Supercar Slayer Seeks Worthy Opponent
Acura teased the world for years with endless reveals of its NSX hybrid supercar. But if you think you’ve waited a long time for the new NSX to actually appear on the streets, the R35-chassis Nissan GT-R has been waiting for a worthy opponent for its nearly decade-long existence.
Like any elite warrior, the GT-R would tell you it’s lonely at the top, so watching the NSX roll into the ring is as exciting a proposition to the GT-R (and its creators) as it is to us.
These two machines have far more in common than their badges’ country of origin; they use technology to slay supercars. When the twin-turbo, dual-clutch, all-wheel-drive GT-R performed its first launch control on U.S. soil, Ferrari’s loudest sports car was still sucking its own air and diddling with a single-clutch automated manual.
Similarly, the NSX makes the Italians look laggard. It solves the modern-car turbo-lag dilemma by multiplying amps and volts. And because it can send the resulting watts to either or neither front wheel, it can perform torque vectoring to boot. This time, it’s not just the Italians who are paying attention.
The GT-R, too, has much to fear—especially given its inefficient powertrain layout, which includes a front-mounted V-6, a rear-mounted transaxle, and driveshafts heading in both directions. That system adds not only actual mass but also visual mass. Parked next to the low, wide Acura, the Nissan looks like a tall, blunt-nosed SUV.
Yet somehow the aluminum and carbon-fiber NSX weighs just 60 pounds less than the GT-R. The only significant difference is where that weight is located. When standing still, the Nissan’s front wheels carry a nearly unbelievable 537 more pounds than the Acura’s.
Distribution aside, with similar total weight and output (just 8 hp and 9 lb-ft separate them) the two cars should perform similarly in a straight line. Indeed, the GT-R and NSX are dead even in a drag race. The Nissan’s slightly more aggressive launch control gives it a 0.2-second advantage to 30 mph, which it maintains through its blistering 2.9-second run to 60 mph. After that, this is as close a drag race as you could ever ask for. The two cars are within three hundredths to 100 mph and within a tenth through the quarter mile.
Like any elite warrior, the GT-R would tell you it’s lonely at the top.
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the quickest GT-R we’ve tested. We’ve seen runs to 60 in as little as 2.7 seconds from a GT-R that had 20 fewer horses than today’s 565 hp.
But outright speed doesn’t seem to be this updated GT-R’s primary focus—for 2017, Nissan has focused on livability. To that end, its structure has been marginally stiffened and its dampers softened. Nissan added an acoustic windshield and improved sound deadening, and it tweaked the active noise cancellation and engine sound enhancement to work with a new two-mode titanium xhaust. Additionally, Nissan fitted a new touchscreen nav system as part of a comprehensive interior update to address complaints that the GT-R’s cabin wasn’t reflective of its sticker price. With the passing of time, faster cars have come out, and the GT-R’s performance is no longer so outrageous that it’s immune to criticism. The new cabin is a nicer place to be, though still not up to the standard of other cars with six-figure price tags.
Now Acura has come along, and it’s pushing the “everyday supercar” mantra. That means a lovely interior, but the NSX’s daily drivability goes way beyond that. Acura chose to outfit its supercar with workaday summer tires, selected for their ability to plow through deep rainwater puddles in cold weather rather than for their outright grip. If that seems like an unusual compromise, consider the “quiet” mode that helps avoid making a scene. Or the purposefully numb steering, engineered to relieve the tedium of driving. Or even the understeer supposedly built into the chassis’ Normal drive mode in the name of safety.
Those strike us as strange decisions, but they’re necessary concessions in the name of everyday usability.
Not everyone agreed Acura’s mission was successful. Our testers’ frustration buckets were overflowing with complaints about the NSX’s lack of interior storage. “You can either have a friend or be hydrated,” Jonny Lieberman said—the pop-in cupholder takes up the same space a passenger’s leg would. “The NSX is an ergonomic catastrophe with no door pockets, no sunglasses holder, no center-console storage, and no space behind the seat back. Unlike the Porsche 911 or Audi R8, this isn’t usable as daily transportation.”
