By Chris Haak
In a very candid assessment of his brand’s 2011 performance, Acura’s general manager Jeff Conrad told assembled journalists in Detroit that the best thing about 2012 was “that it was not 2011.” While he claimed that his brand lost its momentum until the end of the year due to the Japanese earthquake/tsunami and Thailand flooding, the fact is, Acura hasn’t seemed to have much going for it for the past half decade.
Much like its parent company Honda, the Japanese automaker’s near-luxury brand has struggled to gain almost any traction in the marketplace ever since the phase-out of the 2004-2008 TL sport sedan. That old TL looked good and drove very well; its replacement still drove well, but suffers from an excessively complicated center stack, and worse, an overwrought design that boasts one of the most awful front end designs since the 2007 Chevy Uplander.
The fate of the NSX supercar has been a case study in a brand that had lost its way. When the original NSX went out of production in 2006, Honda announced plans to replace the car with a V10-powered , 500 plus horsepower supercar that exceeded the Ferraris of the world in outright performance this time, not just in ride, handling, and reliability. Then the global auto market collapsed, Honda realized that it couldn’t afford NSX development and that it shouldn’t be making V10 gas guzzlers, so it went back to the drawing board.
What has come to life off of that drawing board is one impressive vehicle. While the original NSX certainly has a classic shape and very good proportions, that car comes across as a practical sports car – one that puts function ahead of form. The new NSX concept is nothing but drop. Dead. Sexy.
From its huge wheels, LED four-pot headlamps, aggressively sculped sides, and stylized rear end, the NSX will no longer take a back seat to the Italian exotics in terms of design. If this is what Acura’s design staff is capable of, why the hell do we have the TL? I only hope that all new Acuras look half as good as the NSX.
Ditching the notion of a naturally aspirated 500 horsepower V10, the future NSX (which will hit the market within the next three years) will instead us a V6 boosted by an new Acura-exclusive Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system. “Super Handling” sounds like exaggeration, but the sophisticated torque-vectoring all wheel drive system, which can shift engine output both laterally and fore and aft. The new Bilateral Torque Adjustable Control system allows both negative and positive torque to be applied to the front wheels during cornering. In other words, in a fast left-turning sweeper, the left front wheel may actually have reverse force pushing the wheel backward while its partner on the right front is pushed faster forward. I think of it as similar in concept to how a bulldozer or tank executes turns with their crawler tracks; the sharpest turns have one side spinning backward and the other spinning forward.
The new-generation V6 will be connected to two electric drive motors, and in the NSX tradition, will be mounted midships, and will be connected to a dual-clutch transmission. Acura did not mention the number of ratios the DCT would have, but if they are going for maximum efficiency, more would be better. I’m thinking nine or ten.
As with the first NSX, the new car will have advanced materials used in its construction for a favorable power-to-weight ratio. Unlike the first NSX, which was built and developed in Japan, the new car will be engineered by Honda R&D Americas, and will be assembled in Ohio. The United States is an important market for the Acura brand, with executives going as far as to call it the brand’s focal point worldwide.
The car looks amazing in the sheetmetal. I, for one, cannot wait to see the production model. I go to bed tonight having hope, at long last, for the future direction of the Acura brand. As Takanobu Ito, Honda’s president and CEO was speaking about the NSX, I kept thinking that in the end, Acura’s decision to never market a car with a V8 seemed prescient, when the brand’s competitors are reducing their cylinder counts and cutting big-displacement engine options left and right. The Civic-based ILX sedan is a little milquetoast, but here’s hoping that Acura can string together some successful products over the next few years, capped off by the return of the NSX.