(© Rod Hatfield)

Acura NSX Concept

Acura's new NSX Concept that debuted in January at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit has some seriously big shoes to fill if it intends to follow in the footsteps of the last car to carry the moniker.

When the original NSX made its debut in 1990, we thought Acura had achieved the impossible: an all-aluminum supercar that you could drive every day. The NSX looked like a Ferrari, but you could drive and maintain it like a Honda Accord V6. It had a midengine design, yet the interior was spacious and comfortable. The ride was supple, not too hard and fatiguing.

Video: Acura NSX Concept in Detroit

It didn't have as much horsepower as a Toyota Supra Turbo or a Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. But nobody cared. Thanks to perfectly chosen gear ratios, the car just sang to its stratospheric 8000 rpm redline. The sound was without question exotic — music to the ears of any car aficionado.

More importantly, the appeal of the old NSX was that you couldn't find a single synthetic element in the entire package. It was organic — car journalists called it "talkative." It was the kind of car that translated the road through the steering wheel like none of its competition could ever dream of doing.

That was then, this is now
From the looks of it, the new NSX isn't a logical evolution of the previous diamond in the rough. It will rely on technology for its appeal, with all-wheel drive, a hybrid drivetrain and a paddle transmission, while the original was a purist's vehicle, a simple, well-considered sports car.

View Pictures:  Acura NSX Concept in Detroit

Even so, we have to think that when the new NSX does drop, it will gain a following. It just won't be the same bunch who loved the previous car.

But before we hypothesize any further, it really should be noted that nobody knows much about the upcoming NSX. What we're looking at here is a concept, and the details are, at best, hazy. So let's look at some similarities and differences before we get too carried away in a premature sea of worry and regret.

The Similarities

Click to enlarge pictureAcura NSX Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Acura NSX Concept

Both cars are pretty. The new concept does beauty in a more digital manner, but there's no questioning it's well-proportioned. If Acura will forgive us for saying, it looks like a Japanese Audi R8, except that the German car doesn't have a beak.

Both cars feature a midengine design. More than a few racers would testify that the weight distribution afforded by the midengine mounting is key to the NSX's great handling, making cornering shuffles easy and giving the car great grip in acceleration and braking.

Both cars use a V6 engine. If it weren't for the previous car, we'd balk at the notion. But we're looking forward to the new V6 and hoping it's as lively as its namesake.

Both cars have staggered wheel diameters. This is a forgotten cool factor of yesteryear supercars, something you can get away with in a midengine design.

The Differences

Click to enlarge pictureAcura NSX Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Acura NSX Concept

Click to enlarge pictureAcura NSX Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Acura NSX Concept

Click to enlarge pictureAcura NSX Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Acura NSX Concept

Click to enlarge pictureAcura NSX Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Acura NSX Concept

The potential problem was never that the cars don't have commonalities, but rather that the new car adds a lot of stuff that never would have been acceptable in the original. Take the dual-clutch transmission, for instance. The fact that Acura is sacrificing the previous car's buttery-smooth shift action is disheartening, but maybe that's just the traditionalist talking. Within that dual-clutch transmission is an electric motor, which we hope will serve up a "push-to-pass"-type function, but that will almost definitely mean there won't be a manual transmission option.

While that might remove some of the fun of the original, you have to put yourself in Acura's shoes. If the automaker doesn't incorporate technologies such as all-wheel drive, hybrid powertrains and paddle transmissions, it isn't going to have a prayer of competing against rivals such as the Lexus LF-A or the indomitable Nissan GT-R.

A high-strung, naturally aspirated V6 engine worked great in 1990, but it ain't 1990 anymore. Without the help of forced induction or a stout electric motor or two, the car wouldn't have any hopes of turning heads or opening checkbooks. Let's remember that when the first NSX hit the streets, its V6 pumped out 270 horsepower. You get that out of a Toyota Camry these days.

Similarly, the fact is that technology is what drives high-performance cars. Sure, now that we look back on the first NSX 22 years later, we can say it was a simple formula. But back then, a V6 that revved to 8000 rpm in an all-aluminum midengine supercar was far from a simple formula. The variable-valve-timing technology that found its place in Acura's 3.0-liter VTEC engine transformed the way every manufacturer thought about engine design.

It just so happens that today, those state-of-the-art technologies are torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, electric motor assists and dual-clutch gearboxes. With dual electric motors on the front axle line, you can effectively use torque vectoring to alter the attitude of the car in corners and under hard braking. You can increase traction during acceleration. And that acceleration will likely be brutal, thanks to that third motor we were talking about, hiding in the transmission. Shift time? Pretty close to instantaneous, if we had to guess, thanks to the dual-clutch setup. Welcome to the future.

You want "man and machine"? Go buy a "classic" NSX. But if you want state-of-the-art, jump on the new NSX bandwagon.

Your choice.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.