Then there’s the trunk, a narrow cubby that seems smaller and hotter than an Easy-Bake Oven. My briefcase didn’t fit inside it, sparking another rant from Jonny, who swears he wasn’t inebriated when a Honda engineer said he benchmarked the Alfa Romeo 4C’s shoebox-sized trunk during the NSX’s development. Clearly the Honda employee was drunk as a skunk, either when he chose the 4C or when he admitted to it.
Expectations surrounding the NSX are unusually high—and not just because of the three letters in its badge. It’s the $197,400 as-tested price. That’s $83,815 more than the GT-R, and it’s more than a McLaren 570S or a Porsche GT3 RS. This is serious company.
This is the point in this article where we should say the price is worth it because the NSX’s torque-vectoring front end has rewritten the laws of physics, making it handle like no mid-engine car ever.
The NSX does handle differently, but not in the way you would expect. Nearly everyone who drove it commented about the learning curve involved in figuring out how to stop the Acura from trying to outsmart you. The front end turns in instantly, as if it had, oh, a quarter ton less mass to contend with than the GT-R’s. But what happens next depends on what you’ve just been doing with the brake pedal. Turn into a corner with the slightest hint of trail braking, and the NSX’s rear end will grant your wildest dreams of looking forward through the side windows. The snap-oversteer took even pro Randy Pobst by surprise on track. “I’m frankly shocked,” he said. “I think the average Joe would spin this car all over the place with its stability control off. I had a lot of learning to do.”
Acura has come along, and it’s pushing the “everyday supercar” mantra.
Once we spooked ourselves out of the trail-braking habit, the NSX became far easier to tame. The steering is lifeless enough that it might as well be a video game simulator, but it is path-accurate and naturally weighted. With so much of its mass located close to the center, the NSX changes direction in ways that belie its curb weight. The brake-by-wire system is good enough that most drivers would never notice anything fishy.
The NSX’s most surprising characteristic is feeling naturally aspirated. Three electric motors (the two up front plus one more in the rear transaxle) supplement the engine’s power as turbo boost builds. You can watch it play out on the LCD dash; you get on the gas, and e-boost peaks momentarily, dropping gradually as the turbos spool. The system is so well calibrated that if you couldn’t hear the turbos, you would genuinely think the V-6 was way larger and naturally aspirated.
Mid-corner balance is close to neutral with a tinge of understeer. And the NSX carves corners quickly. For years, we have considered the GT-R to be the benchmark of back-road speed. Few cars, if any, could beat the big Nissan down a curvy road, and none of them with so little effort. But the NSX is quicker. There’s another similarity. Adding power tends to pull the mid-engine NSX straight, just like, well, the GT-R used to.
That’s not entirely fair. The GT-R still puts down amounts of power that could shame a Porsche 911 Turbo. But in the middle of the corner, you enter understeer city. That’s on purpose, apparently. Nissan clearly wanted to separate the base model from the track-focused NISMO, and indeed this year’s edition rides far more comfortably than any previous GT-R.
A wise choice? “Who’s on the fence about a six-figure supercar and thinks, Man, if they could just make the thing suck a little bit, I’d totally buy it?” Jonny asked. Clearly not Randy. He complained of body roll, soft suspension, and entry oversteer like the NSX’s. “I had to slow my hands down,” he said. “I thought I could just throw the thing into the corner, but this GT-R doesn’t like that at all. I used to be able to attack the corners a lot harder in the GT-R.” He summarized the updated Nissan as “not as tracky as it once was.”
This is the sort of cliffhanger the GT-R has been hoping for since 2009.
