- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

Evidently where the NSX is concerned, Acura’s position is: Don’t mess with success. Introduced in 1990 as a 1991 model, the NSX was praised as a breakthrough vehicle. Its styling, performance and (gasp) $60,000 price tag captured the imagination of consumers and automotive pundits alike. While signaling a brave new direction for Japanese luxury brands, the NSX shifted some of the attention focused on the upstart competitors Lexus and Infiniti back to Acura.

Both consumer and automotive press enthusiasm was well placed. The 1991 NSX offered outstanding performance and handled as well as any big-ticket sports coupe on the road. In the intervening years, though, the changes have been few and far between. A tweak here and a small change there are the sum total of the advances.

The result: Nearly a decade and a half later, the 2004 NSX is remarkably like the original. Sure, the styling has evolved a bit, the transmission has gained a gear, bringing the total to six, a few more ponies prance under the hood and the price has ballooned to nearly $90,000, but otherwise the current version doesn’t stray far from the 1991 edition.

That said: There is still much to like about the NSX. Despite the fact the styling is 14 years old, it isn’t outdated. The NSX still turns heads and rightly so. Possessing a timeless quality, the exterior design is as appropriate today as it was in 1990.

Originally a 3.0-liter V-6 engine located amidships generated 270 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque. Late in the 1990s, engine displacement increased to 3.2 liters, helping bump horsepower to 290, while peak torque jumped to 224 foot-pounds. Neither number represents a huge improvement, but the difference was noticeable.

Moving from a five-speed manual gearbox to a six-speed capitalized on the V-6’s extra grit. The six-speed tranny and V-6 mesh exceptionally well. The gearbox is slick and the clutch has a solid feel. Dashing to 60 mph from a standstill requires well under six seconds. As mesmerizing as stirring the transmission, kicking the clutch and goosing the gas might be, drivers would do well to turn down the stereo and pay some attention to the rich timbre of the exhaust note, too. That sound in itself is sufficient to get the old ticker to go pitty-pat.

Given its sub-six-second sprints, the NSX could be a real fuel hog. Although it won’t tempt Ed Begley Jr. out of his Honda Insight, the high-performance NSX is relatively easy on gas. The Environmental Protection Agency has rated it miles per gallon at 17 in the city and 24 on the highway.

A driver’s car, the NSX still can go toe-to-toe with just about any production automobile on the street. Credit its midengine layout with the NSX’s handling prowess. Nearly perfectly balanced, it sticks to the asphalt with pit-bull tenacity. Cornering is predictable. With the absence of any sort of stability control, the NSX isn’t foolproof, but it hunkers down and takes the twisties with little drama. The steering is Swiss-watch precise with the slightest bit of input rewarded with an appropriate change in direction. Such a joy to pilot, the NSX turns the most mundane errand into a grin-inducing event.

Disc brakes on all four corners provide stopping power. Monitored by an antilock system, they also provide traction control. While cars in this price range are typically festooned with air bags, the NSX is equipped with only the minimum: dual front air bags.

Not much has changed in the cabin over the years. One of the few enhancements for 2004, new trim surrounds the gauge cluster placed directly in front of the driver. A two-pod design, the cockpit separates the driver and passenger. The center stack is angled at about 45 degrees and contains easy-to-use controls for the audio and ventilation systems.

Designed with generous side bolsters, the seats grab their occupants, holding them upright when hitting the corners. A removable roof panel makes possible an open-air driving experience.

Although the NSX does everything well, getting past its $89,765 (including destination charges) is tough. Cost per horsepower is high when compared to other sporty cars on the market such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Nissan 350Z. On the other hand, there is a hefty list of standard features such as leather seating, auto climate control and a Bose audio system with six-disc CD changer. NSX owners also enjoy some exclusivity. There just aren’t that many on the road.

Bottom line: If you think getting there should be more than half the fun and are willing to pay for it, the Acura NSX is a fine choice.

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