MORE EAGERLY AWAITED THAN A GEORGE CLOONEY PRESIDENTIAL TILT, MORE POWERFUL THAN A RUSSIAN OLYMPIAN AND MORE EXCITING THAN ANYTHING TO COME OUT OF JAPAN SINCE 2005 (WHEN THEY STOPPED MAKING THE LAST ONE), IT’S THE NEW HONDA NSX.
Yes, it really is that exciting. If you’re a car nut, or even mildly interested in the wild beasts of motoring that roam the Earth, there are few as exotic, or unusual, as this rebirthing of the famous Honda badge.
And now that we’ve finally driven it, on road and track in Portugal, we’re delighted to confirm that the long, long wait has been worth it, and that what Honda is calling the first true "Hypercar" to go on sale in Australia could even be called a bargain at its $420,000 asking price.
Vehicle Style: Mid-engined Coupe
Price: $$420,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 427kW/646Nm 3.5 6cyl 3x electric motors | 9sp double-clutch transmission
Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.7 l/100km
The NSX badge originally stood for New Sports eXperimental, because it was effectively a saleable test bed for Honda’s most advanced and innovative thinking. What it became was the first, and arguably only, supercar to take on the Italian/German dominance of supercar world.
The new NSX, which is called a Honda locally but is very much an Acura product (meaning the up-market American arm of the company - Acura is to Honda as Lexus is to Toyota) in looks and target market, is being touted as the New Sports eXperience.
The idea of a hybrid-powered supercar is not entirely new, of course - BMW's i8 laid down the ground rules - but the NSX is the first to use a combination of electric motors and twin-turbocharged V6 for both good and evil - offering a Quiet mode that is the antithesis of Lamborghini and Ferrari, as well as using its EV torque for extra acceleration.
Its largely aluminium frame is certainly new for Honda, however, as is its claim to be some 300 percent more torsionally stiff than a Ferrari 458 Italia.
Clearly, this is a very serious car indeed, and a very serious brand play for Honda, a company that had long since lost its sporty mojo, but is bringing it back in a big way.
- Standard equipment: Cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather and carbon fibre trim, electronic 8-way seats, including lumbar support
- Infotainment: Satellite navigation, 9-speaker audio MP3 compatible with Bluetooth connectivity, USB/HDMI input, 7-inch colour LCD touchscreen
- Cargo volume: 110 litres
Supercar seats can be grippy to the point of bruising your hips, or they can be as firm as a stretcher, but they are rarely luxurious, which makes the Honda NSX exceptional.
While you might not notice it at first, as you’re hurling this startling machine around a race track, once you head out into the real world their level of support and Alcantara lining for extra grip (presumably for your bum, when it puckers in fear) are remarkable.
As track ready and tear-ifying as the NSX can be, it’s also surprisingly luxurious, with quality leather touches and excellent NVH levels. Its surprising Quiet mode really is just that.
The screen in front of you is all sexy graphics that swish back and forth as you change modes, and is very lush, but the central screen and Satnav feel a little too Honda Civic for a car of this level.
It’s also beyond strange that you can’t raise or lower the seat - one size fits all, apparently, although people of average height will love the driving position. And the steering wheel, which is damn close to perfect and was designed after Honda studied various “hand pressings” to make it feel great, no matter how you hold it.
Unfortunately the Twin Motors for the front wheels, and various radiators, take up the entire bonnet space you’d normally get in a mid-engined supercar, so there’s only a tiny, 110-litre boot at the back, which gets so hot when driving that you could use it to cook your lunch.
Honda claims you can fit a set of golf clubs in there. We’d like to see Honda try.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 427kW/646Nm 3.5-litre twin turbo V6 with dual front and one rear electric motors
- Transmission: 9-speed double-clutch transmission, all-wheel drive
- Suspension: In-wheel double-wishbone, double joint lower control arm/ In-wheel multi-link rear
- Brakes: 380mm ventilated carbon ceramic front discs, 360mm ventilated carbon ceramic rear discs
- Steering: Dual-pinion Electronic Power Steering
It’s hard not to be dumbfounded by our first lap of the Estoril Circuit in this new and keenly anticipated Honda NSX, because we are forced to undertake it in “Quiet” Mode, which, the engineer in the passenger seat explains, is for “your neighbours, or when you turn up at a restaurant”.
At low speeds and low g-forces - not something you’d expect a lot of in a super car - the NSX runs in silent EV mode, and seems about as pointless as a sun lamp in the desert.
What is noticeable straight away, though, is just how light, sharp and pointed the car is, feeling instantly far more nimble than its rear-driven Ferrari competitors or similarly all-wheel-drive efforts from Lamborghini and Audi.
This lightness of being is a surprise in a vehicle that weighs 1780kg, a figure made larger by all the hybrid tech - and three electric motors, one each for the front wheels and another for the rears - that Honda says will make this the first “Hypercar” to go on sale in Australia.
Those two front motors aren’t just for more pace, of course, as they also provide instantaneous torque vectoring to the front wheels, and as our speed builds you can really feel them working to help balance the car through corners in a superlative fashion.
