CARS Philip Astor plays Bond in the sleek Honda NSX
Philip Astor discovers the secret thrills and technological brilliance of the exhilarating Honda NSX
We live opposite Highgate School in north London. Over the past few years, the pupils have become used to seeing some pretty swish cars being delivered to my front door for review. But rarely have I witnessed such a gleeful response as the new version of Honda’s iconic NSX sports car generated. This is a model that has been nigh on a decade in its evolution, but there are still fewer than 200 units in the country, so there is obviously a novelty factor. On any view, too, it possesses a stunningly lean and bold design.
But as one gaggle of teenagers I saw eyeing it up approvingly were clearly aware, the car’s real magic lies under the skin. These schoolboys could speak with masterly erudition about its technical wizardry, noting for example that it boasts not just fly-by-wire acceleration – that is old hat with supercars now – but fly-bywire braking too. Eh? Translated, it means that when you put your foot on the pedals, you spookily have no direct connection with the engine or brake discs: you are communicating with a computer that processes and relays all your intentions. We’re not quite in the realms of artificial intelligence, but this is a very, very clever motor car.
OK, but why does it need four motors? Ah, the Highgate boys would eagerly point out, there’s a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine behind the seats that drives the rear wheels, and an electric motor beside it to ensure there’s no delay as the twin turbos kick in; the other two electric motors are at the front, each controlling its own wheel. And what’s the result of this so-called ‘Sport Hybrid SH-AWD’ system? Improved performance, increased torque, tighter cornering, and all with reduced fuel consumption.
The list of novelty features goes on and on. But just as I sensed that Highgate’s finest young brains were about to deconstruct the car’s revolutionary magnetorheological dampers (shh! – they help stabilise the suspension), I realised that it was time to drive the car rather than analyse it. For the editor and I had been bidden to spend a shooting weekend at Easton Neston in Northamptonshire, the baroque gem designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1702 and described by the peerless authority on such matters, Nikolaus Pevsner, as ‘perhaps the finest house of its date’ in England.
So far, so fortunate. But I did find myself wondering if we could possibly have been loaned a more impractical car for such a weekend; after all, the interior is as compact as a space capsule, and the boot is the size of a cubby box. And yet, Tardis-like, it managed to swallow up all my sporting paraphernalia, our wellington boots, not to mention an appropriately stylish wardrobe for my wife to feel totally at home with our host, the Russian-born global fashion mogul Leon Max.
We got there jolly fast too: having planned to arrive for drinks before dinner, somehow we drew up at the front door to find it was still teatime. One explanation, I offer without prejudice, may be that the car can sprint from 0 to 62 in under three seconds and has a top speed of 191 mph. Just be careful not to slip into Track mode on the main road; certainly, Justine found the Sport option exhilarating enough, bleating regularly: ‘Don’t accelerate like that, or I’ll SCREAM.’
Once at Easton Neston, I will concede that the NSX looked a trifle incongruous outside the handsome classical façade. But all is not quite as it seems. For, as in the best James Bond movies, where chateaux turn out to conceal space-age command centres, so too, behind the scenes at Easton Neston lie the British headquarters of Leon Max’s fashion empire. Past the monumental portraits and 17th-century tapestries, you approach what used to be the real-tennis court. Opening the door is a revelation: spread out below is Leon Max’s design studio, teeming with industry and inventiveness. To my eyes, it could so easily have been loyal Q’s laboratory, where (sorry, Aston Martin) the Honda NSX had been conceived and developed. For just like James Bond, this is a car, as those boys at Highgate proved, that will appeal to the youngster in us all. The Honda NSX, from £149,950 (www.honda.co.uk).
WE’RE NOT QUITE IN THE REALMS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, BUT THIS IS A VERY, VERY CLEVER CAR
Below: Philip Astor in the Honda NSX at Easton Neston (below left)