Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Sports cars from Ja­pan are al­ways a good thing.

Automobile - - Contents - By Mike Floyd

JTHE CAR WAS right-hand drive. My legs rubbed up against the steer­ing wheel as I worked the teardrop-shaped nub of a shift knob through the gears and the 3.2-liter V-6 gnashed me­chan­i­cally be­hind my head. We couldn’t have been go­ing more than 50 mph, but it didn’t mat­ter. It was about the con­text. The his­tory.

I was af­forded a rare op­por­tu­nity to make a pil­grim­age to Honda’s Takasu Prov­ing Ground, lo­cated in the cen­tral re­gion of the north­ern Ja­pa­nese is­land of Hokkaido, to drive the up­dated 2019 Acura NSX. While there, I had a chance to do a quick fun run in a Ja­pa­nese-mar­ket 2001 NSX Type S, com­plete with a com­i­cally small, square Space In­vaders-style nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem perched atop the dash. Time warp stuff.

Takasu is where Honda con­ducted a chunk of de­vel­op­ment work on the first-gen­er­a­tion NSX, and although much of the en­gi­neer­ing, styling, and pro­duc­tion of the new-era NSX was off-loaded to Amer­ica, the pow­er­train work was largely han­dled by a team in Ja­pan, and Takasu played a role. With its mix of a high-speed oval, skid­pad, win­ter test­ing area (it gets wicked cold on Hokkaido), mim­icked mix of Eu­ro­pean and Amer­i­can road­ways, and sig­na­ture track in­spired by the Nür­bur­gring, Takasu of­fers a di­verse mix of sur­faces and high-speed runs. It’s also a place that has seen few gai­jin out­side of Honda/Acura em­ploy­ees pass through its gates.

While tak­ing in Takasu and af­ter a blis­ter­ing cou­ple of laps on the 3.85-mile, 17-turn track in the 2019 NSX—tight­ened up a few notches in its sus­pen­sion hard­ware and re­lated soft­ware de­part­ments—it struck me how se­ri­ous Ja­pan’s top automakers have be­come about per­for­mance at the high­est lev­els, how they’ve lev­er­aged their her­itage to create ve­hi­cles that pay homage to the past while push­ing into the fu­ture.

Toy­ota is the lat­est to step up with its new Supra. We just had a go in a pro­to­type—show­cased in this is­sue be­gin­ning on page 50—that was built in part­ner­ship with BMW. As was the case with the Toy­ota 86 de­vel­oped with Subaru, Toy­ota again de­cided to share the bur­den. While there are those who will ques­tion the BMW tie-up, if the choice was to do it with the Ger­man au­tomaker or not do it at all (more than likely the case), why wouldn’t you? Tet­suya Tada, the chief en­gi­neer of the Toy­ota 86 and the man who also leads the Supra project, told us back in March that the Supra had to have a straight-six en­gine. BMW is a straight-six ex­pert, and Toy­ota doesn’t have one any­more. So yeah, it made sense.

Tada also made it clear that the Supra will have a 50:50 chas­sis bal­ance and will be a car Supra fans will ap­pre­ci­ate. Based on our first taste of it, we’re con­fi­dent the new Supra will have per­son­al­ity of its own, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to how it han­dles. It will also go rac­ing and will be the new face of Toy­ota’s NASCAR ef­forts. (Granted, that race car will be quite, er, dif­fer­ent from the pro­duc­tion ver­sion.) In other words, the Supra will carry the ban­ner for Toy­ota per­for­mance cars, and that bodes well for not only the Supra’s fu­ture but per­haps also a fu­ture in which Toy­ota con­tin­ues to de­velop more ex­cit­ing mod­els.

Nissan was the first to bring back its sig­na­ture per­former with the GT-R, and it’s send­ing it off with a mil­lion-dol­lar bang thanks to its 710-hp GT-R50 spe­cial edi­tion, which was styled by the ven­er­a­ble Italde­sign stu­dio. Like the NSX and the Supra, the GT-R has a spe­cial place in au­to­mo­tive his­tory, and since the ar­rival of the new gen­er­a­tion in 2009, Godzilla has stomped across the world and over the com­pe­ti­tion with its twin-turbo six, all-wheel drive, and anime de­sign. Although the GTR’s fu­ture is un­cer­tain, Nissan is com­mit­ted to its NISMO per­for­mance sub­brand, and it seems like the per­fect time for the com­pany to re­de­fine the GT-R—per­haps with an elec­tri­fied ver­sion along the lines of the NSX.

Wind­ing up the old-school NSX, hear­ing it, and feel­ing it as I rolled through sim­u­lated Eu­ro­pean coun­try­side in the wilds of Ja­pan was a stark re­minder that a de­ter­mined group of peo­ple can do great things, can create a car that is worth re­viv­ing and evolv­ing—no mat­ter what the for­mula, how it’s done, or who it’s done with. In an age where the au­to­mo­tive world is blast­ing ahead into un­cer­tain ter­ri­tory, we should cel­e­brate the fact the NSX, GT-R, and Supra ex­ist at all, be­cause they rep­re­sent so much more than sim­ply an­other com­peti­tor in the mar­ket. They rep­re­sent what we all re­spect and en­joy about the past, present, and fu­ture of per­for­mance and our en­thu­si­asm for it, Ja­pa­nese or oth­er­wise. AM

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