2019 Acura NSX Review: Drop the Nostalgia and Love It for What It Is

And that's a stunningly capable showcase of mid-engined hybrid power.

2019 acura nsx hero
Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

The 2019 Acura NSX, By the Numbers

  • Base Price (Price as Tested): $157,500 ($196,500)
  • Powertrain: Rear wheels powered by a mid-mounted 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 with additional electric motor, front wheels powered by two independent electric motors, combined output 573 horsepower, 476 pound-feet of torque; nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with one-speed direct drive for electric-only operation; all-wheel drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
  • 0-60 MPH: 2.9 seconds
  • Top Speed: 191 mph
  • Lateral Grip: 1.08 g
  • Curb Weight: 3,878 pounds
  • Quick Take: Let go of the past and face the facts—the Acura NSX is phenomenal.
Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

For three long years, like a giant conversational ouroboros, talk of the reborn 21st century Acura NSX has centered around its supposed lack of soul compared to the early-1990's original. The techno-facism of a three-motor electric hybrid may produce a great lap time, but it's a poor substitute for the emotional heft of a five-speed manual. There's no topping that Ayrton Senna-tested classic. My God, is this argument tiring.

It was fair to view the new NSX through the prism of the past when it first launched in late 2015, following a decade of fitful development that saw the car canceled by the 2008 financial crisis then revived as a hybrid showcase for Honda. After all, the original car was an icon, a raw and beguiling mix of forward-thinking design, accessible and reliable performance, and surprising practicality. Enthusiasts take pride in poking manufacturers for rebooting classic nameplates like so many piss-poor Hollywood sequels; the complaints about Honda's direction were legitimate. But it's 2019 now, and with the NSX old enough to receive a mid-cycle refresh, it's well past time to evaluate this mid-engined hybrid on its own merits.

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

On that note: It's alarmingly good on nearly every front, simultaneously authoritative and approachable, its flaws made mostly inconsequential by a technically perfect driving experience. Were the original NSX to have never existed, we'd all be crowing about how Honda made a true rival to the masterful Nissan GT-R.

And really, the 2019 Acura NSX does carry on the mission set forth by its predecessor. Supercars were largely far less civilized (and reliable) machines in 1991, hot and bothered and hard to contain in daily life. The NSX appeared in 1991 as a beacon of Japanese quality to make exotic performance accessible in a way we hadn't seen before. A quarter-century later, the NSX returned to do the same with hybrid performance, just as mavens like the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 first showcased the technology's potential in a supercar.

At $157,500, the 2019 NSX is by far the cheapest high-performance hybrid. Its 2.9 second 0-60 mph time is faster than a similarly-priced Mercedes-AMG GT R and only a tick above cars like the $335,000 Ferrari 812 Superfast. It holds tighter through turns than the Audi R8, and stops quicker than a Porsche 911 Turbo. Numbers can only take you so far, it's true—but are we really going to dismiss a car this good just because the past was different?

New Tires are a Godsend for Acura NSX

The changes for 2019 are incremental, but important. Honda engineers focused on handling, swapping out the iffy Continental SportContact 5P base tire for the sure-footed ContiSportContact 6. Matched with stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars and some tweaks to the programming behind the adaptive dampers and steering, the NSX's new tire is a revelation, serving up an impressive amount of grip even at lower temperatures. It also brings some cosmetic changes—a gloss grille, gloss carbon-fiber accents, my test car's nifty Thermal Orange paint job and orange brake calipers, and the blue interior among them—and more standard features, like power heated seats and front-rear parking sensors. All that for a starting MSRP boost of just $1,500.

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

Acura claims the car is two seconds faster around the famed Suzuka Circuit in Japan; it also asked very nicely that I not track it, so I can't verify how the improvements have translated in that regard. What's clear after driving the NSX in and out of Los Angeles over four days is that the handling is near-telepathic. Around town, the dual pinion variable-ratio electric steering is appropriately breezy, firming up to supercar-appropriate levels when being pushed in the canyons. And the car's mid-corner rotation is further boosted by the torque-vectoring front wheels working to pull the NSX through the turn.

My time with the NSX came after a week of rain that left most of the typically-fun mountain roads around LA strewn with dangerous gravel. There are just a few supercars capable of safely managing that while still eking out some enjoyment, and the NSX is one of them. Much has been said that the NSX is too calm, too restrained, too rigid. None of those things are a problem when you're doing triple-digit speeds. Everyone is different, but I enjoy a well-settled car when my life is on the line.

