The release of Star Wars Episode VII and the ordination of Saint Malcolm of Turnbull both feel like they’ve been a long time coming, but they are nothing compared to the arrival of the new and epoch-shifting Honda NSX, which feels like it’s been imminent since John Howard was in power.
It came as something of a seismic shock to actually drive the damn thing this week, a surprise Honda pulled on us while we were visiting its proving grounds in Tochigi, Japan, to try out some slightly more mundane vehicles with hydrogen engines and anodyne designs.
The NSX is anything but anodyne and promises to revolutionise the supercar world, just as its predecessor did when it was launched in 1990, back when the only sports car Porsche made was a 911.
This new super-hybrid Honda claims to be quicker to 100km/h than the modern Turbo 911, a 3.2-second car, as well as what it considers its other obvious competitors: the Audi R8 V10 and Ferrari 458 (they’re not claiming to match the new 488 GTB, however, which tells us it won’t quite drop under 3.0 seconds), but they won’t tell us by how much.
Heading out on to the track’s high-banked, high-speed bowl, we were given a speed limit - electronically enforced by the car’s software, sadly - of 180km/h, which seemed quite reasonable, except that we’d hit it inside the first corner, and before we’d had time to draw a first breath.
The number that should be really impressive on this car is its zero to 200km/h time, which I’m tipping to be as low as eight seconds.
It’s a car that’s about much more than numbers, though, according to Ted Klaus, the project’s enthusiastic and clearly proud head engineer, who went on to point out that his NSX is 300 percent more torsionally stiff than those rivals, a number that seems so incredible he couldn’t help boasting about it.
It’s a claim backed up by world-first space frame technologies including ablation-cast aluminium sections and 3DQ ultra-high-tensile-steel, which is used to help give the car an A-pillar that’s so thin you can almost see through it.
Visibility is clearly a big thing; even the air-conditioning system has been specifically designed so that its vents are lower, out of your field of view, to provide a more pleasing vista from the grippy driver’s seat.
Gazing out over the huge, colourfully graphic, Lexus LFA/PlayStation GT4 speedo, you can actually see the front wings of the car, and a lot of blurry scenery disappearing beneath them.
Even more so than the LFA, which looks heavy and lumbering next to the pin-sharp design of the NSX, this super Honda is typical of the kind of approach to detail the Japanese would take on every car, if they had unlimited budgets.
Nothing has been spared the laser-like focus of a company that was once famous for making sporty, high-revving fun machines, but has stumbled into a green mire of hybrids and econoboxes in recent years.
The NSX is a hybrid too, of course, but one that turns this often snore-some technology into a force for good.
Its 1725kg weight makes sense when you discover just how many power sources it has.
The traditional engine is an all-new, bespoke 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6, which uses in-cylinder direct injection and port injection, pistons with cooling galleries and a dry sump, to assist with its low centre of gravity design.
This screaming engine also provides most of the car’s noise, and it sounds fantastic doing 180km/h from a distance, but from inside the car it doesn’t have quite the passion of a Ferrari, or the V10 howl of the LFA.
The vicious V6 would no doubt make for an impressive car on its own, but the addition of a Direct Drive Electric Motor that sits on top of it, between the rear wheels, and a Twin Motor Unit that sits between the front ones, powering each one of them individually, provide even more low-down torque and electrifying power, taking the NSX’s total output to 427kW and 646Nm. It’s the most powerful Honda ever, by some margin.
Squeezed in behind the passenger seat is the Intelligent Power Unit (IPU), which is where the number crunching is done to apportion all that grunt where and when it’s needed.
The engineers talk about the car having “zero-delay acceleration”, and it’s something we experienced on the back straight at Tochigi when our co-driver asked us to slow to 50km/h and then plant it. Wow, just wow.
Klaus is particularly proud of what happens in those first 100 or 200 milliseconds after your foot pushes the throttle, with the instant shove of a Tesla combining with the turbocharged intensity of the V6 and the unique all-wheel drive-ness of the twin front motors activating the front wheels.
The gearbox needs to be quick to keep up, of course, and it is. The NSX gets its own unique nine-speed DCT (Double Clutch Transmission), which is described as a seven-speed transmission with a launch gear at the bottom and a cruising gear at the top.
We were asked to leave it in Drive for our 50km/h experiment and can report that its shifts are almost imperceptible, while the shove in the back from the car is anything but. When all those power sources are on song together, zero-delay acceleration, and lots of it, is what you get.
The goal of this whole project was to make a new “everyday supercar”, and while we can’t vouch for how easy to drive it will be in the real world, they’ve definitely got the super performance nailed.
What Klaus is talking about when he refers to the car being about more than measurable figures is the way it will handle your favourite windy roads, and it is here that he claims the NSX will be “a whole new kind of car”.
The secret is the new Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which uses those motors attached to each front wheel to provide both torque vectoring and what they call direct yaw control. The result is “precise line tracing” or, more traditionally, “cornering like it’s on rails”, and Klaus gets all misty-eyed about how the NSX will follow wherever your eyes point your hands.
It’s hard to experience this on a speed bowl, but we darted between lanes as much as we were allowed and found the steering beautifully weighted and supremely precise.
Another handy trick is the regenerative braking, which helps you out by instantly recycling the stopping force you've used approaching a corner to shove you out the other side again. This sounds like a lot of fun.
The NSX has been a long time coming, which we hear was the result of a battle between the American and Japanese sides of the business. The Yanks demanded this car while the Japanese weren’t so keen, but have since come to love it, just as anyone who owns one will.
Several keen Australians have already slapped down deposits to put themselves at the front of the NSX queue, without even knowing the specs, let alone the price, which is still a mystery.
The waiting should finally end in 2016 when local deliveries should begin.
- Interested in buying HONDA NSX? Visit our HONDA NSX showroom for more information.