Boston Globe Oct 3 99


 By Royal Ford, Globe Correspondent, 10/03/99  

The incredibly fast, incredibly smooth Acura NSXT looks at home on an airport tarmac.

The Acura NSX has always been a car out there on the periphery of my interest.

Great looking car. Heard it was fast. Heard it ate up tires.

But like many people, when I heard the price — approaching $90,000 — I  tuned out, assuming that anything that costs that much must, by definition,  be of German or Italian manufacture.

Shows you what I know.

The Acura NSXT, a finely sculpted piece of sizzling aluminum, belongs right up there among the finest high-performance sports cars.

It is incredibly fast, incredibly comfortable (slip into it and you feel as  if you’re wearing the car), and impeccable in its handling. And talk about  delicate feel. You can sense even the slightest changes in the texture of  the road through your hands on the wheel.

This is a handcrafted car, and aluminum is used wherever possible: aluminum  unit body construction; all-aluminum engine, aluminum suspension. Helps keep  the car light (just over 3,000 pounds) for the nearly 300 horses that propel it. When they build these at a special plant in Japan, each car is moved individually from station to station. Acura will sell only about 500 of them in the United States this year. That will be 500 lucky buyers.

As I said, you wear this car when you sit in it. Inside, it’s a cocoon of leather: firm leather seats with strong thigh support and flanges outside the legs and up each side of the back and shoulders. Slam the door and you’re in tight, with every seam of leather — dash, doors, seats — finely stitched.

Grab the leather steering wheel and look around. Every gauge you need while driving is right behind the wheel. A yoke, much like an airplane yoke, sits behind the wheel, and that’s where you’ll find the command center for lights, windshield wipers, and cruise control.

In a wonderful bit of ergonomics, the center console ramps down from the dash toward the stick shift. On it are controls for the audio system and climate. Buttons are minimal and four knobs, each with a button at the middle and a pivoting wheel circling it, control the basics of sound and climate. Punch the climate buttons and you switch to automatic climate control or turn the fan off. To change temperature, spin a wheel. To boost the fan, spin a wheel.

Same with the audio. On-off and AM-FM are button-punches. Manual tuning and volume are wheel-spins. In no time at all, you can run this whole setup without taking your eyes off the road.

Arm rests slant down on the doors from dash to back of the door and in them are window, lock, and mirror controls and, ingeniously, vents to better move the air through the cockpit.

The view from that cockpit is racer-like: You see the fat bulges of each front fender, but the hood virtually disappears and you are looking at nothing but road straight ahead, aiming down the fenders as though they are sights as you corner.

At idle, the engine is deceptively quiet. But get on the gas at speed — say fourth gear on your way up to sixth — and the rumble from the engine behind you is deep and loud, remarkably so for a car redlined at 8,000 rpms.

The speedometer goes to 180. I did not go that fast. But the car leaped ahead and then held its speed effortlessly when I did push it. The 3.2-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 never lagged, never hesitated, never so much as complained. And the six-speed manual shift is as nifty as I’ve enountered. Fast, smooth clicks up and down the gears were simple. And with its high revs, shifting up and down a lot in the NSX means you are driving it right.

So you’re wearing the car. You’re driving it fast.

How’s it handle? Like it’s on rails. Stiff, like a car of this sort should be. It’s got 4-wheel, aluminum, double-wishbone suspension with gas-filled dampers and large antiroll bars front and rear. Variable assist power steering and traction control (if you want it) only add to the effect.

It’s got ABS for its four-wheel, ventilated disc brakes — each nearly a foot in diameter — and they bring it down from high speeds crisply and to sudden stops without a wobble.

For the safety of driver and passenger, its got air bags, front and rear crumple zones, and side-impact door beams.

It sits very low, so getting in and out of the NSX can be an adventure. But, hey, getting dressed in the morning can require some contortions as well.

And yes, what I had heard was true. It does, apparently, eat up tires. A warning on the sales sticker says that the rear high-performance tires may wear out in substantially less than 10,000 miles. But if you can afford almost $90,000 for a car, what’s a few extra tire purchases?

Nice touches:

– The soft, pleated leather sewn into the door panels where they are scooped out for elbow room.

 - The air vents high in the armrests.
 - The paint is so rich and deep it looks like a pool you could dive into.


 - The pop-up headlights. They ruin the looks of the car when they're up.
 - The lack of storage space inside: A wallet won't fit into the center console, the glove  compartment has been eaten up by the airbag. The biggest available space is the ashtray  built into the dash. I'd do away with the ashtray and use even that little bit of space  for a storage compartment.
 - The $89 add-on cost for floor mats -- $88,725 for a car, and they want another $89 for  floor mats. A joke, right?

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