The Acura NSX Is Faster because it’s Better (3 of 4)
Photography by Yoav Gilad
If you haven’t yet, read part two of the Acura NSX test-drive story.
The blaring alarm shattered my well-earned rest. “Damn.” The room was still dark although high, bright sunshine was visible at the synthetic curtains’ edges. My phone read nine AM as I turned off the alarm. My wife grumbled next to me. I pulled the sheet back, walked across the room, and tore the curtains open allowing the sun to invade the cool calm.
“We’re not in Austin yet,” I announced in transit to the bathroom.
After the usual morning rituals, which now include packing, we walked out to the already-baking Acura NSX and hit the road. Having been the lowest flying aircraft the previous day (and covering a more aircraft-appropriate distance of about 970mi), we were ready to relax. I can’t recall the town’s name where we had finally pulled over the night before, or maybe I never knew it, but we only had to cover about 100 miles (160km) to one of my favorite towns in the US.
In contrast to the previous day, we weren’t going to touch the interstate highways, instead electing to only take back roads. And the difference was as wide as Texas’s prairies. Instead of uninspired corridors jammed with minivans driven by the comatose, the two-lane blacktops opened up before us emptily across an increasingly hilly panorama.
Once in a while we’d encounter a pickup truck that would actually pull onto the shoulder to allow us to pass more safely! I’m still astounded by this gesture and have never encountered it anywhere but Texas. We stopped at a few roadside attractions, taking time to enjoy our pace.
In spite of the heat and sometimes-sustained high speeds, the Acura NSX ran well. The temperature gauge never fluctuated and the air conditioning was reliable and cool. We bought a pecan pie and worried that it might suffer from being packed in the trunk, but I was too obsessive-compulsive to allow it in the passenger cabin (crumbs!) even though it seemed well wrapped.
We entered Austin and promptly got lost, heading a bit too far north but soon found our way and wound up at one of my favorite BBQ spots for lunch, Stubb’s. I learned about Stubb’s a long while ago because they make my favorite BBQ sauce (discovered as a child) and when on an earlier road trip I happened upon the restaurant I was overjoyed. Fortunately, they also make some of the softest, slow-cooked meat in the US. There are a couple other equally good (perhaps even better) BBQ spots in Austin, but standing in line for hours for anything (let alone a piece of meat) isn’t my kind of scene.
My wife, Marcia, had never been to Austin and I was eager to show her the town, but first: lunch! I ordered the brisket, fried okra, mac n’ cheese, and a Shiner Bock. If you’re wondering if it’s healthy then Stubb’s probably isn’t for you. In fact Texas probably isn’t for you, either. Much like what I drive, I prefer to enjoy what I eat rather than worry about its potential detriment.
Our bellies full, we wandered back to the Acura to search for a hotel. Heading south on Congress towards the Continental Club, I remembered a boutique hotel across the street from the Club, a couple of years back. I can’t remember if it was the same place back then, but the Hotel San Jose was there and, while expensive, it sure was comfortable and quite the hip spot. We parked the car, unloaded everything (including the slightly-deformed pie), and checked in.
We then headed back out on foot to enjoy Austin, browsing vinyl in a record shop we passed in an alley, vintage clothing, and of course, Amy’s Ice Cream. At sundown we joined the crowds on the Congress Avenue Bridge over the Colorado River to watch tens of thousands of bats fly out for their evening insect hunt. It’s amazing, there are so many bats that you can actually hear their ultrasonic pinging. Or maybe you’re just hearing the flapping of thousands of wings. Either way. Below us, paddleboats, canoes, and tourist pontoon boats gathered to watch the daily spectacle too. And as the bats streamed out from under the bridge, each burst of Independence Day fireworks (it was July Fourth) in the distant night sky momentarily illuminated their silvery-black bodies.
Now my wife isn’t a fan of country music so we [sadly] skipped the Continental Club, and found a spot further north, eschewing Sixth St. as well since it’s mostly for underage college kids. It was just some small bar with a mediocre rock band that drank more than they played. But that was OK, it gave my wife and me time to talk. In hindsight, it makes me smile that after about four days spending nearly every moment together (not to mention our honeymoon a month earlier) I found myself preferring to talk to her rather than be entertained. We enjoyed some local beers before stumbling home and having some pecan pie in bed for dessert.
The following morning, a bit hungover, we skipped breakfast as we were back on a schedule. I hoped to meet one of my heroines the following day in Santa Fe, New Mexico and so I pointed the car northwest to Abilene.
We weren’t in Texas hill country for too long, but it was long enough. Until now, we had primarily been on very straight, flat roads. Even the day before, cruising into Austin many of the roads had been very long drag strips. But in the hills outside Austin the Acura NSX came alive.
