After the multiple concept cars and prototype spy shots and a complete reboot of the programme halfway through, Honda has finally produced a driveable new-generation NSX that you can buy. Or will be able to buy, once the car goes into production in the US next spring or thereabouts – as long as there are no more gremlins to sort out.
Our Honda NSX test car spent half of our two-day drive in northern California partially brain-fried by a limp-home mode triggered by the rev limiter. The distraught engineers corrected that problem and the rest of the time the NSX revealed itself to be a mid-engined track slayer very much in the Japanese bushido mode of quiet but swift competence. Honda has been out of the sports car arena for some time, so it’s good to see the company back in the game.
Those familiar with the Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid will recognise elements of its make-up in the NSX. Up front are two electric motors with a combined output of 72bhp. These provide all-wheel-drive tractability, EV-mode stealth and torque vectoring capability through their overdriven planetary gearsets.
In the back, wedged between the 500bhp twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 and its nine-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, is a third, 50bhp motor that helps the engine to deliver low-speed torque while it waits for the boost to build to its 1.05bar peak. Combined real-world power output is 573bhp – enough to be considered worthy of the supercar badge.
What's it like?
All that hardware plus a lithium ion battery pack, magnetorheological suspension and lots of computers are stuffed into an aluminum spaceframe under a bodyshell of purposeful angularity and many heat-exchanger holes.
With a price expected to land north of £120,000 in the UK, the Honda NSX is going to seem a world apart in a showroom full of sub-£30,000 family cars and runabouts, but it shows how technology is trickling down. What was once exclusively hypercar tech will eventually be in a Jazz. The NSX is a mid-point stopover.
With its gloriously odd 75deg bank angle, the V6 has a direct lineage to past Honda racing programmes, a wonderful fact barely hinted at by the four small exhaust pipes clustered at the back. The car’s creators say it doesn’t need larger plumbing, but one could argue the point.
The NSX is too quiet, even with a meticulously engineered sound tube running off the intake to the cabin and controlled by its own electronic throttle body off a Japanese kei car. The engine race-revs on start-up like a Ferrari, but it lacks the aural drama that makes ears prick up as you drive down the high street. Okay, not every sports car has to be obnoxiously Latin, but a little more bella voce would be welcome.
A central rotary switch controls the four driving modes, starting with Quiet, the fuel-saver mode that allows the car to creep off using electric power only up to 40mph if you’re feather-light on the pedal. We don’t have fuel consumption figures from the European test yet, but the NSX is expected to average about 17mpg when the US test figures are released, with cruising economy in the region of 20mpg.
One rung up is Sport mode, which is for HR-V drivers who have just won the lottery. The steering is very fast but much too light in this mode, and it can become tricky to plot a smooth and accurate course at high speeds. But if you like to take calls on your traffic-laden slog into the office, this is the commuting mode.
Switching to Sport-Plus finally brings appropriate steering heft and rotates the virtual rev counter to put the redline closer to high noon. Honda doesn’t give you à la carte control, as you get with Audi’s Individual setting or BMW’s many mode buttons. That’s a pity. The NSX would benefit from customisable settings so drivers can have what they want in any mode.
Track mode is where the NSX fully reveals itself as a McLaren 570S hunter, especially if you’re driving on the optional (but short-lived) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. The rabid acceleration out of corners is the most noticeable benefit of the hybrid system, as the front motors help to tug the 1725kg car up to silly speeds. Our car had optional carbon-ceramic brakes; pedal response is firm and the braking force is minutely adjustable.
The lump intruding into the single small boot at the rear of the car is the new nine-speed transmission, developed specifically for the NSX to be as short as possible to centralise the mass. You can shift it manually with paddles, but it’s easy to get lost in the maze of short ratios and the engine spins so energetically to the redline that triggering the limiter is a frequent nuisance.
There are none of the prominent shift lights that you get on a Ferrari. Instead, the revcounter simply flashes red when you’re close to the end, a distinction you can easily miss if your eyes are fixed on the road.
So it’s best to leave the transmission in Drive and let the computer handle it. In Track mode, we never found the programming wanting, the car always in the right gear to make the magic happen. As with so many elements of the NSX, this is a hint of the future, when all transmission control will come down to a couple of buttons.
Honda didn’t want the steering wheel to squirm in your hands, so it has gone for a GT-style approach in which the steering filters out most of the impacts, letting just enough data through to provide a sense of the g-forces. Even so, on the standard Continental ContiSportContact tyres, the understeer is pronounced.
The Ohio-based engineering and test team say some push is deliberate, a nod to the wide range of driving abilities expected. As you go up the mode ladder to Track, the understeer diminishes as the torque vectoring ramps up. In Track, on the optional Michelins and with the hovering stability control turned off, the NSX feels like it’ll run with all the cars in its price class, from a Porsche 911 Turbo to an Audi R8.
You open the doors with pull sticks of the kind found on Aston Martins. The expansive seats are mostly leather, with spinal strips of grippy Alcantara. They’re sited low, the centre console rising between them with the Park-Drive-Reverse buttons and the e-brake button. Arcs of aluminium trim provide the brightwork, carbonfibre-like inserts on the steering wheel speak of the car’s mission, and a big start button with red text beckons your finger.
Beyond the small glovebox, there’s limited storage space and no obvious parking spot for your mobile phone. The central infotainment screen is straight from Honda’s parts bin and the instrument cluster is equally conventional, with a large central rev counter and various hybrid-related gauges flashed on a TFT screen but flanked by analogue fuel and temperature dials.
The engineers worked hard to keep the A-pillars slim, but the good visibility still doesn’t quite match that of the original NSX. On the new NSX, a 12mm-thick slab of glass, the thickest of any Honda production car, separates the cockpit from the engine compartment.
It’s a move designed to allow the piped-in engine noise to prevail. The sounds you hear are ones of cadenced technical proficiency, plus the sighing of the compressors. However, they are not thrilling.
With the new NSX, all the tools are there for a historic supercar, save for the drama that we expect from such vehicles. Future versions, including a rumoured roadster and Type R, will change that, hopefully. Meanwhile, Honda, welcome back to the fight.
Location California, US; On sale Spring 2016; Price £120,000 (est); Engine V6, 3493cc, twin-turbo, petrol, plus 3 electric motors; Power 500bhp at 7500rpm (petrol); Torque 406lb ft at 2000rpm (petrol); Combined system output 573bhp; 0-60mph 2.9sec; Top speed 191mph; Kerb weight 1725kg; Gearbox 9-spd dual-clutch automatic; Economy 17-20mpg (est); CO2/tax band na