DESIGN: Acura NSX designer Michelle Christensen

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Michelle Christensen was responsible for the form gracing the second-generation NSX unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, and is the first woman to hold the exterior designer position at Acura. With the original NSX passing the threshold into classic status this year and an all-out legend in the hearts of many enthusiasts, the job of styling Honda’s next supercar would be a tough act to follow. Here’s what she had to say about the job. 

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“The original NSX is 25 years old but it still looks good. We wanted to keep the concept shape, but also get to the basic tenet of the original: purity. We strove for that, with the goal of omitting anything extra that wasn’t needed.”

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Whereas the original NSX had a very clean design, the new one has no shortage of vents. According to Honda, each one of those opening has a purpose. The four on the prow — two on the hood and two in the fenders — provide downforce while cooling the front brakes and the electric motors powering each forward wheel.

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The air exiting those vents then follows the mid-section of the car before reaching the rear, feeding a twin-turbo V6 and electric hybrid motor generating over 550hp, though specific numbers weren’t given yet.

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One trait styling trait is somewhat difficult to notice unless you’re up close is that the C-pillars are flying buttresses, channeling the airflow to provide more downforce over the rear spoiler as it leaves the body. Unlike many modern supercars, the NSX will have no active aerodynamics, relying instead on the purity of the shape to provide the necessary downforce.

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One of Christensen’s proudest accomplishments is subtle, something you might not notice but that anyone who’s driven an 80s or 90s Honda can appreciate. She went through great lengths to make the A-pillars as thin as possible, an effort to capture the airy greenhouse and expansive visibility of the 1990s Hondas. Indeed, a broad view from the driver’s seat down a sloping hood was one of the trademarks of the original.

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That notion of expending more effort to create less, rather than relying on complex mechanisms, is very much aligned with the Honda philosophy. Perhaps we were a bit hasty to call the NSX overly complex initially. The original NSX had 270hp. It needs at least double that to do battle with modern supercars.

“Culturally, the customer today is different. We had to appeal to purists who consider traditional values, as well as progressive buyers,” Christensen explained. “Because so much time has passed since the original, we had to consider how it would look if the car launched today.”

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14 Responses to DESIGN: Acura NSX designer Michelle Christensen

  1. JHMBB2 said:

    I’m impressed, a female designer for the successor NSX. Not that I don’t feel women are capable, but in this world it’s not often to see women heading something like this in the automotive world. At least to my knowledge, which isn’t to vast in the design world. ha

    I love the car the more I see and the more I read about it. I didn’t notice that huge gaping vent behind the doors till that first photo with the designer, it’s pretty cool! Can’t wait to see one these on the roads.

    • JHMBB2 said:

      As for the colour, what is it like in person? It looks pretty dark in most pictures, but the second image has it looking bright red. I prefer the bright red look over that luxury-esque metallic red that most photos show it as, makes me think Lexus.

    • Ben Hsu said:

      The color is somewhere in between the two. It’s hard to tell because the surrounding stage lights and whatever glow is being emitted by the massive screens nearby always play with the actual color. I would call it a maroon or burgundy instead of red. The diecast model might be the most accurate representation, ironically.

  2. alvin said:

    I think the design team did a great job. The car looks fantastic on its own and I’m sure the mechanicals are impressive. From a “successor” standpoint and aesthetics I feel it falls way short. Maybe I’m just disappointed that all of these new “supercars” start blending amorphously into one another. A product of packaging limitations I guess.

    I see Honda Insight/Acura TL in the front/head light treatment. For some reason the tail lights have Civic/Accord influences. Maybe that was the intention but in my eyes it shouldn’t be called an NSX. 25 years from now, imho this new thing will never be as revered, cool or iconic as the original.

    • JHMBB2 said:

      I don’t think many cars today will be seen as cool or iconic in 25 years. I doubt the GTR , LFA, Corvette, most Ferrari or Lambos will either.

