The car scene in Los Angeles is, in a word, ridiculous. Every neighborhood has its own vibe and distinct car culture. In Silver Lake you’ll regularly see sweet vintage Mercedes-Benzes and obscure French oddities, but where I live in West Hollywood and in the neighboring Beverly Hills, supercars and high-end luxury machines rule the streets. You’ll see more Mercedes G-Wagens than you will Toyota RAV4s, Rolls-Royces are commonly found in grocery store parking lots and there are always Lamborghini Huracans in my local Starbucks drive-thru.
Nearly every weekend I go to car shows and local events, and I regularly go for cruises into the canyons or through the city at night with friends. No matter where I go or what I see, I never regret leaving my apartment. My whole life I’ve been the kid (and then adult) getting excited about cars I see on the street or at a show, always wanting to talk to the owners and snap some pictures. But I also love it when the script is flipped and I’m the one in a car that gets a ton of attention.
So when the press car scheduling gods (aka my coworker Steven Ewing) blessed me with a 2021 Acura NSX for a week, I formulated a plan to spend basically my entire Sunday driving around and showing it off. I enlisted the help of my friend Ben Davis, a fantastic amateur car photographer, to ride along with me and document our day. As you might expect, it turned out to be a good one.
The new NSX has been a controversial car since its launch in 2015. While the original NSX was simple, lightweight and analog, with a naturally aspirated V6 and a standard manual transmission, the new NSX is a hybrid that uses a twin-turbo engine paired with three electric motors, all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. Many enthusiasts criticize the NSX for its lengthy development period that led the car already feeling old by the time it arrived. Nine years after the original concept’s unveiling, the styling pretty much hasn’t changed.
I’m coming into my time with the NSX mostly devoid of any preconceived notions or expectations. I never drove an original NSX, and the extent of my experience with the new one is a hot lap of Road Atlanta in the passenger seat. I love the idea of a hybrid supercar and I like how the NSX looks, but in my armchair comparisons I’ve always preferred the more exotic competition.
This specific tester is a 2021 NSX finished in Long Beach Blue Pearl, which was one of the rarest colors on the original NSX and is getting new life this year. Not much else changed for 2021, with the NSX already having received semi-substantial updates for 2019. Beyond the $1,000 paint my car’s only options are $700 red brake calipers, a $3,000 carbon-fiber rear spoiler and $500 for SiriusXM radio, bringing the total to $164,695 including destination.
We start the day off early with a drive out to Malibu for a semi-secret, pseudo-monthly cars and coffee in a secluded beachside parking lot next to the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe. It’s a chilly, foggy morning and the NSX is a perfect companion for the drive. Even with big, staggered wheels shod with summer performance tires, the ride quality is phenomenal over rough surfaces thanks to the adaptive magnetorheological dampers. The NSX’s fairly compact size means it’s pretty easy to place and dart through openings in traffic, which is especially useful for getting around the surfers and their Subaru Outbacks along Pacific Coast Highway.
The show has limited space, and we luckily get the last open spot in the lot just after 8 a.m., much to the chagrin of an actual NSX owner that showed up a couple minutes later. The show’s heaviest hitters are parked right at the entrance: A Peugeot 205 T16 road car, a Lancia Stratos race car and one of the five Dauer-built Bugatti EB110 Super Sports, the last of which is finished in exposed carbon fiber.
The rest of the lot is impressive, too. In one section a red Porsche 959, a yellow Ruf Yellowbird and a green Gunther Werks 400R are all parked next to each other, while a little down the row a Citroën SM and an Alfa Romeo Montreal sit near a pre-war Lincoln and a 300SL Gullwing that raced in the Mille Miglia. Other highlights include my friend Tyson’s perfect green-over-tan E39 M5, older American muscle cars like a real 289 Shelby Cobra, a whole bunch of modern supercars and a fabulous Renault 5 Turbo.
About 40 minutes after we get to the show, I hear a commotion and notice a crowd forming near the entrance. The culprit? A McLaren Speedtail that’s slowly making its way toward a now-open parking spot between a BMW 2002 and a donked-out ’80s Chevy El Camino. Talk about juxtaposition. This Speedtail has an exposed carbon-fiber body that mostly has a blue tint, but the carbon fades to gray at certain detail sections like vents and the headlights. It’s only the second one I’ve seen in person, and it’s beautiful.
As I’m snapping photos with my phone, some of my friends walk right past the Speedtail toward the entrance without even stopping to check it out, and I notice that a bunch of other people look to be leaving too. Before I can even ask what’s going on, my friend says, “There’s a black Ferrari F50 parked in the public lot.” No need to say more.
Only 349 F50s were built in total and just four were painted black from the factory, two of which came to the US. This one is particularly rad as it’s driven regularly in LA by the owner and is the highest-mileage F50 in the world, having apparently covered over 75,000 miles. A huge crowd remains around the F50 for the rest of the morning, and people run out to the entrance of the lot to get shots of the car as it leaves. Also parked in this excess lot are the F50 owner’s black Porsche Carrera GT, a mint green 300SL roadster, a DeTomaso Mangusta and an amazing Meyers Manx. And most of what I’ve listed off are just things that I haven’t already seen around before — there are a lot of incredible cars here.