In order to avoid incriminating myself (in case anyone is actually reading this), I’m going to have to write very generally about locations and routes so I hope you’ll forgive me. The following takes place in the plains, hills, canyons, and gulleys between Austin and Santa Fe. The speeds achieved were in no small part due to excellent sight lines as there is a relative lack of vegetation in this region.
Once we had cleared any traffic, ascending to the top of a hill I’d scan from the valley ahead up to the next ridgeline. If it was reasonably clear I’d accelerate, pedal buried in the carpet, passing through the ton barrier, through 110, 120, until we’d begin climbing the next hill, ease off the gas, and coast to the top. Marcia was cool. We went through some tight canyons too, where we never got out of second gear, riding it from 3000rpm up to its 8000rpm redline. I had enjoyed the NSX’s song before, but hearing it bounce off of canyon walls as the timing changed and the note went from a deep roar to a screaming wail was awesome.
And even though I overcooked the entry into some corners thinking I could just back off the gas and coast, leaving me to rely on the brakes to save our hides, the anti-lock brake system never engaged. The NSX stayed cool and composed. Entering bends, the turn-in was quick and direct. Everyone’s familiar with the automotive ‘go-kart’ cliché, but in the case of the NSX’s un-boosted steering, there is a very tangible connection to the road. Most importantly, you can place the car precisely where you want it, a result of the steering and great visibility out of the cockpit.
And it was between Austin and Sante Fe, having executed a perfect heel-toe and pointing the car into a turn that I sloughed off my automotive prejudices like our excessive speed. I’ve driven Ferraris and Lamborghinis. And you know what? They’re not great to drive because of the compromises they require. Want a gated, chrome shifter? Cool me too! Here’s a calendar to measure the speed of your shift. A howling V12? Super! Enjoy the understeer-to-snap-oversteer transition!
Sure, they have more power, but that only makes up for their lack of chassis tuning, steering feel, and braking ability. And doesn’t count too much on the roads I drive. Mostly, the power is there so you can outrun the idiot next to you to the next stoplight and therefore justify your six-figure purchase. They may be a bit prettier or have more presence, but at the cost of ergonomics. Anyway, are you interested in driving or in having teenage boys boost your self-esteem? If you’re concerned with the driving experience like me, there are, maybe, a handful of cars better than the NSX.
At some point in the past, car magazines convinced us that the Italians, Germans, and Brits were better because they’re faster when in fact the Acura NSX is faster because it’s better.
Shortly after we left Austin that morning, we were pulled over in Lampasas, TX for speeding. In spite of what I’ve told you about our speeds, it was actually quite a surprise because I don’t speed through towns. Ever. Typically, small towns on the way to nowhere have an officer parked just within the city limits where the speed limits drop nabbing people just passing through, to line the hamlet’s coffers. I’m not going to claim the officer lied, but perhaps he was a little eager with the radar gun?
“How much power does this thing have?” the officer asked.
“About 270, sir.”
“You’re using 250 more than you need to,” was his quick calculus.
I wondered how many people had sat through his math lesson. Even more surprising was that he let us off with a warning! Perhaps comporting yourself professionally (and not conceding anything) works. It was also there that I realized how good the NSX’s seating position is. I can’t make the comparison from personal experience, however, judging from photos it seems that Honda’s designers also mimicked the F-16’s slightly relaxed seating position. And here on the fourth day of the drive, I still didn’t have any fatigue from the seat.
We passed through some thunderstorms around the New Mexico border and the NSX remained composed and easy. And when the sun came out again we stopped at Billy the Kid’s [real] grave (there are two), which is less than picturesque as it’s now surrounded by a steel cage because people keep stealing his headstone. Santa Fe appeared around sunset, which was spotted with amber and burgundy clouds. It was actually a bit chilly due to the altitude and earlier rain, but we endured the weather and awful dinner on a second floor patio overlooking Santa Fe Square.
I had set out on a 3500 mile test-drive, but only needed a few hills and canyons to completely, unequivocally fall in love with the NSX and it happened on the way to Santa Fe. It isn’t a bad car to drive slowly as is the case with so many other supercars. It’s perfectly content to commute or go grocery shopping. But the NSX also rewards you for pushing it and the harder you push, the better it gets, which stands in sharp contrast to many other cars that just get scarier. Comparing the NSX to the Ferrari 348 (its primary competitor when launched) is like comparing a Hendrix solo to Beethoven. Jimi Hendrix was a virtuoso and genius who revolutionized guitar-playing, but also a one-trick pony. Whereas Beethoven knew how to assemble all the pieces to create a symphonic masterpiece, just as Honda did with the NSX.
I was looking forward to tomorrow and having breakfast with that aforementioned heroine, as well as getting home and hitting my favorite SoCal canyons with the NSX. It’s just so good.
Continue reading part four of the Acura NSX story…