Acura’s NSX exterior design leader went from crafting crossovers to hybrid supercars

Earlier this month, the Acura NSX made its long awaited debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. After the rubble cleared, we realized that we still didn’t know much about the hybrid supercar.

Sure, we know it’ll use a twin-turbo V6, three electric motors, and a nine-speed automatic. We know it’ll be all-wheel drive, be made of aluminum, and feature a cabin with exceptional ease of egress. But that’s about it.

Specific power output, engine displacement, acceleration times, curb weight, battery capacity, pricing, and about a dozen other things are still veiled in mystery.

Acura is reportedly still testing the gleaming sports car ahead of its production debut, so many of those specs will be revealed soon. Until then, Michelle Christensen, the NSX’s exterior design project lead, recently gave Automotive News a closer look into the car’s journey toward production.

Michelle Christensen
Michelle Christensen Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times

She joined the project in 2012, just after Acura revealed the NSX concept at that year’s Detroit Auto Show. “They wanted an emotional, 3-D kind of feeling,” she said. “My priority was to keep that.”

The supercar’s mid-engine layout and futuristic ethos gave her team new options for expressive profiles and ultramodern styling. “It gave us the opportunity to punch more holes in it and make it more exotic,” Christensen explained. “From a styling standpoint, we were really excited to take it to the gym and beef it up.”

And so they did.

“We really tried to treat it more like a sculpture,” the 34-year old said. Chasing a “mean, aggressive, front-end personality,” she and her team “wanted to take off any extra garnishes” to “simplify it and cut weight.”

Once the design language was pinned down, the team refined the car’s shape by sticking 40-percent scale models into Honda’s wind tunnels. A few flips of a calendar later and here were are, still in awe.

Christensen, who is the industry’s first female design lead for a supercar, wasn’t always crafting high-performance brake vents and molding cutting edge silhouettes. Before the NSX, she worked on the defunct ZDX crossover and the RLX sedan.

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