CARS Philip As­tor plays Bond in the sleek Honda NSX

Philip As­tor dis­cov­ers the se­cret thrills and tech­no­log­i­cal bril­liance of the ex­hil­a­rat­ing Honda NSX

Town & Country (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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)

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