A shriek of rubber, a thump and three cars are shorter. The Honda NSX caused that, the sight of it approaching having the lead driver at the junction temporarily lose his senses and stop quickly. The other two cars behind didn’t. Their surprise is perhaps understandable, the NSX has been a long time coming, from the early hints that Honda might be resurrecting the badge from the early motor show concepts, and indeed since the badge graced a car itself. Nick Robinson, NSX dynamic development leader describes that original car as disruptive, Honda’s take on the sportscar genre, which has had resonance and a legacy that’s remained to this day.
The original New Sports eXperiment is no longer experimental, even if Robinson admits that to succeed in a heavily populated and very competitive marketplace it has to remain different, not disruptive then, but try telling that to the three drivers exchanging insurance details. The new NSX then is a New Sports eXperience, a car that defies marketplace convention. Just reading the specification underlines that. A 507bhp, 550Nm twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 is supplemented by a direct drive 48bhp, 148Nm electric motor, effectively reducing the effects of any turbo lag, while a pair of motors work on the front axle to give a torque vectoring effect and four-wheel drive. Those front electric motors boast 37bhp and 73Nm each. That electrical assistance is all powered by a suitcase-sized lithium ion battery pack sat upright behind the passenger compartment, fore of that all-new 75-degree V twin-turbo, mid-mounted V6.
Combined the output isn’t simply a mere addition of all those numbers, Yasuhide Sakamoto, Honda assistant large project leader, powertain, shrugging apologetically when trying to describe the complex formula that sees Honda quoting a system output of 581bhp and 646Nm. Plenty then, though one number nobody’s prepared to quote is an official 0-100kph time, though quietly they’re saying that internal tests have it beating Porsche’s 911 Turbo. Let’s just say 3.0 seconds and leave it at that, then. It feels every bit as quick as that and more, too, the NSX might be billed as a sportscar but one full-bore launch leaves you in little doubt it’s got supercar pace.
It’s easy too, just hold the big rotary centre console dial to the right for four seconds to access Track mode, hold on the brake, pin the accelerator and let go. The next few seconds deliver mind-scrambling pace, the NSX’s fiendishly complex drivetrain dialling up the intensity to the maximum and making perfect use of all its traction and pace. It also manages to mask its not insubstantial bulk remarkably well, too, the nine-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission fires through its nine ratios quicker than even Senna could go through the six in the original, in that heel-and-toe footwell video.
It’s Honda’s own gearbox, remarkable given the four years it’s taken the company to build the NSX, even more so when you consider its got an all-new engine, mounted longitudinally rather then transversely like the original development cars, the 75-degree V featuring to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.
The NSX might be billed as a sportscar but one full-bore launch leaves you in little doubt it’s got supercar pace.
Fast then, relentlessly so, but there’s a nagging doubt that all that complex hardware, and admittedly obsessive attention to detail, nestled under the sharp-suited and surprisingly compact exterior will dominate the driving experience — in the wrong way. Portugal’s Estoril track quickly quells that, the fast, technical track offering up a mix of very fast, long corners as well as some big stops and tight switchbacks. Throw in some elevation changes and if the NSX has any deficiencies they’ll definitely be shown up here.
The first corner exiting the pit lane demands a late downhill brake, before hanging on for what seems like a ridiculously distant apex rising uphill to the right. The NSX’s front axle tucks in with conviction, the nose resolute, the torque vectoring effect on the front axle, allied to the individually braking wheels via Active Handling Assist firing the NSX towards that apex, before punching it up the short straight to the next bend. The brakes, optional carbon ceramic discs here, deliver huge stopping power, the pedal offering good feel despite the fact it’s a brake by wire set-up as a result of the hybrid system’s regenerative needs. The next bend’s a left, again late apex, leading to a flat right and a long straight before a brutal stop to take a long left-hander. Half a lap in and the NSX has already impressed, the biggest compliment possible for the drivetrain being that it feels conventional, the fear of a technical overbearing overload not materialising, Robinson admitting that was key to the car’s development.
The steering, like the original NSX, is an electrically assisted system, its weighting measured, its response immediate.
Over the initial shock of the relentless pace on offer, the NSX reveals a fluidity and balance that’s enticing and engaging. It’s possible to lean on that front axle before bringing the power into play and creating yaw at the rear. You’ll need to be in Track mode to do so, lifting the thresholds of the stability and traction systems to allow it, but the NSX’s chassis is playful, its limits easily exploitable. It’s possible then to have as much lock on as you like exiting a bend, the NSX not just allowing such silliness, but goading you to do so. Keep it tidier and the speed it’ll carry is remarkable, managing its mass very effectively, the magnetic dampers offering fine control, the chassis balance neutral unless deliberately provoked. You’d swear the twin-turbo V6 were naturally aspirated given its lack of lag, the torque-filling effect of the electric motor mounted to it creating that deception, the noise, above 4,500rpm at least, a scintillating, authentic howl even if some of it’s piped into the cabin via Intake Sound Control and given full voice by Active Exhaust Valves.
The steering, like the original NSX is an electrically assisted system, its weighting measured, its response immediate while there’s even a modicum of what might pass as feel at the rim. The wheel itself is a many-shaped, multi-material form that’s far from round, looking odd, cumbersome even, but working beautifully in reality, feeling natural in your hands. The seats, too, hold on tightly, Honda’s attention to detail in the actual fit of the car to the driver being impeccable, even if the finish feels a little bit low-rent and mainstream Honda for a car that’s in a price parity with Porsches and McLarens. It just doesn’t feel special enough in places, the biggest oversights being the woeful sat-nav, and the cheap feeling and sounding paddle shifters. It’s surprising, too, that a technically driven company like Honda doesn’t offer a head-up display system, either.
There’s no ability to individualise elements from the four different driving modes. The hybrid-intense Quiet mode only allows very short bursts of electricity alone driving, the Sport, Sport+ and Track modes adding intensity and speed to elements of the dynamic and powertrain make-up that would be better if elements could be separated out.
Track mode’s intense gearshifts, throttle mapping is not possible without also having the most intense suspension setting, and the electronic stability and traction control’s thresholds raised, which isn’t ideal when you want all the immediacy of the drivetrain and the road’s less than perfect. Lesser settings leave the engine’s note somewhat lacking, the 3.5-litre V6’s voice short of character until there’s 4,500rpm or more on the rev counter. It’s on the to-do list say Honda’s people, so watch this space.
The finish feels a little bit low-rent and mainstream Honda for a car that’s in a price parity with Porsches...
Until then, it’s difficult not to see the NSX as disruptive as its predecessor, it taking convention and mixing it up, as indeed it arguably needs to, given the marketplace where it finds itself competing. It’s impressive both because of its technical arsenal as well as in spite of it, delivering a surprisingly organic, natural driving experience. That’s true of the original, the NSX’s legacy filtering through to this all-new car, it’s just a shame it’s taken so long to get here.