The 2017 Acura NSX Design: Combining Form and Function
Key Body Features
The multi-material body panels and the aluminum-intensive space frame have been engineered to minimize weight without reducing rigidity or durability, featuring superior flexibility for the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) power unit. This focus on rigidity cuts vibration, noise, and harshness, optimizing driver input and delivering an intuitive response from the NSX.
- Unmatched Torsional Rigidity: When you have cornering demands of the NSX, it responds directly, transmitting those inputs right to the chassis while keeping a connection between the front and rear axles. The result is a body that communicates the driver’s maneuvers to the vehicle and informs the driver of any variations in the road surface immediately.
- Ultra-high Chassis Rigidity: Each component of the chassis is mounted on a rigid casting attached to aluminum frame elements that deliver a truss-like structure for high local stiffness at the point of attachment, maintaining precision-engineered chassis geometry at all times.
- Ablation Casting Technology: The NSX is the world’s first automotive use of ablation cast aluminum frame elements, using them as ultra-rigid locations to mount the vehicle suspension. Particularly useful in crush zones, these ablation-casted elements link the sections of the frame together in a way that uniquely deforms in an accident. The behavior is similar to a traditionally forged component, but with less weight for increased agility and world-class collision performance.
- A-pillars: The design of the NSX A-pillars is another world-first technology use, with three-dimensional bending and quenching used to create a thin yet sturdy design. The resulting pillars offer a slender cross section to increase visibility without compromising on the demands of a modern car’s body structure, including roof strength safety requirements.
Multi-Material Space Frame
In order for the frame of the NSX to be optimized for safety and performance, engineers had to go a different route with its design. Rather than build a traditional frame, the 2017 Acura NSX design called for a skeleton composed of aluminum, high-strength steel, ablation-cast aluminum nodes, and highly rigid aluminum extrusions.
Different materials require different construction methods; here’s how some of the multi-material space frame elements are constructed at the Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, OH:
- Robotic Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding: MIG welding is used to assemble the majority of the frame, with more than 850 MIG weld points and more than 112 feet of MIG wire applied. For the utmost precision, the majority of welding is done by robotic arms, with all elements undergoing a highly detailed inspection by weld technicians. Parts are quenched strategically to reduce the risk of deformation from welding heat build-up.
- Aluminum Cast Nodes: These nodes join together aluminum frame elements and also serve as the ultra-rigid mounting locations for the SH-AWD system and the front and rear suspensions. The majority of these nodes are gravity die cast.
- Ablation Cast Nodes: The front and rear crush zones of the NSX use a different type of casting, called ablation casting, one of the industry-first processes going into the NSX construction. An ablation-cast piece has the rigidity of a cast with the ductility and energy absorption common from extruded materials; that means there’s no worry about the brittle rigidity found in typical castings.
- Advanced Joining Technologies: The assembly of the Acura frame is done with an attention to total vehicle weight and watertight joints with an overall minimized part complexity. Self-piercing rivets, flow-drill screws, and roller hemming joining create tight, strong joints with clean edges.
- Advanced Conversion Coating: Before its final assembly, the entire frame receives a zirconium pre-treatment coating that serves as a barrier to any kind of galvanic corrosion.
Multi-Material Body Panels
A variety of lightweight yet durable materials were used for the body elements of the NSX, just like the multi-material space frame. The focus of the 2017 Acura NSX design means that each material’s unique characteristics were taken into account when building the vehicle, creating panels with the highest finish quality and minimization of vehicle mass.
- Sheet Molding Compound (SMC) Panels: The material used in the compound panels is a polyester reinforced with high-grade glass fibers, formed into the shape of each panel while heated in a compression mold. Different SMC materials have been engineered for different body elements for an optimized design.
- Sheet Hydroformed Aluminum Panels: Inner panels and door skins on the NSX are composed of hydroformed aluminum, the ideal way to shape a single piece of aluminum when conventional aluminum stamping techniques are insufficient. This allows for incredibly thin surfaces, as the entire panel is supported by the metallic bonds holding the aluminum together.
- Aluminum Stampings: High-grade stamped aluminum is used for the engine compartment, hood, roof panel, and trunk frame for increased rigidity and reduced weight.
- High-temperature-resistant Plastic: Small body panel sections (below the car’s floating C-pillars) are composed of high-temperature-resistant plastics due to how closely positioned they are to the vehicle’s turbocharger intercoolers.
- Carbon Fiber Floor: Lightweight and strong, carbon fiber is the ideal material for the floor sections, able to absorb the load of entering and exiting the NSX when an aluminum cross-member design would add weight.