There is but one correct response to the images of Acura’s new NSX flinging itself around the racetrack at Mid-Ohio: yay! Acura’s back!
Don’t get me wrong, the squid-faced TL SH-AWD is still a pretty good driver’s car, and has been for the past few years (and few other companies will sell you a six-speed manual luxury sedan), but aside from that, Honda’s luxury wing has been a company of crossovers and conservativism. They sell more seven-seat MDXs than anything else in the range, they haven’t had a sportscar in years, and hardly anybody knows how good the TL can be because it comes from the factory on some pretty ho-hum all-season tires.
But here comes the halo car, clipping the apexes and promising a return to Acura’s past ideals: light weight, high-performance, high-revving engines, driver-focused handling. Here’s a look back at the cars that once made the brand great.
This scrappy little terror isn’t anybody’s idea of a luxury car, but it remains the poster child for front-wheel-drive performance. Blessed with one of the best chassis on the planet and imbued with a stratospherically-revving 1.8L that cranked out 195hp near redline, the Type-R is a no-compromises machine that’s had nearly all the sound insulation stripped out and even features thinner glass to save weight.
While it’s no drag-strip champion, it’ll still give modern turbo-hatches a run for their money in a straight-line, and then watch out when the corners come—this thing carves up the curves like a katana. It’s visceral, it’s vital, it’s all the things that are missing from most heavyweight modern cars. No wonder they’re always getting stolen.
In later years, this lightweight sport-coupe featured glassed-in headlights and giant wheels, but the machine fixed in everyone’s imagination is surely the pop-up headlight original. Imagine the scene this thing made when the sheets came off the concept at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989. At the time, Ferrari was building pure Magnum PI grade stuff, and here was a Japanese company with an aluminium-chassis, mid-engined screamer bearing the fingerprints of Ayrton Senna. Mama mia!
With its lightweight body, the NSX only needed 270hp to blitz through the quarter-mile in the mid-13s—stupefyingly quick for the time, and respectable even now. It was also bulletproof, comfortable, reasonably efficient and easy to handle around town. The print magazines fell all over themselves with praise, and rightly so. It remains the legend that the new car has to live up to.
Speaking of legends, here’s an oft-overlooked Acura with serious sporting credentials. Not everyone could afford an NSX or live with the harshness of the Type-R, but for the businessman in a hurry there was always the Legend Coupe.
Like BMW and Mercedes, Acura now sells their cars as a mish-mash of alphanumerics. Once, though, they sold this two-door luxury car with a quick-shifting six-speed manual and prodigious V6 grunt. It was smooth and quiet when it needed to be, but it also could hammer through the California canyon roads like it was bred to do so—some semblance of that spirit of the NSX rested beneath its glossy-painted, leather-lined luxury. Even today, one of these in good condition is a great drive.