The Acura NSX, Honda’s legendary flagship sports car, was the first production Japanese exotic car. It was introduced to the U.S. market (known as the Honda NSX elsewhere) for the 1991 model year, right on the back of the company’s streak of supplying engines to six straight (1986-1991) Formula One Constructors Championships.
What set the NSX apart was its singular focus on delivering an unparalleled driving experience, breaking new ground in handling performance without the traditional quirks and shortcomings of the exotic car genre.
Lightweight was crucial to its performance. For this reason Honda chose to employ aluminum for the body instead of steel, spending six years developing both the car and the technology to form and join the lightweight material in a way that met its structural integrity requirements. Legendary three time F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna helped fine tune its handling by testing at Suzuka and the Nurburgring, convincing Honda to increase chassis stiffness even further prior to production.
The resulting unibody, formed from 5000 and 6000-series aluminum, is said to weigh some 40 percent less than an equivalent steel version. The engine, wheels and even the tire jack were all formed in aluminum.
The all-alloy engine, derived from Honda’s Formula One technology, was the world’s first production vehicle unit to feature variable valve timing (V-TEC). It also made use of other advanced materials such as titanium for the connecting rods. Power output for the original 3.0 liter V6, which would scream to a redline of 8,000 rpm, was a modest 270 horsepower.
All of this was wrapped in a purposeful body with an expansive greenhouse affording good all around visibility, and unadorned with extraneous styling elements. When new it may have seemed understated, even somewhat generic. But it has aged gracefully in the following two decades.
During its extended production run the NSX received a number of changes. In 1995 U.S. sales of the hardtop model largely ended with the introduction of the NSX-T targa-top model. With the exception of a few specially-ordered specimens, each NSX from then on was equipped with a removable body-colored roof.
The engine was bumped up to 3.2 liters and 290 horsepower in 1997, and a sixth gear was added to the manual transmission. Automatic models were still equipped with the original 270 hp 3.0 liter V6.
In 2002 fixed headlights replaced the previous pop-up headlights, wider rear tires, and a “manual” shift mode was added to the optional four speed automatic transmission. Sales continued to decline, however, eventually barely reaching into the triple digits per year when production ceased in 2005.
After years of rumors and several concept cars of varying layouts, Honda announced the next generation NSX sports car would be built in Ohio and launched as a 2015 model. Once again it will be mid-engine and use the latest technology, this time with a hybrid powertrain driving all four wheels.