Why The Acura NSX Bombed

How a truly great car failed to make it in the rarified world of supercars

Allan Milne Lees
4 min readJan 27, 2021
Image credit: Wheels.com

The original NSX was a distinct curiosity in the world of supercars because it had one attribute nobody expected: reliability. While other supercars rested in expensive Garages of Solitude located far from the madding crowd, the NSX could blend into commute traffic on its way to the Daily Planet without bursting into flames (hi there, Ferrari!) or grounding its sump (whoa there, Aston-Martin!) or simply failing to start at all (uh huh, McLaren, definitely a nod to you here). Yet the old NSX was also fun to drive and — mirabile dictu! — the driver could look out of the windows and see stuff around them. Only Porsche offered a similar visual experience but its VW-derived engine hanging out fifty feet behind the rear axle meant that all Porsche drivers learn to proceed at 20mph in order to avoid having a trouser accident at the next corner.

So the old NSX, mild-mannered supercar in a Brooks Brothers suit, gained a lot of admirers. Over the years it became famous, indeed a legend. And then Honda discontinued it and in the way of legends its appeal grew, nourished by a rich diet of nostalgia and sentimentality. Meanwhile supercars continued to get faster, (slightly) more reliable, and more opulent inside. But Honda was working on an all-new NSX and the world of armchair automotive enthusiasts permitted their dreams to grow and grow.

Looks are always a matter of personal taste. For my money (all $32.76 of it) the second generation NSX is fabulous. It is sleek, clearly a matter of form following function, and is less boring than German-owned Lamborghini designs have become. It’s also less silly than Ferrari models of late, which appear to have succumbed to the insecurity a newly-created starlet feels on the red carpet when she’s unsure if her designer dress is quite risqué enough to draw the lenses of the assembled paparazzi.

Sadly, as every motoring journalist has noted since the new model arrived in 2017, once you open the doors of the NSX the magic begins to evaporate like common sense in the midst of a pandemic. Honda didn’t feel the Acura badge was sufficiently prestigious to merit a price tag in the $200,000 to $250,000 range so they cut costs where they could. The result is a parts-bin interior extravaganza which leaves the owner feeling just a teensie-weensie bit overcharged. For $160,000 or more, one would like the valet service to be able to fondle instrument stalks, steering wheel, and climate controls that were not so obviously Civic & Accord. And let’s not even talk about the navigation system…

So the new NSX, a car that can hit 60mph in under 3 seconds and reach nearly 200 mph if you happen to own an airport runway, acquired the reputation of being a bit cheap. And that’s the kiss of death for an aspiring supercar. It’s like someone pointing out that the Man of Steel’s underpants come from Target — especially embarrassing considering that after all these years he still hasn’t realized they’re supposed to be worn under his spandex pants, not on top of them.

Now here’s the not-so-secret secret of the supercar/hypercar world: nobody really buys them because of how good they are to drive.

Your average supercar/hypercar buyer truly does have a Garage of Solitude, or maybe several, located in one or more of their gated luxury estates. Probably next to the helipad. Within this climate-controlled hanger will be an example of every automobile a small boy could desire and each one will have under 1,000 miles on the clock. Because these cars are not wild beasts permitted to roam across their territories, sending flushes of fear into lesser creatures. They are stuffed trophies, simulacra, there to demonstrate the owner’s wealth and enthusiasm — an enthusiasm that doesn’t translate into letting them roar on the public roads. Getting stains out of alcantara is such a nightmare, my dear!

This is why the NSX is selling so poorly. It’s a genuine supercar: versatile, fun and easy to drive, powerful, won’t try to kill its owner, reliable, and an all-round excellent performer in every category.

Except snob appeal.

Honda made the fatal mistake of imagining that people buy supercars to enjoy driving them. Unfortunately, all the NSX’s strengths are worthless compared to its weakness. No rich auto enthusiast is going to buy one to add it to the ranks of his exotica. Nobody wants to have their impressionable guest gasp at the beauty of the NSX and then open the door and comment, “Ooh, look! That’s the same as my Civic!”

And so the NSX is a great car without a viable niche. It’s not cheap enough to compete with the new Corvette and it’s not exclusive enough to rank alongside European exotics. It’s like the worthy friend you know you should invite to your birthday party but never do, because, well, he’d show up wearing the wrong sweater.

Which all means that the NSX depreciates faster than it accelerates, making it a fabulous option on the used car market. If you’re a real weirdo and actually like to drive the cars you buy, check out the various websites that list expensive used cars. Take an NSX out for a spin. Ignore the downmarket but perfectly acceptable and perfectly functional Honda interior and focus on the way the NSX accelerates, grips the road, provides astonishing performance without drama, and then… maybe just consider handing over your cash.

Unlike European exotics, it won’t take your money today and (fail to) run tomorrow.



Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.