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It was raining on the day that I fell in love with wedge shaped supercars. The halls in my elementary school stank of cleaning chemicals and the smell of books hung thick in library.

I remember because it was also the first day of the Scholastic Book Fare. You might have experienced the same thing, either as a child or a parent. Schools cart mobile cabinets made of metal in for a week packed with books that, for the most part, might as well be re-purposed toilet paper for all their literary value. It’s a shameless cash grab, but it’s also the first time I caught a glimpse of the Acura NSX in a car calendar. Be still my beating heart.

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-14.jpgDriving a Childhood Idol

Almost two decades later I sat in a Starbucks south of L.A., incredulously sipping an Americano that I watched the barista dose with drip coffee moments earlier, but that’s Irvine for you because nobody thinks twice about buying high-priced horse apples.

I absentmindedly pecked away at my laptop, but focusing was futile because Jason Siu – AutoGuide’s photographer of the day – was due to arrive any moment with a 2005 Acura NSX on loan from Honda. Days this special don’t come often. Not even on the endless automotive writing buffet.


As luck would have it I arranged to be driving an Alfa Romeo 4C months prior. In other words, we had two mid-engine exotic cars to drive in Southern California.

In my mind, the Acura NSX was a lot like “that one party I left early” in college. You know what I’m talking about. Ten minutes after you settled up, gorgeous women with loose morals packed the bar and for some reason, the drinks were cheaper than usual. It’s the one night your friends will boast about long after male pattern baldness takes hold.

Well, the party is over and so is the NSX in much the same way. Acura cancelled it after the 2005 model year and people are still talking in hushed tones.

Compare Specs
2005 Acura NSX
2005 Acura NSX

vs 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

Vehicle 2005 Acura NSX Advantage 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Engine 3.2-liter V6 – 1.75-liter Turbo-4
Transmission Six-speed Manual – Six-Speed DDCT
Horsepower 290 NSX 237
Torque 224 4C 258
Weight-to-power 10.87 4C 10.4
Curb weight 3,153 lbs. 4C 2,465 lbs.
Weight distribution 40/60 4C 41/59
If time machines were real, you could easily go back to the bar that night in my senior year to confirm that pints were still, in fact, $7.50 and the bodacious blonde my buddy bragged about was actually pushing 40 and overweight. That’s going to happen, but two days before my birthday I had the next best thing: a meticulously preserved NSX. I wanted to satisfy a burning curiosity; is the NSX really as hot as people remember or just the dumpy ‘gal from those stories?

Expectations vs Reality

Jason arrived and we drove to a dead end road near Irvine Lake, me in the 4C and he in the NSX. On the way, I couldn’t help but notice how old the long metal radio antenna and taillights look. The NSX is attractive in its old age, but it’s starting to get crow’s feet.

We traded cars minutes later and this is what I expected: surgically precise shift action from the six-speed manual, a throttle that is responsive and predictable in equal measures and razor sharp corner turn-in with chassis stiffness to match.


After being in service for almost 10 years, the transmission and engine seem just as refined and intact as any of Acura’s recent manual V6 vehicles. The engine pulls to its 8,000 RPM redline with beautiful urgency and it bellows a rich roar that intensifies as it spins faster and faster. Leaping from first to second gear is effortless, as are the remaining upshifts. But the real fun is in cycling backwards through the gear stack because the transmission is smooth enough and the throttle quick enough to make rev matching really, really easy.

Equipped with a six-speed manual, you get a 3.2-liter all aluminum V6 that makes 290 hp. That’s puny compared to a modern high output motor, but don’t assume that also means “slow.” There’s still more than enough power to break the law before you even begin to explore the limits.

Compared to cars being built today, the NSX has a low dashboard and is remarkably easy to see out of. It also has a cassette deck in the center stack that doesn’t come pre-loaded with Haddaway’s Greatest Hits, though it probably should because parts of the car become a painful love story.


The chassis in my car squeaked over bumps, the passenger side window doesn’t have one-touch functionality and the post-refresh clear headlights on the car I drove are starting to look yellow. For all the talk about how hard Honda worked to stiffen the chassis, it also feels surprisingly soft over cracked pavement.

That might not seem like a big deal until you remember that this thing carried an MSRP of roughly $90,000 and sat beside cars like the TSX and TL in Acura showrooms.

Meanwhile Dodge was selling the Viper GTS for just over $74,000 and more discerning drivers could get their pampered posteriors into a Porsche Carrera C4 for $74,156, which makes the tarted up Honda sports car seem like a ho-hum value proposition at best.