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

If I have one big complaint, it's that the Acura NSX is actually more prone to understeer than oversteer at the limit, making it less predictable than a tail-happy McLaren on the absolute edge. (Those situations are rare, obviously.) But the car's active magnetorheological dampers do the Lord's work keeping the car stuck to the pavement and pointed in the right direction; developed at Honda's vicious Takasu Proving Grounds, they're nigh-impossible to upset. Another surprising high point: the carbon ceramic brakes, which bite wonderfully and offer none of the regen-mechanical wackiness found in other hybrid applications. It's not a stretch to say it's the best brake-by-wire system in the business.

The Friendliest Hybrid Supercar

None of this matters if the car's hybrid V-6 powertrain doesn't bring the noise, and...well, it certainly brings something. Forget the buzzy highs of the original NSX's naturally-aspirated powerplant and manual gearbox—this mid-mounted V-6 has a pair of single-scroll turbochargers and a direct drive electric motor stuck between the engine and industry-exclusive nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Alone, the gas mill sends 500 horsepower to the rear wheels. But that's augmented by the NSX's real party trick: dual electric motors independently commanding the front wheels, powered by a floor-mounted battery under the seats. Altogether, the powertrain delivers a whopping 573 horsepower and 476 pound-feet of torque—enough to fling the 3,800-pound supercar from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds. 

That impressive figure comes in part thanks to another perk of electrification: When launching from a standstill, the car exclusively uses its electric motors for the first 0.15 seconds to take advantage of their instantaneous torque before activating the gas engine. This eliminates driveline shock and allows the NSX to hurtle from a standstill to extralegal speeds with deceptive ease. Clicking through the DCT's closely-spaced gears like firing an AR-15 is wildly fun.

Also hilariously easy: Launch control. There's no fancy five-step dance here. Simply put the car into Track mode, step on the brake with your left foot, floor the throttle with your right, and release the brake when you're ready to send it. Because the all-electric start limits the load on the engine and transmission, it's easily, safely repeatable. High-end manufacturers usually caution owners that launch control should only be used a certain number of times between services to prevent damage; Acura, pointedly, has no such warning for the NSX.

Beyond Track mode, the Sport and Sport+ driving modes offer different levels of visceral engagement by tuning the suspension, steering, throttle response, brakes, and exhaust sound accordingly. (And it's all mechanical adjustments on that last part.) There's also a Quiet mode, which Acura claims allows the car to prioritize electric-only mode at up to 50 mph for brief stretches. In practice, it's next to impossible to coax it up to that speed without the engine waking up, however. I found it more onerous than anything, especially as it limits the engine to 4,000 rpm. Not that you need Quiet mode to civilize this car; the NSX's famous daily-driver vibe shines bright as ever, with a comfortable ride, stellar visibility, and an unobtrusive ride around town.

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

Acura NSX Design Hits a Higher Note

Regardless, Quiet mode is also self-defeating in a car that screams "Look at me!" the way the Acura NSX does, especially when clad in my tester's transcendent, slightly pearlescent Thermal Orange paint job. Even though the design has roots in a concept car from the mid-2000s, its mid-engined proportions still scream pure supercar.

Up front, the 2019 NSX sports the best version of Acura's "Jewel Eye" LED headlights and corporate grille, which is accented by a new piece of body-colored trim that seems insignificant but actually makes a huge difference. The lower-than-normal cowl creates an interesting silhouette that nods to the original; unfortunately, the plot muddies towards the rear, with cool touches like floating roof pillars drowned out by an oddly-stubby back end. 

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

The interior design is also helped by the update a bit even though overall it might be the weakest part of the car. The blue trim will be polarizing to some, but that's not the issue to me. It worked with the orange coat in person. Rather, it betrays the NSX's long development, a mishmash of dated and questionable design elements like Honda's push-button shifter, a seven-inch infotainment system from the Civic that still lacks a volume knob, and a curious lack of grab handles for the passenger. And the use of Acura fonts and switchgear will chagrin some, even if they play into the car's friendly usability.

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

The Kids Are Alright

Perhaps the best example of why the 2019 Acura NSX occupies a unique place on the supercar ladder is the odometer reading on my tester: Well over 4,000 miles. That's fairly high for a car of this caliber, yet it showed zero evidence of having been abused by journalists for its entire life. Everything about it looked and felt tight as a drum, and while it's true that manufacturers take extra steps to ensure press cars are well-maintained, that definitely doesn't always work out.

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126

Ultimately, that's what impresses most about the new NSX: how it wraps complex technology in a reliable, accessible, and fun package, the exact same thing the original model did for pure performance back in 1992. It's not the same car—it could never be, and it will never be. But the familiar sense that you're experiencing something altogether special, the wonder that a Honda can feel this sublime...now that's something the 2019 Acura NSX is all too happy to whip up.

Got a tip? Email the author: kyle@thedrive.com

Photos by Jonathan Harper: @jbh1126

Jonathan Harper | @jbh1126