Taming the Dragon

January 1, 2018 | Car Reviews, Events, Features

Words: Howard Walker / Photos: Mark Davidson

Breathe. Take in a long gulp of brain-nourishing oxygen. Blink. Be sure to focus on the snaking ribbon of blacktop stretching out in the distance.

Ahead, the infamous Tail of the Dragon awaits. This serpentine mountain roller-coaster ride on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line whips through 318 pinch-tight turns in just 11 miles. There are bowls of linguine with fewer squiggles.

The only thing fueling the tidal wave of adrenaline coursing through my veins is the chariot I’m piloting, the new $158,000 Acura NSX supercar. A trio of high-wattage electric motors juices its twin-turbo V-6, yielding a combined 573 horsepower. It can slingshot from standstill to 60 mph in an insane 3.1 seconds. It’s not just fast, it’s crazy fast. I’m joined by a posse of petrolheads taking part in Drive Toward a Cure: Great Southern Adventure, a two-day, 600-mile charity rally to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s disease research.

Among the 22 participating chariots is everything from a stunning 1969 Italian Iso Grifo to classic Porsches to modern-day exotics like a Nissan GTR and a Ferrari 360 Spider. Cars meet camaraderie, all for a great cause.

Right now, we’re cruising through day two. Day one began at Asheville’s Omni Grove Park Inn and covered 300 miles of North Carolina’s most breathtaking—and challenging—switchback backroads.

Today, we started with a blast along the glorious and surprisingly devoid-of-traffic Blue Ridge Parkway, skirted majestic Fontana Lake, and finished off the morning at Tapoco Lodge for lunch. By day’s end, we’ll be at Château Élan, on the outskirts of Atlanta.

But first, the Dragon.

After a day and a half and 500-plus miles behind the wheel of the NSX, I am already deeply in love with this mid-engine marvel. Assembled at Acura’s plant in Marysville, Ohio, it’s nothing less than a technological tour de force.

Its jaw-dropping body is a mélange of carbon fiber and aluminum sculpted to spin heads as rapidly as anything Porsche, Audi, Ferrari, or McLaren has to offer. The hybrid drivetrain, combining that twin-turbo V-6 with two electric motors up front and another at the rear, effectively makes the Acura an all-wheel driver with flypaper-like grip.

All these elements mean the NSX is remarkably easy to drive blisteringly fast. No supercar flatters a driver’s skills quite like this one.

Getting in does require some technique: scoot your butt into the seat, bend your head down, and swing in your legs. But once inside, it’s as comfy as a pair of Gucci slippers.

As I’m leaving the Tail of the Dragon tchotchke store (I had to get a T-shirt), I hit the start button to fire up that muscular V-6 and hear, well, nothing.

As an electric hybrid, it naturally starts in electric mode and is happy to whir around on battery
power for a mile or two. But blip the throttle and the V-6 instantly joins the party with a throaty, staccato soundtrack. We’re definitely not in a Prius, Toto.

Twist the drive-mode selector to Sport Plus (there’s also Quiet, Sport, and Track modes) and everything becomes a little more focused—steering, suspension, the urgency of that 9-speed dual-clutch automatic.

And we’re off.

While the Dragon is a public road—U.S. 129—enthusiastic driving seems not only to be expected but encouraged. Yet, with so many tight curves, it’s not about high speed but rather cornering and agility. And that’s where the NSX feels as nimble as a racecar.

The way it rockets from one turn to the next, then scythes through the corner as if running on invisible rails is nothing short of magical. Gear shifts are instantaneous, steering is precise, and hitting the left pedal hard is like stopping time.

Rolling into Château Élan after close to 700 miles of intense driving, two round-the-cones autocross tests (we were fastest in both), and back-to-back nine-hour days behind the wheel, my respect and adoration for the NSX is sky-high.

This is a savvy, thinking man’s supercar. Yes, it needs additional luggage space and a more bespoke cabin to justify its sticker price. But when it comes to slaying dragons, this missile from Marysville is Bruce Lee on wheels.

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