A car that forces the competition to head back to the drawing board does not come around often, especially when that competition happens to be Ferrari. Honda achieved such a feat back in 1991 when the original NSX was set loose in the supercar world. Not only did the NSX smack its contemporaries down in terms of performance and technological prowess, it also forced the Italians to make supercars with some semblance of reliability and manners.
Spend only a few moments in an original NSX, and its specialness is palpable. The lack of power steering is acutely noticeable at low speed as I roll over little cracks and dips in the road, while the sticky rubber chucks small rocks up into the wheel wells. A near 360-degree view is at my disposal with the bubble-like canopy, and the ground right in front of the nose is visible from my vantage point. This is what control feels like, and we haven't even gotten to the reverie-inducing VTEC noises getting piped right into our eardrums yet.
There are no dials to change the throttle response, no buttons to make the steering artificially heavy, no shift paddles behind the wheel to tell a computer to swap cogs. To my right is a manual shifter that can legitimately be described as perfect. This is a 1991 Acura NSX, and it is glorious.
For some of the reasons I've briefly described, and plenty more, this car has reached legend status amongst enthusiasts. In the early 2000s it was a sales disaster, outgunned by pretty much every other supercar in the space. Honda/Acura was only working with a 3.2-liter V6 making 290 horsepower when that car finally met its maker after the 2005 model year.
As collectable modern classics, the relatively low power output doesn't seem to bother folks spending close to, and over, six digits on low-mileage examples of these cars. What changed? Well, the passage of time tends to be the biggest factor in these things. Also, there's a new NSX out there, reminding the world that the old one exists. And just like when Acura discontinued the original, the new one is mighty expensive, selling in extremely low numbers, and generally regarded as lesser than other options in its class. This time around it has to deal with standout cars like the 911 GT3, McLaren 570S and Audi R8 V10. But perhaps even worse than that, the new NSX must withstand comparisons to the original.
Can you think of any other legendary Japanese car with a similar image problem today? Yeah, the Toyota Supra. We haven't even driven that car, but everybody on planet Earth (including our editorial staff) has extremely strong opinions concerning the "BMW Supra."