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Acura to Develop, Build New NSX in the U.S.

Using high-performance hybrid, supercar returns in late 2014.

by on Jan.09, 2012

Acura races back onto the scene with a long-delayed remake of its legendary NSX supercar.

The original Japanese supercar will make its return late in 2014, Acura officials have announced, but the next-generation NSX will be quite a bit different from the original, which debuted more than two decades ago.

For one thing, it will feature a new hybrid-electric drivetrain. And the Japanese maker, the luxury arm of Honda Motor Co., will develop and produce the reborn NSX in the United States, Honda CEO Takanobu Ito announced during a news conference at the Detroit Auto Show.

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The new Acura NSX will serve as a halo car for the brand, which has been struggling to catch up with Asian rivals Lexus and Infiniti in recent years.  Acura used its briefing to also unveil the next-generation RDX crossover and all-new ILX entry-luxury sedan, two mainstream models that could use a bit of momentum.

Like the original supercar, the new Acura NSX will adopt an aluminum body and frame.

Originally named the HPX, short for Honda Pininfarina Xperimental, the NSX was a breakthrough sports car that challenged the best of the European breed – offering such features as a super-high-output V-6 with titanium connecting rods, electric power steering and the world’s first all-aluminum monocoque body at a price significantly below the likes of Ferrari and Porsche.

But Acura stuttered when it came to tooling up a replacement and the NSX was all but forgotten by the time it was pulled from production in 2005. Efforts to come up with a replacement, including one concept using an all-new V-10, ultimately failed to generate the necessary enthusiasm – or competitive business plan.

But the new design, “can be a real differentiator for the brand,” insists Gary Evert, head of Honda’s U.S. R&D operations, who first provided with a sneak peek at the Acura NSX concept last month.

A close-up of the Acura NSX concept's distinctive front LED headlamp.

Many of the details of the production version are still being worked out but it will use a more modern version of the original supercar’s aluminum body and frame.  Acura is likely to turn to some even more exotic materials, where possible, such as carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, or CFRP, for the production car.  Weight, as industry engineers are quick to point out, is the enemy of both performance and fuel efficiency.

Acura engineers are touting the new NSX as a green sports car, though don’t expect it to get close to the mileage of the Honda brand’s Insight.  Nonetheless, the new approach will turn to a super-efficient gas-electric powertrain that could yield incredible performance while also delivering impressive fuel economy.

It borrows the basic Electric Super Handling-All-Wheel-Drive system coming for the RL and MDX models – which will start off with a front-mounted 310 horsepower 3.5-liter direct injection V-6 paired with a 40-horsepower motor that will drive the front axle through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission – Honda’s first.  The rear axle will, in turn, feature twin 27-hp electric motors, one driving each wheel.

The layout is what has come to be known as a through-the-road hybrid, as there is no direct mechanical link between the front and rear axles.  But what’s most notable is that by using separate motors the torque sent to each rear wheel  can be varied depending upon factors such as road conditions or, when entering a corner, torque can be increased to the outer wheel to help steer the vehicle through a turn.

Honda officials aren’t prepared to discuss the technical specifics of the new NSX except to say that the car’s gasoline engine would be mounted mid-ship.  But when pressed, they began to provide with a more complete picture.  It appears that in the new supercar the E-SH-AWD driveline will essentially be reversed, here the gas engine and single motor powering the rear wheels, with the twin electric motors mounted up front.

The specific horsepower and torque numbers are being finalized but a senior Japanese executive told TDB the next-gen Acura NSX would deliver significantly more power than the same E-SH-AWD drive system being planned for the RL and MDX.

The concept vehicle is lower and wider than the original NSX – which had a height of 46.1 inches and a width of 71.3 inches.  Length is roughly the same, the 1991 model measuring in at 173.4 inches, nose-to-tail, with a 99.6-inch wheelbase.

The concept NSX’s front bumper barely reaches mid-shin, the nose featuring a decidedly subtle version of the Acura brand’s familiar – if controversial – shield grille.  But the most distinctive front feature is the prototype’s five-LED headlamps.  The goal was to give the new model  a futuristic look, rather than going with the increasingly-large headlights found on many new models, which the project’s design leader, John Ikeda, suggested have gotten, “out of control.”

The new Acura NSX concept carries over only a few subtle hints of the original, highly angular NSX, no surprise since supercar design has evolved significantly over the last 20 years.  The overall look is more go-kart like, more planted and solid, with an almost dart-like rise from nose to tail, with modest flying buttresses accenting the back half of the car, helping channel air to the engine and, it appeared, to the rear brakes.

A senior American Honda executive noted that several “mules” are already running around Ohio in an effort to lock down drivetrain and suspension basics.  The primary development effort is being handled in the Midwest, with some styling and engineering input from Japan.

Production will also take place in Ohio, though the largely hand-built NSX won’t be found rolling down the same assembly line as the American-made Honda Civic, that’s for sure.

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