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