The largely aluminium and extremely taut body also helps, with a torsional rigidity that Honda claims is 300 percent greater than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a result, the NSX sits beautifully flat through corners, at any speed, and feels diamond solid at all times.
Cleverly, though, it is not as rigid or hard over bumps as many super cars, and as we discover later on public roads, it has a Porsche-like ability to somehow combine supple, superb ride quality with brilliant roadholding. Overall, it’s handling ability is the kind of tour de force you’d hope for from a badge as storied as NSX.
Gradually we are allowed to switch up through the various modes to Sport + and Track, at which point the car changes instantly, the exhaust note sharpening, the steering tightening, the throttle response quickening.
We try a launch-control start on the front straight and laugh uncontrollably as it leaps towards 200km/h in less time than it takes for your bowels to climb into your chest cavity.
The genius of the Honda’s hybrid system is that it uses Tesla-like EV shove to get you off the line, and to fill in the torque hole as the purpose-built 3.5-litre six cylinder’s twin turbos as spooling into action. Honda talks about how quickly it can create initial G forces, and how long it can hold them. When you drive it, all you can talk about is how fast it is.
The company doesn’t want to claim a 0 to 100km/h time, which suggests it might be slightly slower than some competitors, but it will say it’s good for under three seconds, and it definitely feels like it.
After a few laps it’s easy to find yourself attacking the track at speeds you’d never dare in other cars, because the NSX is just so easy to drive quickly, and so confidence inspiring. Yes, the rear will squirrel under all that power, but the torque vectoring will catch you, and everything is easy to correct, simple to manage.
Most super cars feel hugely intimidating on a track like this, and you drive without breathing much of the time, but the Honda simply makes you feel more at home, and more talented than you are. It is an accessible supercar, and yet still quick enough to provide eye-widening frights.
Out on real roads it is almost too fast for public consumption, and it can feel slightly twitchy, but it’s so capable that as long as you don’t go beyond seven tenths you’ll be having a ball.
You do also notice noises that don’t intrude when you’re flat-chat on the track. There’s actually a lot of turbo whoofle and woosh, and some EV-like whining, too, depending on the mode you choose.
While the engine drowns everything else out with its scream when you’re at high revs, the rest of the time it is nowhere near as pleasant to listen to as an Italian or German super car. Or even a Porsche 911, which is a shame.
After a while you don’t even bother putting the windows down to go through tunnels.
What it can do that its competitors can’t is cruise along freeways in quiet comfort, which is a novel idea for a supercar.
Over all, it really is a revelation to drive, and will make every one of its lucky owners giggle foolishly with joy and self-satisfaction.
ANCAP rating: The Honda HSX has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Six airbags, reversing camera, traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, high beam assist, front and rear parking sensors.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING:
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km with roadside assistance
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Honda describes the NSX as a hypercar at a supercar price, and is thus putting it up against such monsters as the La Ferrari and McLaren P1. It’s also correct in its claim that it’s the first hybrid supercar you can actually buy in Australia, which makes it different from more obvious rivals like a Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan or Ferrari 488.
With a price of just $420,000, which won’t climb stratospherically as you add expensive options because there simply aren’t any (aside from metallic paint at $1500 or Andaro aerospace pigment paint at $10,000), it’s not really taking on the big end of super car town.
Realistically, you'd be shopping this against a Tesla Model S, if you’re a tech geek, or the rather more expensive, and significantly more frightening, Ferrari 488.
The Lamborghini Huracan offers similar levels of all-wheel-drive assuredness, but is still a more intimidating machine. On the plus side, it actually sounds like a proper supercar, all the time.
The fact is that most NSX buyers will probably already have one of these others in the garage, but if you were after your first super car and wanted one you could drive every day, without fear or much driver training, the Honda would be your best choice, and best value.
The one factor that should be considered carefully at this end of the market, of course, is looks and visual appeal. Yes, for a while, the Honda will be unique, because it’s possible only a relatively small number - certainly less than 100 - will make it to Australia, as global demand goes berserk.
But while the Japanese might be able to engineer a car that can match the Italians and Germans, it’s hard to argue that they can design one that looks anywhere near as beautiful.
The NSX is very much designed to be an Acura - a machine designed to appeal to American tastes, because that’s where more than 50 percent of the volume will be sold.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Few cars come carrying as much baggage as Honda’s NSX. Its forebear created something entirely new, a Japanese supercar that could match it with Ferrari, and went on to become both a legend, and a halo model for an entire brand.
Its replacement has been a long time coming, and you can tell the company - and its American arm in particular, which really drove the project - has thrown everything at making it a technological tour de force.
All that tech, and the weight that comes with it, could have overwhelmed the purity of the car and spoiled it as a driver’s machine, but it’s a credit to Honda’s ability to build great cars, although few and far between as they may have been in the past decade, that it doesn’t.
This, truly, is a worthy inheritor of the NSX badge. A new kind of "super car", one that anyone can drive and everyone would like to.
And at $420,000, when you consider how collectable it will probably become and how cheap it is compared to its rivals, it’s even safe to describe it as something of a bargain.
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