The Acura NSX Concept Meets an Original 1991 Acura NSX

Measuring Up to the Past


  • Acura NSX Concept and 1991 Acura NSX Picture

    Acura NSX Concept and 1991 Acura NSX Picture

    The NSX Concept is separated by 21 years and mere inches from our long-term 1991 Acura NSX. | May 14, 2012

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Automakers are under no obligation to tell the truth about future product, especially when it comes to future sports cars. And double especially when those future sports cars embody the automaker's very DNA. So it is with the Acura NSX Concept, the car that portends the 2015 Acura NSX.

As such, upon the reveal of the Acura NSX Concept earlier this year at the Detroit auto show, we took the car's published dimensions with a grain of salt. Up there on the stage, it just looked...well, bigger. There was simply no way that car was in the same dimensional realm as the lithe and slim original from 1991.

Upon our half-jokingly expressing this sentiment to the folks at Acura, something unexpected happened — they opened their doors. They made the NSX Concept available for us at their Torrance, California-based design studio to pore over, measure, move around, sweat on (hey, it was hot in there). No chaperones, and no limitations other than "please don't break it." We spent an entire day with the two-of-a-kind car (the other, redder NSX Concept recently made an appearance at the Beijing auto show).

For perspective we brought along our long-term 1991 Acura NSX. That ought to bring into stark contrast just how gargantuan the concept is. Right?

Deception
When you finally set eyes on the Acura NSX Concept in a more natural setting than the glitzy show floor, the thing that first strikes you is that it is not the sprawling colossus of a supercar you expected. It's actually fairly tidy, the form compact and dense, the silver skin like Saran Wrap pulled tight over the mechanical bits. The car occupies less volume than you think.

That leads us to the next illusion: There are no mechanical bits. The NSX Concept doesn't steer, go or brake. It weighs as much as an SUV, a trait with which we became intimately familiar when we tried to roll the zoomy car around on the wheel jacks. A resin-board "structure" fills in the voids to be occupied by the mid-mounted V6, hybridized dual-clutch transaxle and twin electric motors that will provide drive to all four wheels of the production version. It's no exaggeration to say that everything beneath the concept's surface serves solely as a canvas upon which its bodywork can drape.

Yet a stylist's throwaway flight of fancy the NSX Concept is not. Far from it, the concept serves as the company's template for the production 2015 Acura NSX. There will be no Chevy Volt-like styling about-face when the production car drops. In fact, Acura officials tell us that their objective is to ensure that the 2015 Acura NSX's dimensions and styling mimic those of the NSX Concept as closely as humanly possible. Then again, that's the objective. Who knows where the realities of a street car will lead them?

Truth
The tape measure doesn't lie. Our measurements were within a tenth of an inch of the basic dimensions released by Acura at the time of its unveiling. Props to Acura for its truthiness, then. And it turns out a lot of wheelbase has been packed into the Acura NSX Concept. Its 99.6-inch wheelbase is within an inch of an Audi R8 and Ferrari 458 Italia, yet the concept's 170.4-inch length is between 4 and 8 inches shorter than those cars. It's also considerably lower — the NSX Concept stands 45.7 inches high to the Audi's 49.3 inches and Ferrari's 47.8.

Given free rein with a tape measure, we gleaned further insights. We measured its front track at 63.6 inches and its rear track at 63.3 inches, dimensions that again place the NSX Concept in the same realm as the midengine Audi (64.3 and 62.8 inches, respectively) and Ferrari. (65.8 and 63.2 inches). The zoomy Acura's front and rear overhangs measure 36.3 and 32.6 inches, respectively. Each angular mirror protrudes 5 inches prouder than the widest point of the car. Have tape measure, will scrutinize.

But it's in comparison to its predecessor that the Acura NSX Concept is most revealing. Would you believe the NSX Concept is 3 inches shorter in length than the original 1991 Acura NSX? You should, because it is. It's also less than a quarter-inch taller than the original car. The concept's rear overhang, meanwhile, is 5 inches shorter than the long-rumped 1991 car.

Reflecting the Past
Why, then, does the concept seem so much larger than the original car? Part of this perception is due to the narrowness of the original car and the Concept's aggressive styling elements that accentuate its width. Mostly, though, the visual deception is down to the vast, vast difference in wheel size. The Concept rolls on 19- and 20-inch wheels that dwarf the 15- and 16-inch alloys on our long-termer. These, in turn, require tires of significantly larger rolling diameter, much larger fender arches and so on.

In isolation, the NSX Concept's visage recalls the Audi R8 far more than it does its own predecessor. Ancestral cues emerge more clearly once the two Japanese sports cars are placed in the same room. They're found in the details rather than overall form, as the new car owes little to the original's wedgy, somewhat slab-sided shape. Those hood contours, for example, and the characteristic light bridge that joins the taillights. The gentle creases at the top of the Concept's fenders are present in primordial form on the 1991 NSX. Even the headlights on the Concept are a remix of the parking lights and turn signals on the 1991 model. What, you expect flip-up headlights in 2015?

These are subtle cues, but they're there. Still, there are more differences than similarities between new and old, especially as the concept has prominent body-color roof arches that cascade into stout-looking C-pillars where the original has a blacked-out, jet cockpit-styled greenhouse. A greenhouse that, oddly enough, was painted body color in later first-gen NSXs. The blacked-out one looks better, though. Indeed, our 21-year-old 1991 NSX has aged more gracefully than said later NSXs and contemporaries like the Z32 300ZX and Ferrari 348.

We'll have to wait until the calendar rolls around to 2036 to see whether the same can be said about the 2015 Acura NSX. By then we'll know whether the new car redefined traditional sports car thinking the way the original NSX did, or if it's merely an update of the original. Either way, it's shaping up to be an Acura worth waiting for.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds access to this vehicle for the purposes of scrutiny.

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