The Acura NSX is Business Insider's 2016 Car of the Year

The wait is over! Business Insider’s 2016 Car of the Year is the Acura NSX.

The new NSX beat out the fiercest competition in the three-year history of our award. It is a worthy, exciting winner and a triumph for Honda, Acura’s parent company. But the NSX also revived one the greatest stories in the history of the automobile.

And by the way, this mid-engine supercar from a Japanese brand is actually an all-American machine, designed in California and proudly built in Ohio.

Here’s the backstory. In the 1990s, Honda was on top of the world. Its Accord and Civic sedans were selling like hotcakes. The brand, as a whole, had established a reputation for building technologically advanced cars with rock-solid reliability. On the performance front, Honda-powered Formula One race cars had reeled off six straight constructors’ world championships.

It was time for a halo product — a crown jewel in the Honda’s lineup.

In 1990, that’s exactly what happened with introduction of the New Sportscar eXperimental or NSX. The first generation Honda NSX — sold under the Acura luxury brand name in the US — was a true game changer. It proved that the Honda could build a state-of-the-art supercar capable of taking on the best Europe had to offer, but with Japanese reliability.

Many industry observers point to the original NSX as one of the driving forces behind the quality and performance of modern day Ferraris, Porsches, and Lamborghinis. In fact, the NSX even served as the benchmark for McLaren’s groundbreaking, 385km/h F1 hypercar.

End of the road?

In 2005, Honda ended the original NSX’s 15-year tour of duty and the wait for a successor commenced. First, Honda planned to replace the NSX with a front-engined V10 supercar, but the financial crisis put an end to that. Then, the successor was reincarnated as a mid-engined V6 show car. However, when the decision was made to add turbochargers and a hybrid system for more power, the car was once again redesigned because the orientation of the engine had to change for cooling purposes.

After a decade of waiting, a new NSX finally arrived, and we got our hands on one of Honda/Acura’s pre-production prototypes.

The process

At Business Insider, we don’t have extensively scientific criteria for selecting what we feel were the best cars of 2016 — we currently lack the testing facilities for anything like that. But we do consider each finalist in terms of three important questions: Was the vehicle compelling to drive? Did it stand apart from the competition? And did it involve a strong business case for the automaker that created it?

At first we were sceptical. After all, movies requiring this many re-shoots rarely take home Oscars. In addition, we were concerned that the new car has abandoned the original NSX’s lightweight simplicity in favour of a complex hybrid drive system.

Furthermore, the automotive landscape has changed considerably since 2015. In 1990, 300hp and the ability to hit 100km/h from a standstill in 5 seconds meant you had enough chips to play with the big boys. But these days, we live in an era of 700hp family-hauling muscle sedans and SUVs capable of ripping off 0-100 runs in 4 seconds.

Over the years, Honda and Acura have changed as well. The company, still an industry leader, has had a few more misses than hits of late. Its bread-and-butter Accord and Civic sedans are no-longer sure bets while its once-niche CR-V crossover has become the company’s new breadwinner.

Acura has endured its share of troubles. The brand has struggled to keep up with rivals from Japan and Germany in terms of sales, performance, and prestige.

At the end of the day, none of those concerns materialised because the NSX proved to be stunningly good to look at, joyful to drive, and easy to live with. We also sampled the NSX in three distinct settings: on the road, on the race track with Transportation Reporter and longtime NSX enthusiast Benjamin Zhang behind the wheel, and on another track with a pro driver at the controls, while Senior Correspondent Matt DeBord hung on for dear life in the passenger seat.

Simply glorious

Set eyes on the NSX’s sheet metal once and you can’t help but look again. The design isn’t classically beautifully, like a vintage Pininfarina-designed Ferrari, but its striking aesthetic is attractive in its own right. In a year where we’ve had Ferraris, Porsches, Rolls-Royces, and Teslas roll through our suburban New Jersey auto test center, no car generated as much attention from the general public as the NSX.