When it first arrived in 1991, Acura charged roughly $60,000 for its Ferrari fighter. That’s more than $104,000 in 2014 dollars. Hardly an apples-to-apples comparison when you consider the evolution of vehicle content over the past two and a half decades, but the point is that the NSX was always an ambitiously priced product. A decade later, the 2005 model would still be significantly more expensive than a 2015 Carrera S.


Then again that’s a purely theoretical scenario. In the real world you can find a well-kept copy for about $55,000. Provided the previous owner kept up with maintenance, it will also probably be uncharacteristically reliable for its segment.

Driving the Alfa

But even accounting for a the discount associated with being a decade old, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s really worth the price people are asking. Conveniently enough, I traded keys with Jason once again and returned to the 4C.

To picture what driving a 4C is like, take all the impracticality of living an NSX and increase those points by at least 50 percent. It’s that bad (or good depending on how you think).

alfa-romeo-acura-nsx-comparison-08.jpgGetting in and out is an event because the doorsills are obnoxiously wide. The interior is glaringly bare and everything about it is loud. For example, the seatbelt and door chimes are more piercing than a fire alarm and then there’s the engine.

Even at idle it is impossible to ignore, but it morphs from a dull roar to being deafeningly loud under acceleration. That’s partially because it only displaces 1.75 liters, but makes 237 peak hp and 258 lb-ft of torque courtesy of a turbocharger cramming an ungodly 21.75 psi of boost into the cylinders like a mad Italian cook making foie gras. It makes the loudest induction noise of any factory car I’ve driven bar none. The exhaust crackles between gear changes as you snap from first to second and then into third.

Subtlety is not the 4C’s forte.

That’s partially because nobody in America knows what the hell Alfa Romeo is. Naturally, they assume you’re driving some sort of secret Lambo-Martin GT3 Superleggera that costs half a million bucks.

But you aren’t because the 4C starts at about $55,000 or roughly the same money as a used NSX. Things just got interesting.

For that price, you get a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, a powertrain, wheels, seats and not much else. There isn’t even a power steering pump, but it honestly doesn’t need one.


The Alfa Romeo’s steering reacts with exactly the precision and feedback that I hoped for in the NSX. With a curb weight of only 2,465 lbs, it doesn’t need gobs of power because it already feels goddam fast. There are three drive modes, of which the most aggressive is “dynamic” and in that setting it might as well be a tiny Italian rocket ship.

In fact, calling it a “rocket ship” is probably the best way describe driving the 4C. I’ve never fallen for a crabbier car than this one. You won’t want to drive it on a highway because at high speeds the intentionally uneven roads are a nightmare as are stop-and-go traffic jams. The radio is too poorly designed to cycle through stations and the center stack extends just far enough to cover the wires behind it. Forget armrests, there isn’t even a glove box.

The Verdict:
For all of its compelling driving dynamics – and they are legion *– I would have a hard time taking a new 4C over a used NSX.

More here:

12 Posts
I might have a pretty good perspective here all, I owned an immaculate 1991 NSX (also manual steering) for 19 years, bought her with 6,000 miles and sold right below 50K miles, included in those years and miles were lots of very aggressive drives, about a dozen track days, etc. she wasn't completely stock but nearly so and was a stunning car, very well put together, great details, fantastic interior and all day ride comfortable. Long legged and quicker than it seemed, I never tired of the car and it was hard to part with...but 19 years is 19 years and I felt obligated to get something different that could stir a similar desire and pleasure in view and driving involvement.
I have to admit, buying a 4c spider without ever having driven a 4c (like you can get a test drive right), was a bit of leap of faith, but I'd done a LOT of research on the car and it ticked all the right boxes for me.
After 3 months ownership, 1,100 miles and a recent 300 mile very twisty San Diego to Palm Springs (back way only of course), I can report the following:
The Alfa is a much more engaging car than the NSX, even with catback exhaust on the NSX (which made it sound great), it wasn't nearly as involving a car as the 4c. The 4C is rough around the edges in driving involvement, but that presents a far more tactile experience. She pulls much stronger than the NSX ever could (which to really go quick had to be run up the tach, but that was a pleasant if not instantaneous experience), brakes a WHOLE LOT HARDER and has a quickness in response that I can only equate with a sportbike....I ride a Ducati for two wheel fun and the 4c is a 4 wheel version of that in many respects. If you don't ride you won't get this...but if you do, you know what I'm saying is something of the ultimate compliment. A car that gives you motorcycle like involvement is a truly special vehicle.

