In an era of increased environmental awareness and stricter fuel-economy standards, you’d think supercars would be on the endangered species list. The Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 Spyder have proven otherwise.
Yet that epic trinity is defined by tiny production runs and astronomical prices. The real proof that the eco-conscious supercar is here to stay surfaced at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.
Both the 2016 Acura NSX and the new Ford GT boast powertrains that emphasize efficiency without sacrificing performance. If they maintain the pricing and production numbers of their predecessors, they’ll also be (slightly) more affordable than the Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche, and more likely to be seen outside of a fastidiously-maintained garage.
Whether it’s the NSX’s hybrid powertrain or the GT’s turbocharged EcoBoost V6, both cars take a novel approach to going fast, they also evoke historical high points for their respective brands and the dreams of countless car enthusiasts.
The question is: Which one is better?
The NSX’s shape should look familiar by now, because this car was first glimpsed as a concept back in 2012, and has been featured in countless teasers and auto-show appearances since then.
Nonetheless, the 2016 NSX still looks like it drove out of the future. It takes Acura’s geometric design language to the dramatic extreme only a mid-engined supercar could. That styling is rendered in a combination of aluminum and sheet molding composite, draped over an aluminum and carbon-fiber chassis, to minimize weight.
While the NSX doesn’t have much in common visually with its 1990 to 2005 predecessor, the 2016 Ford GT retains some bits and pieces from the 2005 GT, and the GT40 racecar that inspired it. That’s apparent in the squared headlights, round taillights, and ducted hood.
However, the GT isn’t a retro homage. Every surface was shaped to manage airflow, hence the radical buttresses that form the rear of roof and create huge air channels in lieu of the side-intake pods used on most mid-engined performance cars.
The entire body is also made from carbon fiber, as is the passenger cell. Aluminum sub-frames for the engine and suspension bolt to that.
The GT is definitely the more ambitious of the two when it comes to exterior design, but on the other hand the Acura seems to hang together better as an overall design to this scribe’s eye. They both look amazing.
Interior design, comfort, amenities
Supercars of the past were considered “luxurious” if the air conditioning worked, but today they’re expected to have the same amenities as any other high-end vehicle.
For the NSX, Acura created what it calls the “Human Support Cockpit” intended to provide maximum forward visibility, good ergonomics, and easy ingress and egress – not things you’d normally associate with a supercar.
On the tech front, the NSX features a TFT gauge-cluster display and Integrated Dynamics System for altering different vehicle parameters. It’s all laid out as cleanly and sensibly as you’d expect in a car from Honda’s luxury division.
The Ford interior is all business. It features a squared-off steering wheel with integrated controls and an impossibly-thin center console, showing the car’s performance intentions.
The square door vents are an interesting touch as well, and the GT will also come with Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system, although it’s unclear whether someone plunking six figures for a supercar will be happy to find the system from a Fusion.
Ford also takes a decidedly different attitude when it comes to ergonomics. The seats are integrated into the car’s structure to reduce weight, and take getting in and out easier, Ford simply fitted the GT with upward-swinging doors.
The GT hasn’t strayed too far from its racing roots, then, while the new NSX is retaining the old model’s emphasis on comfort. While Ford deserves credit for going the hardcore route, the NSX’s interior does sound like a nicer place to be for those that don’t wear fire suits to work.
This is where things get really interesting.
The NSX features a Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) setup, which is about as complicated as its name suggests.
A mid-mounted, twin-turbocharged V6 is teamed with a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission and three electric motors. One motor is mounted between the engine and transmission to help drive the rear wheels, while the other two drive the front wheels, providing torque vectoring for sharper handling.
Acura emphasizes the instant response of the electric motors, but isn’t talking specific power output yet. The best estimate we could find was around 550 horsepower, which isn’t too shabby.
The Ford GT also has a V6, but the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost unit is a completely different animal.
Traditionalists may miss the 2005 GT’s supercharged 5.4-liter V8, but with an estimated output of over 600 hp, it’s hard to argue with the results. The mega-boosted engine is backed by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a racing pedigree: Ford says it’s related to the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6s used in Tudor United SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototypes.
Acura deserves credit for cleverness here, but Ford was pretty clever, too, and the GT already appears to have a power advantage over the NSX, so it’s the winner here.
Winner: Too early to tell
Acura and Ford are mum on performance figures for their supercars for now, but it’s already apparent that they’ll have very different characters.
While the V6 engine is a new wrinkle, it seems reasonable the Ford GT will perform more like a traditional supercar. Massively turbocharged engines are nothing new, after all.
On paper, the NSX has more to prove. It will almost certainly be crazy fast, but it’s hard to predict how its complex blend of internal-combustion and electric power will feel from behind the wheel.
Without any real performance figures or seat time, though, it’s impossible to tell whether the Acura or Ford will be a better performer. And it’s not like either of them will be boring.
Besides their ultramodern mechanicals and sleek styling, what makes these cars cool is history.
The original Acura (or Honda, in most parts of the world) NSX was a revelation. It was a supercar with the manners of a family sedan, but was still able to wipe the floor with all of the established competition back in the early ‘90s.
The original Ford GT40 was created to beat Ferrari at Le Mans after Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari got into a bit of a spat. It won the legendary 24-hour race four consecutive times (1966 to 69), and Ford built a modern tribute version in 2005.
While Acura has shown a concept NSX racer, Ford seems more committed to taking its supercar racing at the moment. Rumor has it the GT will return to Le Mans next year.
With such a great story behind it, the GT takes the coolness trophy.