Behind the wheel, Acura’s decision to go with hybrid tech was a stroke of genius. Generating 573hp, the twin-turbocharged V6 offered on-demand power with little complaint. With traction going to all-four wheels, the NSX proved to highly forgiving — offering endless grip around corners.

In addition, the NSX’s advanced hybrid drive unit represents the first time we’ve seen such a system in a supercar with a price tag south of $1 million.

Once again, Honda and Acura will have a halo product — a stunning, eye-catching supercar to get buyers in the showroom and to stroke the egos of the brand’s owners. It’s a car that will set the pace and the tone for Honda and Acura in the coming years.

A great car — from a great year

It’s been a great year for the auto industry. Audi’s new MLB Evo platform hit its stride with the world-class A4 sedan and Q7 SUV, while Ferrari’s turbocharging revolution arrived with the new 488 GTB. Meanwhile, Cadillac is revitalized with a new high-tech flagship sedan and crossover in the form of the CT6 and XT5. Jaguar and Maserati rolled out the first SUVs in their companies’ histories, while McLaren’s new Sports Series is expected to double the company’s sales total in a few short years.

But when it was all said and done, Honda/Acura’s NSX supercar stood victorious. We are proud to announce the 2017 Honda/Acura NSX as Business Insider’s 2016 Car of the Year. Congratulations!

Below, we present Matt’s original review of the NSX. What a car!

Photos by Hollis Johnson.

Graphic by Skye Gould.

The NSX landed in New York City during a spell of lousy weather. It didn't matter. Our photographer, the intrepid Hollis Johnson, couldn't stop drooling over the $160,000 car, which wears wet stupendously well.

Hollis Johnson

Hollis was fascinated with how rain beaded elegantly on the luminous, deep-red surface of the NSX.

Hollis Johnson

I thought it looked like something out of 'Blade Runner.' Really, better than something out of 'Blade Runner'.

Hollis Johnson

The car's designers and engineers thought of everything and pondered how it should all blend into a harmonious, aggressive, aesthetically formidable whole. The headlights are sweeping and katana-esque, but the cube-like elements inside provide an anchoring counterpoint.

Hollis Johnson

This is a taut, compact, mid-engine supercar. It genuinely appears more roadster-ish than some of its recently debuted ilk, namely the Ferrari 488 GTB and the Ford GT. It's closer to the McLaren 650S or 570S, but to my eye far better looking.

Hollis Johnson

The NSX managed a neat trick of having a small and slightly ferocious outward vibe without coming off as insubstantial. The rear haunches and spread of the back end are solid, settled, and purposeful.

Hollis Johnson

The car looks great from the front, great from the side, and great from the rear. That's a triple-threat of greatness. The entire package, made of aluminium and carbon fibre (but not that much carbon fibre), tips the scales at 3,800 lbs., and I'll explain shortly why that heft doesn't matter at all.

Hollis Johnson

Acura's badge is unmodified for the NSX, which although a very Japanese take on the supercar, is actually built in Ohio!

Hollis Johnson

The Acura badge on the rear -- and that's it for badging! Way to hold back, Acura.

Hollis Johnson

This angled, modest buttress and scalloped intake are similar to the Ford GT's now-celebrated wing-like curved buttress, but tighter to the NSX's body. They put me in the mind of the wings of raptor, tucked in tight to dive on prey.

Hollis Johnson

Here's another bit of functional surface detail -- of which there is refreshingly little on the NSX. The entire car is an exercise in visual discipline and restraint, exuding a confident power.

Hollis Johnson

The impressive 3.5-litre V6 powerplant is tucked between the driver and the rear wheels -- it lives beneath this glass cover.

Hollis Johnson

It's about as large as a suitcase and includes a pair of turbochargers. And yet coupled with the NSX's trio of electric motors, it contributes to a hybrid drivetrain that serves up 573 horsepower. Routed through a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission, the power yields a 0-100km/h dash of 3 seconds and top speed of 307km/h.

Hollis Johnson

Yep, the Acura NSX we sampled was #0000 -- a pre-production vehicle. This is actually the first time I've ever tested a supercar this early in its run.

