It will be at least another 18 months before the new Ford GT and the upcoming Acura NSX supercars can run the same track — but at this year's Detroit auto show, no question sparked more conversations, and occasional arguments, than "Which one is faster?"
The lack of major details about the GT, and even final horsepower figures for either car, has posed no hurdle to the experienced bench racers around Detroit, including many who build fast machines for a living. After hearing both sides over the past couple of days, here's a snapshot of each case for which will be the king of American-built supercars.
With a full carbon-fiber frame and body panels, and a 600-odd hp twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 powering the rear wheels, the Ford GT takes a fully modern approach toward supercar engineering. Much like the McLaren 650S, it uses an aluminum subframe on the ends of a central carbon tub to master suspension tuning and provide crashworthiness, with a pushrod suspension first seen in Formula 1 cars.
Ford didn't disclose the weight of the GT, but the details suggest Ford engineers were aiming for the highest power-to-weight ratio they could muster. (The whisper number? Less than 3,000 lbs.) Instead of traditional seats, the GT will have seat surfaces built into the carbon-fiber cell, similar to the LaFerrari, with pedals and gauges that move to match the driver. There's also serious rubber at each corner: 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 custom made for the GT. All of which sounds like a car that could smoke everything south of the hypercar triplets (Porsche 918, LaFerrari and McLaren P1.)
Compared to the Ford, the Acura NSX presents on paper as a half-step back from the track toward more of a comfortable touring car. While it too has a twin-turbo V-6, and at least 550 hp, it also uses three electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack for all-wheel-drive that's inevitably heavier. Its chassis combines steel, aluminium and carbon-fiber pieces with aluminum body panels — easier to manufacture and less expensive than the GT, but, again, likely more massive by hundreds of pounds.
The NSX's ambitions also lie beyond low track times. Chief engineer Ted Klaus said Acura's main benchmark for the new NSX was the original NSX — a car that handled magnificently, but was small and underpowered by today's standards — along with vehicles like the Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8 V-10 and Ferrari 458 Italia. The focus, he said, was on building "accessible performance" into the new NSX.
"Some people want to access all of the performance," Klaus said. "Other people want to access the amazing craftmanship and rarity and stunning styling, where they don't have necessarily strong (driving) skills or don't want to injure the car."
But Acura's Ohio-based engineering team for the NSX didn't stint in search of a performance edge. The original new-generation NSX concept had a V-6 mounted end-to-end between the rear wheels, but halfway through development, Acura ripped that engine out and replaced it with a different V-6 mounted longitudinally for better balance. That new Honda engine is unique to the NSX, and Klaus said its 75-degree angle between cylinder banks — versus the common 60-degree spread — was designed to keep the NSX's center of gravity as low as possible.
The NSX will have a 9-speed dual-clutch transmission compared to the Ford GT's 7-speed DCT; in theory, that will keep the Acura engine in its peak power band more frequently. Much like the Porsche 918 hypercar, it uses electric power to turn the front wheels; Acura has assigned an electric motor to each front wheel to give them the ability to add or subtract power in cornering as necessary, a trick known as torque vectoring. That's a major reason the Porsche 918 — and not the P1 or LaFerrari — owns the production-car lap record at the Nürburgring.
And as the Tesla Model S has shown, electric drive has a distinct benefit in launch speed. The Acura will likely produce more total torque than the GT, and will inevitably put it to the ground faster; on a track, the question would be how long would it take for the GT to make up any initial deficit after the start line. Acura also has time on its side; the NSX has been under development for four years, with testing at the Nurburgring and other tracks to expose problems. The new Ford GT has yet to turn a wheel in anger, and will need another year of development to perfect aerodynamics and the challenge of cooling the hot-running turbo engine.
It could be that after all this fuss, the cars will be too different to ever be proper rivals. The Acura NSX will start around $150,000; Ford executives wouldn't talk about the price of the new GT, but after under-pricing the last generation GT launched in 2005, the betting says the new one could cost twice as much as the NSX, and sell in far smaller volumes. Yet I'd forecast that within the next two years, this debate will still be ongoing — and by then, will have grown to include not just which car's faster, but which American supercar offers more for the dollar. It's a great problem to have.