The GT-R’s transmission was never great, and the Acura’s unit is far better, with smoother, quicker shifts, three additional ratios, and—unlike the Nissan—an auto mode that actually works on track. The GT-R’s automatic mode doesn’t even work well on the street, where we experienced glacial response to sudden full-throttle applications.
So how did the latest GT-R fare at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca? It’s still a fast car, but Randy’s best lap was 1:37.08, making it the second-slowest GT-R we’ve tested there. That’s very good news for the NSX because at 1:36.36, it was 0.72 second faster than the Nissan.
In reality, the race is likely closer than that. The two cars battled for first place until Randy had an uncharacteristic sideways moment through the bottom half of the Corkscrew in the GT-R—he was clearly able to drive the NSX more easily than the Nissan.
In fairness, all of the Acura’s performance testing was done on an optional tire, the barely street-legal Pirelli Trofeo R. We expected the NSX to slaughter the GT-R because of the tires alone.
Judged by the numbers, the NSX hasn’t raised the bar set by the GT-R. Then again, Nissan has lowered that bar. Jonny again: “The sad part is that the 2013 GT-R Black Edition would have been quicker in a straight line, better to drive on a curving canyon road, and faster around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca than the all-new Acura NSX.”
But against the updated 2017 GT-R, the NSX ekes out a small advantage. Although we’re disappointed that the torque-vectoring, mid-engine supercar didn’t pummel the updated but still old Nissan (or come close to the performance offered by “conventional” $200,000 mid-engine supercars), it did edge out the Nissan in back-road speed, track speed, comfort, and specialness.
The real winner? Us! Now that the GT-R finally has a true competitor, Nissan will finally have to step up its game. Will the next NISMO be enough to steal the crown back from the NSX? Or will there be a Type R version of the Acura by then? This is the sort of cliffhanger the GT-R has been hoping for since 2009. And we cannot wait for the rematch. Round one: NSX.
|2017 Acura NSX||2017 Nissan GT-R|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Mid-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6 alum block/heads, plus 2-front/1-rear electric motors||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6 alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||213.2 cu in/3,493 cc||231.8 cu in/3,799 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||500 @ 6,500 rpm (gas)/36+36 front and 47 rear (elec)/573 (comb) hp||565 hp @ 6,800 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||406 @ 2,000 rpm (gas)/54+54 front and 109 rear (elec)/476 (comb) lb-ft||467 lb-ft @ 3,300 rpm|
|REDLINE||7,500 rpm||7,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||6.8 lb/hp||7.0 lb/hp7|
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed twin-clutch auto.||6-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||14.5-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS||15.4-in vented, drilled disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 19-in; 11.0 x 20-in forged aluminum||9.5 x 20-in; 10.5 x 20-in forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/35ZR19 (93Y); 305/30ZR20 (103Y)
Pirelli PZero Trofeo R
|255/40ZR20 (97Y); 285/35ZR20 (100Y)
Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600 DSST CTT
|WHEELBASE||103.5 in||109.4 in|
|TRACK, F/R||65.2/63.7 in||62.6/63.0 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||176.0 x 76.3 x 47.8 in||185.4 x 74.6 x 53.9 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.7 ft||36.6 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,876 lb||3,936 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||42/58%||55/45%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.3/— in||38.1/26.4 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.8/— in||44.6/26.4 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.6/— in||54.3/50.0 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||4.4 cu ft||8.8 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.3 sec||1.1 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.4||1.4|
|QUARTER MILE||11.3 sec @ 123.6 mph||11.2 sec @ 123.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||95 ft||103 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.03 g (avg)||0.98 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.2 sec @ 0.92 g (avg)||23.6 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)|
|2.21-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:36.36 sec||1:37.08 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,700 rpm||2,200 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$197,400||$112,585|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, side, curtain, driver knee||Dual front, side, curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/70,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.6 gal||19.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||20/22/21 mpg||16/22/18 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/153 kW-hrs/100 miles||211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.93 lb/mile||1.06 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
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