After comparing Honda and Nissan's top performance cars in 2002, which did we think deserved the top spot?

This Autocar match-up proved there was a multitude of approaches to creating a Japanese performance car. 

In the blue corner, a facelifted version of Honda’s Ayrton Senna-blessed, mid-engined supercar. In the silver corner, the R34 iteration of Nissan’s hightech, four-wheel-drive grand tourer.

Before this test, Chris Harris, charged with refereeing, admitted he would have plumped for Godzilla, with its hissing overboost and four driven Bridgestones. The NSX’s legacy meant little to him, he said, because he’d been raised on Gran Turismo and naturally gravitated towards turbo-nutter rockets.

The revised NSX came with mild cosmetic tweaks, revised suspension, larger tyres and a lower price than before, at £59,995. But the same 3179cc V6 sat longitudinally between the axles and produced a claimed 276bhp at 7300rpm and 224lb ft at 5300rpm.

The £54,000 Skyline GT-R registered the same 276bhp on the dyno, this time at 6800rpm, but pummelled the Honda for torque, deploying 293lb ft at 4400rpm through its computer-controlled four-wheel drive.

Harris headed to Wales, instantly impressed by the Honda’s cruising comfort and ride quality. “It never crashes or thumps too hard into stuff and adds a genuine GT edge,” he wrote.

The Honda’s strengths were thrown into sharp contrast by the GT-R: “It has long been a motorway torture tool but is worse than I recall when I finally do switch. The ride is impossibly hard – no, that’s untrue: it doesn’t ride at all.”

But deeper into Wales, the GT-R came into its own: “Unrelenting firmness at a cruise translates into race-car body control on a sumptuous mix of A-roads and B-roads. It’s the Nissan engineers’ take on four-wheel drive that sets it apart from anything else. This should be a chassis configuration which promotes grip and traction; designed to eliminate both under and oversteer and generally rid the world of sideways motoring. Yet the four-wheel-drive Skyline plays hooligan longer and harder than just about any other car on sale, because it’s a rear-driver in drag.”

A taste for oversteer counted against the Nissan in other ways: “It steers accurately enough but desperately wants you to prod the throttle a little too hard, just so it can show off its corrective magic, and that robs it of the fluency truly great road cars summon up to string corners together.” 

It was a fluency the NSX taught its rival all about: “The NSX is quite simply a superior means of covering ground promptly and enjoyably. It all starts with that exceptional V6. It still displaces 3.2 litres, but Honda has somehow managed to coax nearly a second out of the claimed standing quarter-mile time. The car is no lighter than before, so it’s fair to assume that the NSX has been telling porkies in the dyno room.

“It’s a sensational drivetrain: one that draws and stands comparison with the very best efforts from Italy. The NSX’s low-speed manners seem quite ordinary; it’s anything but when you open the throttles wide, though. Then it’s all induction noise – a gorgeous stream from just behind the passenger’s head, and one that builds with the power delivery until an 8000rpm cut-off. You extend it just for the thrill.”

Despite its poor electrically assisted steering, the NSX got Harris’s nod: “The Skyline still has the odd trick up it sleeve, but it’s feeling old in this company. The NSX remains an exemplary piece of precision engineering, honed into a fine driving experience – one whose qualities have outlasted a generation of less well-conceived rivals.”

3 April 2002

Previous Throwback Thursdays

15 April 1960 - Porsche's four-cylinder roots

17 August 2004 - The Honda NSX's last hurrah

11 October 1986 - Hyundai's second UK market foray

15 March 1980 - Triumph's TR7 Drophead

13 February 1991 - Mercedes F100 predicts future car technology

16 April 1997 - A modern 'Blower' Bentley 

19 June 1991 - Volkswagen Polo G40 tested

12 April 1946 - BMW's K4 streamliner

25 October 1989 - Ford Fiesta XR2i vs Peugeot 205 GTi 

30 April 1965 - Car racing on the Isle of Man 

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Our Verdict

Honda NSX

Honda’s super-sports icon is reborn as a ground-breaking hybrid

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