese location, it's also a favorite winter testing spot. As far as proving grounds go—and we've seen more than a few—Takasu is one of the best.
Acura's taken some heat for hyping the NSX's everyday usability, for relying too much on software tricks to augment driver inputs, leading to cries of a lack of "soul." To these criticisms we say to each their own. In essence that's the beauty of cars like the NSX—it's one of many in a pantheon of modern era super machines that have forged their own high performance pathways. Speaking of, Acura has also put its precision crafted performance moniker where its mouth is with its NSX GT3 race car (it just unveiled its new Evo version), and we're betting there will be even more in store for the refreshed 2019 Acura NSX soon enough—be it a Type S, a targa-top model, or something else. Though minor in scope, the changes to the car send a signal that the NSX isn't going anywhere, and no matter what you think of it, the automotive world's a better place for it.
2019 Acura NSX Specifications
|ENGINE||3.5-liter twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/500 hp @ 6500-7500 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 2000-6000 rpm, plus three electric motors. Peak power: 573 hp/476 lb-ft|
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 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||3.0 sec|
|TOP SPEED||191 mph|