      Most cars these days are subject to government regulations regarding safety and emissions. While cars that made the most noise and attention were made by the imagination of the engineers, who didn’t have men in suits telling them what a car should be. Between government regulations and the constant pressure of sales and what men in suits “think” will sell, there isn’t much room for cars to become anything as they once were. Every “innovation” seems to be by the way of social connectivity with in-car entertainment, and the ever charge forward towards the self-driving car. Obviously nothing true car people care about.

      • pstar said:

        Spot on with most of what you said. (except for the LFA, it has the glamor factor that an F40 or a 959 has, even if its supposedly not all that to actually drive).

        This “NSX” is so uninspired and insipid that one has to wonder if Acura just picked this woman for the project because the entire industry is full of similarly derivative “designers” that they might as well cash in one the feminist angle that is the trend today.

        Also this inane babble about “being true to the original” is as wrong as all the other times these hacks spew their nonsense. The one thing that set the NSX apart visually from anything else was just how low the whole thing was, especially over the front and rear wheels, which made the car look loooong, even though it was actually pretty short in length. This thing totally doesn’t have that, and only an idiot would claim that it did.

        Finally, NSX was amazing because of its context, which this is completely missing. In 1990 Honda was teaming up with McClaren and winning F1 championships. In 1990, all aluminum road cars weren’t really a thing. In 1990, vtec was a cutting edge technology and a major Honda perk. In 1990, Honda had some ultra famous star named Senna who they could attach to their brand. And it all worked. And in 1990, Honda was still just an underrespected Japanese brand, who could undercut a Ferrari by 50%.

        This product of focus groups is none of those things. It is a rehash of a bunch of things that a bunch of other companies have done, it has no relation to motorsport, it could just as easily be made by VW or Citroen, or Toyota or GM and it wouldn’t gain or lose anything.

        If hype, pimping a revered badge, and “meh” made a supercar… well here it is. The only “unusual thing” is “designed by a woman”. Doesn’t really captivate my imagination or interest.

  3. mister k said:

    shame the only women you’ll see driving these will be 80 years old

  4. Aaron Cake said:

    I’ll be at the auto show on Saturday so will take a good look at the NSX. However to me it looks very generic. Like all supercars these days. They have all taken the same basic shape. Aside from the a-pillars, nothing about this design seems to tie into the old NSX.

  5. Jon said:

    That’s a great looking car, but not a great looking NSX.

  6. Damian Muzi said:

    Honda, with this new car, I believe has gone against everything that the original NSW was about. Turbo chargers? electric motors? Where is the purity in all that?
    Sure, it’ll be more comfortable than a 911, or F458, but what about the purity behind the original aluminium chassis? The original NSW had Ayrton Senna blood lines in it. This car looks like another me-too mid engined car, with soft -not inyour face- styling. I cannot see myself ever wanting one, but others might. Would have been nice to have more F1 inspired technological advancements such as a carbon chassis (the Afla 4C has one), rather than Civic Hybrid genes….

    • JHMBB2 said:

      I’m just glad it doesn’t sport another variation of the J35 with port injection.

      The turbos and electric motors are F1 inspired, which is why I’m okay with it. I’m a N/A guy myself, and the electric motors are “meh” to me , but hey it is standing up to it’s name “New Sportscar eXperiment”. They’re trying new things and “experimenting”. I’m sure they would’ve done carbon body, but it’s not the engineers who run the show anymore, it’s the suits these days. Frankly, I’m surprised this car even happened.

  7. xs10shl said:

    Anyone who has driven a car from the 60s will appreciate the value of narrow A-pillars, and the unobstructed foreword view they help create. IMHO, it seems probable that the modern chunky-A-pillar-blind-spot may cause more fatalities than they save, stuffed with all their government-mandated safety equipment.

  8. creakyjoints said:

    Total ripoff of the Audi R8/10.

  9. CarlG said:

    i like it… it’s not as clean as the original one, but the competitors back then were seriously lacking so acura had the chance to rock the world. now everyone is jumping into the supercar game so it’s much harder to bring out a gamechanger. you could say that the original nsx created that environment so if this one isnt as ‘wow’ it’s only cuz the original changed the game so much

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