Acura NSX 2002

Usually, the phrases “it’s a legend” and “they don’t make them like this anymore” refer to something that houses a JZ engine family under the hood, or to old Mercedes/BMW/VAG cars (underline as appropriate). If you are a fan of kanjozoku and bargain motor oil, you would probably mention Integra or Civic. But one undeservedly rarely remembered samurai was indeed a legend and almost single-handedly stood against the eminent Europeans. Its name was NSX. 

By the end of the 1980s, Japan had taken leading positions in the automotive industry. The products of various Japanese companies were successfully sold worldwide, facilitated by the high quality and reliability of the vehicles, as well as their lower cost compared to competitors. One of the sales leaders was the Honda brand. However, producing compact cars didn’t quite showcase the true might of the automotive giant from Tokyo. It was necessary to challenge the Olympus of car manufacturing – the supercar makers.

For this purpose, in 1986, a special group of engineers – the 200 best of the best from all Honda factories – was formed. They were given carte blanche for any technology, any amount of money, and their own assembly line – just to accomplish the task. The project was completely classified to make a real splash at the right moment – at the Chicago Motor Show in 1989.

For Honda, the concept of the car was new: the task was to make a mid-engine car fast enough to challenge the famous brands from Italy and Germany. At the same time, the car was limited by the “gentleman’s agreement” of Japanese car manufacturers, which prohibited the production of engines with more than 280 hp.

To accomplish this task, for the first time in the world, the body and chassis were made of aluminum. This allowed reducing the weight by 220 kg compared to a similar solution in steel – at that time, composite materials were not sufficiently studied and available for mass production.

The decision was made to use a V6 engine, already partially tested in the Legend model, but to add the main “feature” of all Honda engines – VTEC. This variable valve timing system allowed the engine to achieve a smooth torque curve at low and medium speeds and a characteristic “surge” at high revs. For the first time in a production engine, forged pistons were installed along with titanium – yes, titanium – connecting rods. The power of the first engine in the family – C30A – was 265 hp with a 3-liter capacity. The engine was placed transversely, unlike the usual longitudinal placement in mid-engine layouts, which ultimately allowed achieving perfect 50:50 weight distribution not only across axes but also sides.

Surprisingly, the engine is not located under the body panel you would call the hood. And certainly not where the trunk of a mid-engine car would be. The engine is under the rear glass, which also opens, giving access to a rather small opening in the body. The trunk of the NSX is indeed at the back, its dimensions are quite decent for this class of car. At the front, there is a spare tire and technical units.

All this allowed Honda to create a very good car. But it was one test pilot who helped make it legendary and uncompromisingly fast on the racetrack. Who do you think it was? Around those years, Ayrton Senna was racing for McLaren-Honda. In 1989, he was invited to a closed presentation of the new model and, of course, was allowed to get behind the wheel. The magician (as Ayrton was called) in red moccasins with white socks showed amazing piloting skills, after which he commented on the insufficient stiffness of the suspension. Immediately, about 50% more stiffness was added, after which Senna participated in the final tuning of the car. Close ones say that the champion liked the car so much that Honda gifted him two NSXs, which he regularly drove.

Fans of Ferrari disliked the new car’s exterior, comparing it to the 488 and F40. Yes, there were some grounds for this, but again – what else should a 90s supercar look like if not flattened from the top, with aggressive lines and a wide stern? At the same time, the similarity is quite conditional, and the car is extremely unique, guaranteeing its excellent appearance at any time – just think, isn’t its design still relevant today? The pop-up headlights alone are worth a lot. Yes, it has long gone out of fashion among car manufacturers, but it has not lost its charm among car enthusiasts.

The car’s interior, like all Hondas, is imbued with functionality. Motifs familiar to everyone from the Civic EK and Integra are recognized but changed many times over for a different class of car. The seat is positioned to provide a semi-reclining posture behind the wheel, like a sports car. The pedals, gear lever, and steering wheel are almost ideally positioned relative to each other, which is evident from the video with Senna I referred to earlier. Of course, there is a lot of leather, as the task was to make not an ultimate sports tool, but a supercar.

The glazing is a separate pride of the engineers. During the development, they were inspired by the F-16 fighter jet in terms of visibility. As a result, the car provides maximum visibility for a vehicle of this class.

Notice the badge in the photos, which doesn’t look like the familiar H. That’s right, in 1986 Honda created the premium division Acura, whose main task was to produce premium cars. It was primarily created for the North American market to slightly change the perception of Honda towards more status cars. A purely marketing move, intended to increase sales, turned out first and foremost to be richer configurations, as the US market has traditionally been somewhat more demanding in terms of material quality. The technical part even in ordinary cars did not change much, and in the NSX there were no differences at all.

The car we are talking about today is somewhat different from the one presented in 1989. In 2001, the model underwent a facelift, which allowed it to stay on the assembly line for a few more years. The “blind” headlights were replaced with regular ones, which somewhat brought the car closer to the design trends of the time. The engine was modified, changing the capacity to 3.2 liters and power to 280 hp, but everyone clearly understands – this is only to comply with the power limitation agreement. The simplest tuning of the exhaust system and ECU allowed to increase the output to 320+ hp. The five-speed manual transmission gave way to a six-speed one, but you always had the option to buy a car with an automatic transmission.

Unlike its European competitors, the NSX could indeed be used as an everyday car. Yes, it was stiffer than a compact hatchback and more uncompromising than a business sedan, but it didn’t roar needlessly on the street, didn’t create special parking problems, and its fuel consumption according to the passport was far from 30 liters per 100 km. It could be called a people’s supercar, but its price… It turned out to be a bit too high and slightly cheaper than Ferrari, which led to rather low sales. The reason was the lack of a certain aura of wealth and success, elitism, which simply could not be created by a car born of technology, progress, and speed. However, it gained its fans, and now buying one is almost an impossible task. And if so – in many years, you can meet an absolutely alive specimen in someone’s private collection. At least until the extinction of imperial penguins forces us to give up 98 octane gasoline.