Hy­per­car, su­per-easy

Honda’s born-again head-turner takes on Euro­pean ri­vals with blis­ter­ing hy­brid per­for­mance

Herald Sun - Motoring - - COVER STORY - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

THERE might be bet­ter ways to cel­e­brate a birth­day than driv­ing the Honda NSX but I can’t think of one.

I’m still cool­ing down from hot laps and ram­pag­ing road time with a car that’s a bril­liant en­gi­neer­ing achieve­ment, su­per quick but also su­per com­posed, beau­ti­fully made and with the su­per­car cre­den­tials to take the fight to Fer­rari, Lam­borgh­ini, McLaren and the Audi R8.

Now, if only Honda Aus­tralia had man­aged to do bet­ter than a $420,000 bot­tom — the wrong word en­tirely — line.

So far, only four peo­ple have paid de­posits for an NSX in Aus­tralia. That num­ber will def­i­nitely grow but some are al­ready ques­tion­ing whether the car is just a toy for tech heads, an Ap­ple-style au­to­mo­tive icon for dot­com mil­lion­aires in the US.

Those same ques­tions came to mind on first sight­ing the born-again NSX, along­side the orig­i­nal Ja­panese su­per­car from the early 1990s. By the time I’d fin­ished driv­ing and was blow­ing out the can­dle on my birth­day cake I was con­vinced.

The worst thing about the NSX is its Honda badge. Not far ahead of the price ...

It means the NSX is a “chal­lenger” to the su­per­car es­tab­lish­ment, even though its me­chan­i­cal pack­age puts it into the hy­per­car class.

It com­bines a 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo and three elec­tric mo­tors — one on the crankshaft to elim­i­nate turbo lag and one turn­ing each front wheel for all-wheel drive ac­cel­er­a­tion and cor­ner­ing bal­ance — that make it stonk­ingly quick.

To­tal out­puts are 427kW/ 646Nm, the top speed is 308km/h and the 0-100km/h sprint takes just 2.9 sec­onds.

The car has a twin-clutch gear­box and a sur­pris­ingly hefty 1776kg to move.

But the im­pres­sive thing is the in­te­gra­tion — all the com­po­nents com­mu­ni­cate with each other, mean­ing the NSX is not only su­per-fast but also su­per-easy to drive. There is even a rear cam­era for park­ing.

The price is high for Aus­tralia, only frac­tion­ally lower than the start­ing price for a Fer­rari 488 or Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can LP610-4 and more than dou­ble a Nis­san GT-R. How­ever, it comes fully loaded with car­bon-ce­ramic brakes, car­bon-fi­bre ex­te­rior pack in­clud­ing the roof and car­bon fi­bre in­te­rior kit that sits well along­side the leather-trimmed dash and seats.

Honda was so com­mit­ted to get­ting the NSX right that it binned the orig­i­nal come­back plan and car, which had a front­mounted V10, and went again with the petrol-elec­tric pack­age. Even ri­val de­sign­ers ad­mit is a head-turner that’s heav­ily in­flu­enced by the F22 fighter jet, re­tain­ing con­ti­nu­ity with the F16-in­spired orig­i­nal.

ON THE TRACK

Not sur­pris­ingly, Honda pro­vides the open­ing NSX ex­pe­ri­ence in the rel­a­tive safety of a race­track, Es­to­ril in Por­tu­gal, where the car will eas­ily twist the speedome­ter past 220km/h in a cou­ple of places.

The re­ally stun­ning thing about the car is its abil­ity to at­tack the track. You can brake late and hard for every cor­ner, stay­ing on the brakes up close to the apex, know­ing the car is ready to pivot and go. And go and go.

It is not the slight­est bit ner­vous, there is only the tini­est front-end squirm at the limit

and it pow­ers out and away at any speed.

The elec­tronic pack­age in­cludes the usual driv­ing modes. In Quiet, it runs at first only on elec­tric power then, through Sport, Sport+ and Track, the changes ob­vi­ously tweak the en­gine and gear­box, but also tune the mag­net­i­cally-con­trolled dampers for the road sur­face and speed, and even lift the cabin noise — piped in from the en­gine bay right be­hind — by up to 25dB.

Out­ward vi­sion is great, the sports seats hug me, the steer­ing wheel is beau­ti­fully crafted and shaped for driv­ing, the air­con is Honda cool and ev­ery­thing seems great. Then I touch the nasty, cheap, plas­tic pad­dle-shifters and won­der how they got through the net. There are also some big reflections from the top of the dash­board but I love the slim­line wind­screen pil­lars — an ex­am­ple of im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy, these show how other brands could get the bulk out of their cars and im­prove their safety.

ON THE ROAD

The ex­tra­or­di­nary com­fort is far more sur­pris­ing than the per­for­mance, which is re­ally just a ques­tion of tal­ented en­gi­neers with the right fo­cus and bud­get, and is re­flected in the air­con, the sus­pen­sion and the steer­ing wheel — which is flat on top and bot­tom but could do with some shift lights.

The body con­trol in the car is noth­ing short of bril­liant and it rides like a limou­sine on the worst Por­tuguese roads, while still al­low­ing me to have fun and at­tack the cor­ners with­out wor­ry­ing about run­ning wide or bounc­ing off a pot­hole. It even bet­ters my pre­vi­ous bench­mark for su­per­car sus­pen­sion, the McLaren 650.

The car is heavy at 1776kg but it never feels re­motely porky on the road. It stops su­perbly with just a faint groan as the front wheels har­vest energy for the elec­tric mo­tors.

The sound is ter­rific in­side and out and the nine-speed trans­mis­sion works brilliantly in all con­di­tions. I still hate the pad­dles but I re­alise af­ter an hour that I haven’t touched them once.

That’s a trib­ute to the driv­ing modes and yaw con­trol and car­bon-ce­ramic brakes, a com­bi­na­tion that means the car can do a bet­ter job than me on gear selec­tion, so Honda could eas­ily rip them out.

I’m also mas­sively un­der­whelmed by the horn, which is well short of the trum­pet I ex­pect, but oth­er­wise have lit­tle to com­plain about. The boot, only one, is be­hind the en­gine be­cause the whole nose is loaded with elec­tric and cool­ing gear. It seems small at first but will han­dle golf clubs in true Ja­panese style and also carry-on bags for two.

The NSX is an epic car and when the first cars ar­rive here in Novem­ber, owners will have some­thing to cel­e­brate.

But it’s still only a Honda and that will be — with the $420,000 price tag — the big­gest hur­dle. Fer­rari does not make a $14,990 Jazz and some peo­ple will in­stantly dis­miss the NSX, even though it’s lit­tle short of a LaFer­rari or McLaren P1 or Porsche 918 — each of them hy­bridised for max­i­mum per­for­mance.

It’s less than half the price, and with a right-side steer­ing wheel that means it can be driven on the road in Aus­tralia.

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