First drive review: Honda NSX
After a long wait, Honda delivers its hybrid supercar. And it really does deliver. The 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 unit is joined by three electric motors to produce an intoxicating instant response. Mechanically, its peerless.
Honda is not renowned for making exciting cars. As fun as the Civic Type R is, it’s an anomaly in a range of good (and sometimes excellent) cars that are worthy and practical.
However, while it’s very likely that you’ll see a Honda Jazz pootling along at 40mph literally everywhere - outside a school, through town, on a motorway, etc. - it shouldn’t be forgotten that Honda made one to the most sought after sports cars the world has ever seen - the original Honda NSX.
With development given a helping hand from Ayrton Senna, the NSX was a perfect demonstration that Honda could out-Ferrari Ferrari. Barely any bigger than a Ford GT40, the NSX’s monocoque chassis and all-round double wishbone suspension was mated to a high-revving 3.0-litre engine. Introduced in 1990, it set the tone for the decade.
With instant power at all times, every straight becomes a challenge to remain within legal limits.
Eleven years since it was pensioned off, I finally got a chance to drive one. The final production models were slightly stiffer and slightly more powerful but retained the essence of the first NSX - perfectly balanced, easy to drive and useable every day. The car was a revelation, still feeling fleet of foot even by today's standards, with a purity to the drive that highlighted the lack of tech available in the 90s. What was once cutting edge is now decidedly analogue, and all the better for it.
Electrification means that it’s quite possible to cruise for a handful of miles in total silence, the electric motors rendering the petrol engine redundant.
Which made the new NSX all the more intriguing. If the original car was the hero of many a PlayStation game, the latest one is designed for those that grew up with the PlayStation and want an equally digital experience.
That means that the engine, a 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 unit that remains mounted in the middle of the car, is joined by three electric motors. There are two 36bhp motors at the front, each driving one wheel, and one 47bhp unit at the rear, powered by a battery pack mounted below the centre console.
At standstill, it looks fast, which is what you want from a supercar.
Electrification means that it’s quite possible to cruise for a handful of miles in total silence, the electric motors rendering the petrol engine redundant. Sleepy villages will see the NSX passing, but won’t hear it coming.
This could be a Prius, but the game is given away by the design of the car. With sharp lines, angles and edges all over, it’s like a 12-year old boy was given the task of designing a new supercar poster for his bedroom wall.
Subtle, it isn’t. Compared to the likes of the McLaren 570GT, and even the Audi R8 V10, it’s a little crass, but there’s no doubt that it’s a love or hate design. Personally, 12-year old me would have been happy to put a picture of this on his wall.
That big V6 engine kicks in and thrusts you forward at some speed, but there’s more to it than that.
At standstill, it looks fast, which is what you want from a supercar. Step inside and you’ll find shiny black and silver plastics that feel somewhat cheaper than they really should, but they wrap a cabin that is almost perfectly judged. The seats are comfortable, there’s just about enough space - even for a sturdy man such as myself - and the dashboard is a wonderfully ergonomic design. Only the infotainment systems lets the side down; it’s a clunky system that makes DAB radio hard work, while the satnav is marginally better than a cheap TomTom unit from Halfords. They’re both quite complex to work too.
The 646Nm torque figure isn’t a peak output, but available at all times. The effect is intoxicating.
Taking all this in as you glide through a village, you might be disappointed. The NSX costs close to £150,000, which means there’s a hugely capable range of high-quality rivals, and some areas do fall short.
And then the edge of the village arrives and you press the accelerator just slightly farther down. That big V6 engine kicks in and thrusts you forward at some speed, but there’s more to it than that. The Audi R8 would be a little recalcitrant until the revs had risen, the McLaren would be almost pedestrian until the engine had wound up, but the Honda moves off instantly.
It’s those three electric motors filling in the gaps in power, aiding the car at lower engine speeds before taking a little bit of a back seat as the engine takes over at higher speeds. It effectively means that the 646Nm torque figure isn’t a peak output, but available at all times.
The effect is intoxicating.
The mechanical side of things is what really matters. And Honda has got that side of things sorted better than its rivals.
With instant power at all times, every straight becomes a challenge to remain within legal limits. Then you reach a corner. Turn in and the front end darts aggressively to the inside, the rest of the car following. It remains almost perfectly flat, yet the suspension absorbs much of the imperfect road surface. Outright ability is sky high, but it’s the confidence it gives you that makes it so engaging, the car feeling more stable than its rivals.
Tricky electronic bits help out as well, with those electric motors stepping in to offer torque vectoring - accelerate out of a corner too hard, too soon, and you can feel the inside front wheel powering slightly more than the rest to keep the back end stable.
Switch drive modes and the car changes character a little. There are four settings that adjust throttle response, suspension firmness and so on, but there’s no option to choose an individual combination.
It’s a small point though, as the near-perfect handling, raucous engine note and ultimately surprisingly analogue feedback through the steering wheel leave you engaged in a way that you wouldn’t expect from something that goes for tech over soul.
It would be nice to have as much effort put into the cabin, but the mechanical side of things is what really matters. And Honda has got that side of things sorted better than its rivals.
Model tested: Honda NSX
|Official fuel economy:||28.2mpg|
|Car tax band:||L / £500|
|Engine:||3.5-litre turbo petrol with three electric motors|