Some of the most prominent features of the new Acura NSX – or indeed, any mid-engined supercar – are the rear airflow intake vents, located just behind the doors. They’re large, eye-catching, and most importantly, functional.
But they do present a bit of a problem sometimes: They get dirty and they’re not always easy to clean.
Airflow is necessary for all internal combustion engines, no matter where they’re located – in the front of the car, the rear, or like the NSX, in the middle. An air intake system lets air reach the engine, and part of that system includes vents in the front of the car so the air can get channeled to the engine more easily.
Because the NSX has a mid-mounted engine – meaning that it’s found between the car’s axles – it has two giant intake vents in its sides. Air that flows over the hood gets fed directly into the engine via these vents. Cool stuff all around.
Here’s a diagram of the NSX without its body panels so you can see. The two radiators are placed behind where the car’s doors would be and right in front of the rear wheels. The engine is behind the driver.
While I was out with the car, I happened to look down into the NSX’s intake vent and saw some debris chilling in there. Not big debris, mind you – just what appeared to be some dust, small pebbles, and pine needles. Undoubtedly, the honeycomb mesh grille protecting the vents kept the bigger stuff out.
But how would one clean such an area? The grille that keeps bigger rocks out also prevents you from wiping away the accumulated grit. I couldn’t see an easy way to remove the grille, either.
As it turned out, my instinct for removing the grilles was correct. Daniel, a professional car detailer from Clear Detail LLC in Richmond, Virginia, told me via email that when detailing cars like this, he also tries for the best access by removing the grille.
This isn’t always possible, though.
“The new NSX grilles can only be accessed [by] removing the wheels, wheel wells, and radiators,” Daniel said.
Since that isn’t an option for most people, Daniel recommended that owners first try blowing out the area with compressed air, a pressure washer, or even a vacuum, spraying it with a paint-safe citrus cleaner, letting it soak, pressure washing it out, and finishing with blowing it out again with compressed air – or a Master Blaster, if you’ve got one.
An Acura spokesperson declined to confirm whether or not this is the recommended way of cleaning out an NSX’s intake vents.
I’m not dogging on the NSX for this issue, as it seems fairly innocuous. I just know that if I owned the car, the buildup of dirt in the vents would bug the hell out of me, and I wanted to see how someone would go about finding a solution.
In the case of my loaner, it had been driven 15,000 miles by journalists who, like me, can sometimes enjoy making a car do things it wasn’t designed to do. Because of the life it’s lived, it is very possible that this NSX merely accumulated more dirt than others that haven’t been tracked or parked, outside, under trees.
And it’s also not an NSX-specific issue!
“With a lot of supercars, the intakes are fantastic leaf, pebble, dirt, pine needle, and sand traps,” Daniel said. In his experience, this is a problem that has plagued many supercars, not just the NSX. It’s just what happens when you combine sticky, performance tires that have a habit of flinging debris around with an intake vent that’s behind those tires.
The issue is addressed more easily in some other cars, though. All Daniel has to do in a Lamborghini, for example, is remove three screws and then the grille comes right out.
But if you’re an NSX owner who’s been frustrated by a small collection of dirt riding around with you, here’s your solution.
Since then, Ferrari has updated the 488 and changed the name to “F8 Tributo,” a reference to the potent V8 that propels the machine. I haven’t yet had a crack at the hardtop, but Ferrari did let me borrow a $397,000 example of the Spider, in a dashing “Giallo Modena” paint job, for a mere day to make a run out to the eastern tip of Long Island.
I’ll spoil the ending and let you know right now that the Ferrari was almost too good for its own good. Here’s why:
The 2020 Ferrari F8 Spider, in all its beachfront, bright-yellow glory! My test car started at $297,250. But options, options, and more options took the sticker to a hair under $397,000.
The F8 Spider is the convertible version of the F8 Tributo, which arrived in 2019 …
… to replace the 488 in Ferrari’s lineup. The F8 Tributo sported a completely redesigned front end.
It wasn’t all sand and sun for the F8 Spider on my drive, which covered about 400 miles, from the New Jersey suburbs to the Montauk, on Long Island. The F8 looked gorgeous in the golden light of an East Coast sunset.
This Ferrari has a retractable hardtop that neatly stows in a compartment behind the cockpit. It disappears in about 20 seconds.
The most prominent new feature for the F8 Spider, as with the F8 Tributo, is an “S-duct” in the front that pipes air through the hood and intensifies downward pressure on the front wheels. It amps up downforce by 15%.
The arrangement is more Ferrari Enzo than 458 – the 488 predecessor was noted for its elegant fascia. But there’s no debating the engineering.
The front splitter and ducting are all intended to shape the air around the F8 for performance, but it all adds up to a beautiful industrial design, even if it errs slightly on the side of aggression.
The “SF” shields – Scuderia Ferrari, the origin of the Italian brand, Enzo Ferrari’s racing operation – on each fender are $1,856 extra. As it turns out one of the less expensive options.
Pop that hood and you’ll find the F8 Spider’s front trunk, or “frunk,” which offered just enough stowage for an overnight bag and a large tote. Pack lightly!
The drive out to Montauk found me contemplating this Hiroshi Sugimoto-esque view of the Atlantic Ocean.
The following day, I took the Ferrari F8 Spider to the beach.
The rear louvers vent the engine – and evoke the Ferrari F40, an iconic late-80s-early-1990s Ferrari. Although they don’t evoke it as earnestly as the Tributo.
Here’s the F40, just so you know what I’m talking about.
And while the prancing horse takes up some modest real estate up front, the classic Ferrari script is rendered in chrome atop the engine compartment.
The F8’s spoiler was actually pretty low-key compared to some of the airplane lifters I’ve had riding behind me on some recent cars. It’s a nod to the F40’s signature tall wing, with a more modest spoiler wrapping around the tail lights.