It’s now 10 a.m. and Ben and I head back down PCH to the Malibu Country Mart, where a weekly cars and coffee is typically held. While that show was basically over, some of the cars from Paradise Cove had the same idea, so we get more up-close time with the EB110 and F50. We’re able to test the NSX’s abilities as a camera car for rolling shots, which ends up being pretty good on PCH. It’s easy to keep the NSX at a steady speed, the ride isn’t too bouncy or shuddery and the view out the windshield and side windows is pretty good. Cars that we capture through the NSX’s glass include a stunning Jaguar XK120, a Plymouth Prowler, a classic Maserati Ghibli with a Ferrari 365 GT4 in tow and a Ferrari 488 Pista that’s been pulled over by the cops.
After eating a fantastic sandwich from Malibu Kitchen and grabbing some snickerdoodles for the road — they fit perfectly in the NSX’s tiny storage cubby between the seats — we head to Beverly Hills. It wouldn’t be a day of car spotting without seeing what’s parked on Rodeo Drive, after all.
It’s a busy day with lots of people walking around, window shopping and standing in line to get into Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès. I do half a dozen laps around the block so Ben can get some rolling shots, and the NSX is breaking necks. The Long Beach Blue paint certainly has something to do with it, but the NSX seems to get a disproportionate amount of attention compared to the other supercars that are tootling around. A Ferrari 458 Spider and LamborghinI Huracan Performante Spyder are blasting around side by side, and people are mostly just looking at them in annoyance.
While it might seem stale to enthusiasts that are in the know, the fact is that Acura has sold fewer than 1,450 of the NSX in the US since it went on sale in 2016. That makes it way more rare than all the modern supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren. Most people just don’t know what the hell it is, and they want to know why it looks like a cool supercar but is so quiet when in motion. When someone asks what it is and what kind of engine it has, and I reply by saying, “It’s an Acura with a twin-turbo V6 hybrid and 573 horsepower,” and the typical response is something along the lines of, “Damn, that’s cool.” And you know what? Yeah, it is.
The NSX’s powertrain is the best traditional hybrid (one that doesn’t have a plug) I’ve ever experienced. The transition from electric propulsion to the V6 kicking in is nearly seamless even from a stop; it’s not as jerky or rough as most other hybrids. In the Quiet drive mode the NSX is just that, as it keeps the powertrain in EV mode as much as possible, and it honestly feels like an Accord around town while still being plenty quick. The default Sport mode turns things up a notch, switching the engine on more often and making the car’s responses more exciting while still regularly switching to EV propulsion at lower speeds. Sport provides the best balance of performance fun without compromising the NSX’s wonderful daily drivability.
I get some more highway time in as we cross the city to our next destination, and the NSX continues to impress. I’m averaging over 30 mpg on the highway no problem, which is wild for a mid-engine supercar, and even around town I’m getting around 24 mpg, better than the NSX’s EPA city rating. Visibility is good, especially with those nicely shaped side mirrors, though I wish the NSX had blind-spot monitoring. The lack of adaptive cruise control sucks, too, some of the materials don’t feel befitting of a $150,000-plus supercar and the touchscreen infotainment system is just plain outdated and bad. Small gripes in the grand scheme of things.
There’s only one way to end a day like this, and that’s with a blast up the mountain roads in Angeles National Forest to watch the sunset. As nice as the NSX is around town and on the highway, it really comes alive on roads like these. I put the car into Sport Plus mode, which forces the engine to always be on, using the electric motors and battery pack to increase performance instead of efficiency. Sport Plus makes the engine way louder, filling the cabin with glorious V6 noise and lots of turbo whooshes. I love that the three electric motors are audible, too.
The NSX has a regenerative braking system that’s well integrated with the standard Brembo hydraulic brakes, offering excellent stopping power and zero fade. (Carbon-ceramics are optional.) The steering is super sharp and direct but a little too light for my liking, though it offers more feedback than I expected. There’s an absurd amount of grip, and I can really feel the all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring systems working to shift power around. It’s a super fun car to drive up here in the mountains, predictable while still exciting and really easy to drive fast.
Our photo spot is a very large (and very popular) turnout with an incredible view of the mountains and the snaking roads below. When we arrive around 5:30 p.m., the atmosphere is still grey and cloudy, and there’s a group of other enthusiasts waiting for conditions to improve. My NSX fits right in with their group, which consists of an R35 Nissan GT-R, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, a Subaru WRX and a Nissan 350Z, all of which are modified. An awesome R33 Skyline GT-R shows up, too, and as we’re stopped we see everything from Ford Mustangs and Volkswagen GTIs to Porsche 911 GT3s and a McLaren 600LT ripping further up the mountain.
Thankfully the skies soon open up and our backdrop shifts from a cool gray to peach tones, and finally a spectacular bright orange sunset. The NSX looks its best here, with the dramatic light bouncing off the sharp lines and angular details. My favorite design flourishes are the pass-through flying buttresses and the prominent rear haunch, and the LED lights are especially distinctive at night. It’s a great design, and the more time I’ve spent looking at it in different situations throughout the day the more I appreciate it.
Once the sky is dark and the moon has risen, we quietly head home and I’m able to reflect on my day with the NSX. In many ways it’s exactly what I expected: A kinda tame, easy-to-drive car that just feels like a Honda in most situations. But its rarity, striking looks, well-rounded character and intriguing, fantastic performance really left a mark on me. The NSX is one of the best new cars I’ve ever driven.
Living in LA, I’ve become pretty jaded. It takes a really unique spec or limited-production model to get me excited about a “regular” supercar like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, especially if I’m at a show surrounded by rarer, more interesting cars. There’s something to be said for going with the unusual choice when it comes to supercars — especially when it’s a fairly rational choice, too. The Acura NSX is just that.