- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Don't let the exotic looks of the Acura NSX-T fool you.

Despite its low-slung, sleek appearance and two-seat interior, it's a non-temperamental sports car that's surprisingly easy to drive.

It also remains an attention-getter, even though it's now in its 12th year on the U.S. market.

For 2002, Acura's flagship gets an updated look outside, some interior tweaks and suspension upgrades.

The result is "the most aerodynamic, fastest NSX we've ever sold in the U.S.," says Scott Crail of Acura product planning.

Engines haven't changed. The engine in the test NSX-T was the same standard 3.2-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with Honda's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) and six-speed manual transmission that was in the predecessor car.

But careful improvements in body work, such as a trunk-end spoiler and new-design front bumper and spoiler, give the car more stability at high speeds and reduce drag. This results in a higher top speed from 168 to 175 mph and a 0-to-125-mph time that's faster than before by 0.2 second.

Of course, unless they're on a racetrack, drivers aren't likely to enjoy these kinds of improvements. But they can certainly brag about them.

This year's NSX-T also comes with suspension refinements that are bound to delight every driver.

Bigger tires, larger rear stabilizer bar and increased front spring rates help the new NSX-T corner even more aggressively than before.

The NSX-T rides tautly and feels dialed in to the road.

Part of it stems from the NSX-T's rigid platform that was designed with the help of a Cray supercomputer.

The NSX-T also rides low to the ground no looking over or around other cars or trucks here.

As a rear-drive car with its engine mounted midship, sort of behind the two seats, the NSX also provides a unique driving experience as 60 percent of the car's weight is at the back of the vehicle and 40 percent is at the front.

The sensation of a darting, eager vehicle aggressively making its way on the roads was especially palpable on mountain twisties.

Even in such rigorous driving, the nicely balanced NSX could be driven smoothly and without a lot of fuss and corrections.

I heard the engine powering through during all of it. It's not overly loud but not muted, either.

The new, 17-inch tires added road noise.

While the NSX garnered lots of looks as I drove, I doubted that most people were reacting to the new styling.

Frankly, the 2002 changes are subtle, with the exception of the loss of pop-up headlights.

Acura put visible, Xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) lights up front in the new model. They are "twice as bright and three times as efficient as the previous lights," Mr. Crail said.

Indeed, the headlight beams on the test NSX were strong and even provided considerable illumination of curbside areas. But the new lights also have the distracting, HID-generated, horizontal line that abruptly marks the top of the light beam.

Riders must drop their bodies down into the sporty leather seats of the NSX. It can be a scramble for older folks to gracefully climb out of this car.

But once in the sculpted seats, riders feel nicely cradled. Side bolsters on the seatbacks didn't end at my rib cage as they do in many cars. The bolsters continued, race car-like, up to my shoulder blades, helping all of me stay in place during aggressive driving.

Pedals are close together for sporty driving, and the NSX dead pedal was well-positioned for me.

The speedometer and tachometer are the largest gauges and include large-size letters. They're illuminated in a red-orange light at night.

But window buttons on the doors didn't light up at night in the test NSX, and the car still doesn't offer a multiple CD player in the dashboard.

Also, the view out the rearview mirror is constricted by the NSX's small back window.

The NSX trunk, with 5 feet of cargo space, is shallow, so about a fourth of the tops of paper grocery bags were crushed when the trunk lid went down.

I also wasn't quite sure whether I was supposed to be slamming the NSX lid down while pushing on the rear spoiler, but the spoiler was the most convenient place to grab.

Selecting colors for the NSX can be fun, especially this year as several new, eye-popping hues are offered for the interior. The test car, for example, was painted bright yellow outside and had seats as well as carpeting, floor mats and door trim in a matching Vivid Yellow color.

All NSX cars for 2002 come standard with an easy-to-lift-off T top for open-air enjoyment.

Note that the NSX has been a showcase for parent company Honda's technology. Examples include the car's aluminum body, drive-by-wire throttle and use of titanium connecting rods in the engine.

Maximum horsepower for the NSX is 290, and peak torque is 224 foot-pounds at 5,500 rpm.

This compares with 320 horses and 273 foot-pounds of torque at 4,250 in the six-cylinder-powered 2002 Porsche 911 and as much as 405 horsepower in a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette with V-8.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2002 NSX is $89,765, up from $84,845 in 2001.

This compares with $68,665 starting MSRP and destination charge for a 2002 911 and starting price of $42,325 for a 2002 Corvette.

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