Does it have warts? Yes, it's a car of compromises.....99% of which if you are a real car guy (or woman), won't matter to you.
Is it comfortable? Not all day long but for an hour or two, no'll want to get out and admire her about that often anyway.
Manual steering a pain? Are you kidding? If you're concerned about that, you're in the wrong area...go get a Lexus. My NSX had manual steering and I love it, this is just as fantastic.
Stereo short of acceptable? Bose system in the NSX was ALWAYS failing, they all did. Cost me thousands of dollars over the years to keep it functional and in the end wasn't nearly as nice as you'd get in any decent car today. The "Premium" system in the Alfa sounds find...when the car isn't running. The wonderful noise of the car though represents quite a challenge for any stereo to overcome. If the top is on you stand a chance of enjoying the music at highway speed, but best if you know the tunes so that your mind can fill in the sonic blanks....if the top is off and you're traveling above 70 mph....well enjoy the sound of the wind and exhaust.

Much like my NSX, the 4c spider is gorgeous. Mine is competizione rosso and honestly, it's like owning two different cars, one in the sun, another in the shade...both gorgeous. Does it stir the soul.....? Let me count the ways. Based upon the reaction from others who see the car....I'm not alone. My NSX was years ago something that turned heads like crazy, then there was a time when no one paid it any attention....however over the last 5 years or so I noticed a LOT more people starting to recognize and appreciate the car again and clearly there's a large group of people who really appreciate what it stands for and love it's looks. That's the reason that resale values of the car are on the rise.

Bottomline, the NSX is a great, great car. I loved it every minute I owned it. The cost of ownership over that period was very reasonable, it is a Honda after all, but it's not Honda cheap to maintain and isn't without some very expensive maintenance needs. A good car can be had for far less than the Alfa...but it is OLD technology by today's standards.

The Alfa 4c spider by comparison is an entirely different, yet similar in some ways kind of car. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder most certainly, but unless you've seen a 4C spider in person, I don't think you can judge it. It's new world tech meets curvy Italian goddess. TO ME. To folks who take the time to notice a car, it always draws admiration. Like the NSX it represents a pretty rare find and to me that's important...I don't want to pull up to the stoplight and find someone else in a car just like mine. And lastly from a driving pleasure standpoint the Alfa is very hard to beat. Every trip in the car is special and something you look forward to...and remember fondly. Speed comes on very quickly and while not OMG fast, it's really, really quick. Certainly seat of the pants faster than the NSX (OK, you guys with the forced induction NSX's can chime in now, yeah I've ridden in some of those, they are fast no doubt...and eventually detonate!). It's NOT an every day drive, it wasn't meant to be and if you buy one and expect that, then you've not done your homework. But if you're looking for a head turning, engaging weekend rocket, look no further. Glad I bought her.

1974 GTV/1985 GTV/1989 75QV/1990 SZ/ 2020 4C
47 Posts
4C ALFISSIMO - for PURO alfista !!!

ciao, 4C IS NOT FOR everyone , it is very special ALFA ROMEO , very limited as you all know.
I hope you all had a chance to see official video how it is actually made at MODENA.
THERE is absolutly like it on this planet, not at that price range for sure.
IL BISCIONE always been admired by racers & professionals in industry.
SO, celebrate your ownership of QUATTRO C ( chi ) !!!
life is to short not to drive an ALFA
salutti a tutti ................

96 Posts
I too own a manual steering gen 1 NSX.
Pondering the 4C additionally because it replicates the same spirit.
Own Porsche and Ferrari too as well as other sports cars.
I've driven the 4C several times "in anger" to get a taste.

Yes the 4C is IMO the most "pure" modern sportscar on the market just as the NSX was in its day. The standout in today's market. Had an order in for the C8 Corvette and will probably cancel it over a 4C.

But to compare the two head to head is unacceptable.
When one thinks of milestone Japanese supercars the original NSX is the obvious choice. Supra Turbos come in a very distant second place. My FD RX 7 an honorable mention.
GTR's a generation later.
When one thinks of milestone Italian supercars is the 4C tops ?
The NSX changed the way Ferrari built cars. Literally.
Did the 4C ?

Ayrton Senna always said the NSX was 100 HP shy of phenomenal.
If Honda would have followed Ayrton's advice ..IMO the NSX would have been thought of in the same category as the 288 GTO. I'm not kidding.
Instead the Japanese CEO's of the time thought their opinions on 300 HP limits would mold the world.

Yes the 4C is an awesome, fun, fast, sexy wonderful car with a CF tub. Its an honor for it to be compared with the NSX.

But many years ago the NSX changed the world.
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