Hollis Johnson

The interior that I so wrongly ridiculed when I saw it in photos.

Hollis Johnson

Supercar interiors are notoriously uncomfortable. The NSX's is decidedly not. It is, in fact, without question the most comfortable supercar I've ever slipped into. Sure, you could call the interior bland. Where's the racy topstitching, the two-tone colour scheme? This could be any old Acura. But let's not forget how pleasant it is to sit in an Acura. A supercar need not punish to impress.

Hollis Johnson

Carbon-trim, black leather, and the same roundup of control buttons you'd find on any luxury vehicle these days. No, the NSX doesn't have a steering wheel that evokes a Formula 1 race car, à la Ferrari. But it gets the job done.

Hollis Johnson

The instrument cluster is fairly straightforward. The visual changes depending on which driving mode is selected.

Hollis Johnson

The essential information that the driver needs.

Hollis Johnson

Supercars simply don't have enough interior space for a large infotainment screen. But the NSX's is effective, and the vehicle doesn't lack for technology: navigation, audio, Bluetooth pairing, and USB and AUX inputs are all present.

Hollis Johnson

The center console fills out the controls needed for various vehicle functions.

Hollis Johnson

The knob allows the driver to switch driving modes: Quiet, Sport, Sport Plus, and Track. Quiet mode provides limited all-electric piloting, Sport is for everyday meandering, Sport Plus is for winding-road fun, and Track is self-evident. We experienced the NSX in the hands of a pro driver in Track mode, and it's thrilling, maximizing the torque-vectoring feature and allowing a driver to absolutely carve a track to pieces.

Hollis Johnson

That ... is ... the cupholder. It's removable so that it doesn't abrade the thigh of your passenger. You can stow it in the glove compartment.

Hollis Johnson

The audio system is by ELS. There are nine speakers and 580 watts, which is more then enough to fill a cockpit this small with lush, dynamic sound.

Hollis Johnson

OK, enough walking around in the rain and enthusing over the most comfortable supercar interior every crafted by human hands on Planet Earth. What's it like to drive the NSX?

Hollis Johnson

It is untrammeled automotive bliss!

Hollis Johnson

The only car I've driven all year that made as penetrating an impression was the Ferrari 488.

BI's Ben Zhang sampled the NSX on a fine Connecticut race track and also richly enjoyed the car.

Ultimately, the Ferrari 488 is better. But it's also hundred of thousands of dollars more expensive. As supercars go, I don't think there's ever been a superior value proposition to the NSX, unless you go for a Corvette Z06 -- a front-engined V8 that can be had for under $100,000. The new NSX is of course a mid-engine machine, and consequently more of a proper supercar than the 'Vette.

Did I mention that you can extract a ridiculous 12L per 100km from a car that has a 573-horsepower combined hybrid powerplant!

Did I mention that the other supercars that use the same type of powerplant, such as the Porsche 918 Spyder, will set you back a cool million bucks?

Just wow.

There's just nothing you can't do with the NSX. Pootle around town? Check. Cruise on the highway? Check. Take it hard into the corners while flipping through the exquisite nine-speed gearbox (well, four or five of them, anyway) and playing with with responsive, juicy throttle response? Check. Punch it in a straight line? Check. Slide around a track? Check.

Sit in the driveway and listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage on Sirius satellite radio? Why not? The seats are pliant enough for napping.

The NSX is also a magnet for the eyes, as the countless passers-by at my house for a few days proved by taking no end of photos and videos of the car. I caught myself looking out the window plenty of times, just to get me a little dose of NSX beauty.

We could call the Audi R8 and maybe the Nissan GT-R or McLaren 570 competitors, but I'd take the NSX any day over those cars. It's more stylish and comfortable than the R8. It's far less overexposed than the GT-R. And it won't beat you into submission like the McLaren 570.

Those are all terrific cars, by the way. The NSX is just special-er.

I change my mind all the time. But not about stuff I consider truly fundamental, such as my gut feeling that the old NSX was cultishly unworthy.

But boy, did the new NSX ever do some damage to my pride. And I was more than happy to take the hit.

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