A pair of titanium exhaust pipes is $2,531. The diffuser completes the airflow efforts that commence up front.
The dynamically-spoked, “Glossy Silver” forged wheels added $6,243 to the price tag …
… front and rear.
The blue brake calipers and ventilated discs, also front and rear, combined to deliver prodigious stopping power.
The vane on this duct is a carryover from the 488.
The F8’s headlights are relatively straightforward, though swept-back. They’re less jewel-like in the interior complexity than some of the LED rigs I’ve seen of late.
But they’re effective!
The way they shape to the fender, forming a gentle angle, is hypnotic.
The F8 Spider is a magnificent, flowing piece of automotive design, and you can decide for yourself if the silhouette benefits or suffers from having the roof retracted. I know what my choice would be!
Let’s slide inside and check out that “Blu Sterling” interior.
Even the carpeting is “Blu,” by the way.
Ferrari invites you to never forget what you’re sitting in.
The F8 Spider might not look that roomy, and as a two-seater, it isn’t. But because the engine is in the middle, the cabin has an open, airy quality, even with the top down. Those “Corsa” carbon-fiber racing seats are … $9,112.
The stripes were another $1,181. Honestly, I expected the seats to be unforgiving over a few hundred miles, but they were surprisingly easygoing.
The F8’s cabin is organized around the car’s steering wheel.
Carbon fiber, leather, and the prancing horse, all together, as well as turn signals and just about everything one needs to operate the car.
The famous red stop-start button, alongside the “bumpy road” button that adjusts the suspension for uneven terrain.
The manettino is totally Formula One and allows quick switches among three drive modes. You can deactivate the traction and stability control, but don’t.
The yellow tachometer dominates the instrument cluster.
This small screen to the right is where infotainment happens. Shockingly, everything from Bluetooth integration to navigation to media is available, controlled using a small dashboard interface. It isn’t modern, but it’s refreshingly un-distracting.
Cruise control is to the left.
These long, elegant, carbon-fiber paddle shifters are so, so good.
Otherwise, the F8’s instrumentation and controls are exceptionally minimal.
Gotta love the key-fob holder.
The passenger also has a digital display panel, so two can play along.
I wouldn’t call the F8’s interior over-the-top luxurious, but it does exude a premium, handcrafted vibe just about everywhere.
Lots of space in the glove compartment!
The JBL premium audio system sounded excellent (it was a $6,200 upgrade).
OK, the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Let’s open the hatch and have a gander at the engine – the thrumming heart of the F8.
Here we have a 710-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, 3.9-liter V8, making 568 pound-feet of torque.
Sending the power to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the F8 Spider blasts through the 0-to-60 mph run in three seconds and tops out north of 210 mph.
Fuel economy? Not good, maybe 15 to 16 mpg in combined highway-city driving. But while in previous Ferrari road tests I’ve usually had to make a stop at a gas station, this time around I drove from the Jersey ‘burbs to the end of Long Island and back — and hadn’t run out of gas.
So what’s the verdict?
The F8 Spider, like the F8 Tributo, has taken the spectacular twin-turbo V8 from the 488 and via the 488 Pista, jacked the horsepower up to an impressive level. You might think that would make for a more beastly machine than the 488, which produced an already stunning 661 hp.
Ironically, it doesn’t. If anything, driving the F8 Spider is a more … dare I say, “mellow,” experience than managing the 488 Spider. Mellow is the wrong word, of course. What Ferrari’s engineers have done, along with intensifying the power, is to tweak the F8 so that it’s aerodynamic stability encourages the driver to dig into the extra oomph.
It’s a neat trick. A reality-distortion field, even. How can the car be smoothing out and settling down, even as I compress the throttle more and more and more and watch the tach move closer to that 8,000-rpm redline? Whistling turbos, screaming exhaust, that sacred wild Ferrari sound, and yet the speed and noise induce a focused trace rather than a fearful desire to rein in the car.
To be honest, in the context of a mid-engine Ferrari, the calm is unsettling, at least initially. One can ruffle it, often considerably, simply by flicking the manettino to the “Race” setting, breaking out the foot of lead, and unleashing hell. But the metaphor of an iceberg occurred to me: I was seeing but a small piece of what the F8 had to offer. I could tell that there was much, much more.
This is the ever-present problem that manifests when 710 horsepower and Ferrari technology take to roads where the posted speed limit is something of an insult to the vehicle. Fortunately, the F8 is a pleasure to cruise in, ramping up and down the torque curve and savoring the visceral thrills of that stonking V8, the blabs and burbles of the exhaust, the whiz of the turbos, the decisive yet never technocratic nature of the transmission when paddle-shifting the gears.
The convertible makes the whole experience all the more satisfying, especially if you have a medium-warm, early summer sunsplashed day and some winding country roads to wend and wind around, finessing the F8’s power and engaging the quick yet solid steering, safe in the knowledge that the superb brakes and fat sticky tires will keep you out of trouble.
A few hours of this and I found myself able to — I kid you not — meditate on the machine. “F8… F8… F8,” became my mantra. I explored subtle subtexts. Delved into the magical balance of monumental horsepower and punishing torque with beauty and Italian verve. With the wind whipping through my straw hat.
In the end, the F8 Spider was almost too good for its own good. I expect Ferrari sports cars to be more challenging. I crave it. Even if I can’t tap the fully wild, I want that shivering glimpse. This time around, however, I was more soothed than intimidated. This was more a function of the F8 Spider being constrained by normality than any evasion of its nature. And I knew at any time I could throw a switch and summon mad urges.
But for hundreds of miles, in a Ferrari supercar, I was utterly at peace.