For sports car purists, a manual transmission in anything that’s designed to be sporty goes hand-in-hand. In fact, anyone’s that is into driving cars with manual transmissions would choose to shift their own gears over a slower-shifting automatic, even if it were an SUV. There’s almost no better feeling than the sense of being more connected to the car you’re driving. However, automatic transmissions are becoming more prevalent and they’re even widely used in exotics and sports cars.
This was even the case for the legendary first-generation Acura NSX. While everyone can remember that it came with a five-speed manual transmission, not many might know that it also was offered with an automatic. You can find automatic NSXs in the used market right now, but is it worth it to buy one?
The auto slushbox
Nowadays, automatic transmissions shift quicker, are more compact, and even more efficient than manual transmissions. With just the click of a paddle behind the steering wheel or a nudge of the gear lever on the center console, the transmission will upshift and downshift quicker than you can say “automatic slushbox.”
Car enthusiasts used to call refer to an automatic gearbox as a “slushbox” because they were known to shift slow and really slow down the performance of the car. As was the case for the Acura NSX that was produced from 1991 to 2005.
As a quick recap, the first-generation NSX came with a 3.2-liter V6 engine under its mid-mounted hood that produced 272 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. However, those power figures were with the manual transmission attached to the engine. With the automatic transmission, which only had four gears, the horsepower number dropped to 250, thanks to the reduced engine displacement of 3.0 liters.
It’s definitely slower
Unlike the quick-shifting automatic transmissions of today, the four-speed automatic in the NSX didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of keeping up with the manual-transmission iteration. According to Carindigo, the manual-transmission NSX could reach 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds. Not too shabby, however, with the automatic transmission, some have reported a 0 to 60 time of about 6.3 seconds. That’s pretty shabby.
For reference, Motortrend reported that the current Honda Accord Touring with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission can get to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Of course, the new Accord is almost 30 years newer than the old NSX and has more technological advancements, however, it’s still sad to have a fast-looking exotic that’s slower than an Accord.
Who would buy an automatic NSX?
Now that we know that the first-generation of the NSX with the automatic is definitely slower, the question is: “Who would actually buy one of these?”
For starters, Alice Cooper once had an NSX with an automatic transmission, which seems to pop up for sale every now and then. Rock stars aside, we would say that anyone that wants to daily drive an NSX and spends more of their time in traffic would probably prefer two pedals to three. If it’s any consolation to those that are still disgusted at the thought, the 1995 and later automatic NSX’s offered an “F-Matic” feature in the form of a little level behind the steering wheel that allowed the driver to shift and up and down at their leisure.
Apparently, that didn’t help much as a reviewer from Car Throttle found out on his fairly recent review of a 1991 NSX with an auto transmission. He reported that the car was very slow to shift and “even at wide-open throttle, the car ends up short shifting, robbing you of that high-RPM glory.” In case you’re wondering what that’s like, here is a video of an automatic NSX being driven on a track:
Is it worth it to buy one?
To get to the quick and dirty, it’s worth it to buy a first-generation NSX with an automatic transmission if you plan on driving it in traffic or just want it for the exotic looks. But if you’re expecting the performance to be on par with an NSX with a manual, then we suggest not buying it.