First DriveThe digital supercar made to feel analogue. The new Honda NSX is different to the rest, but entirely compelling in its own way
First DriveThe all-new Honda NSX is swift and accomplished in a quietly confident kind of way. Switched to Track mode, it's a force to be reckoned with
Patience really is a virtue in this game. We first drove Honda’s magnificent factory-tweaked NSX in Japan in 2002, then again back in Britain in unofficial ‘grey’ import form later that year, yet we’re still waiting for Honda to give the green light to proper UK-supplied NSX Type-Rs. You can understand the lack of urgency when you consider that Honda shifts just 20 NSXs annually in the UK, but that number could potentially double if Honda announces the Type-R’s arrival.
The decision is expected to be made in May, and I’m sure that, like me, you’re desperate for that to happen, even if you’re not struck on the Championship White paint that all cars would wear. In spite of what Chris Harris said in his column last week, most cars too new to appear in an episode of Heartbeat really do look rubbish in white. But the R pulls it off magnificently, wheels and all, thanks in no small part to the black roof, pillars and spoiler that break up any slab-sided effect.
The basic silhouette is now 14 years old and looks it, despite going under the surgeon’s knife two years ago to have the old-fashioned pop-up lamps replaced by bubble-top jobs. It’s lithe, though, appearing both elegant and delicate beside more chunky modern machinery and, in this case, has a decent dollop of authentic Japanese street-racing charm.
The chances of seeing a regular NSX in white are next to zero, but you’ll be able to identify the Type-R by the red H emblem adorning the nose. It lies just ahead of the vented carbonfibre bonnet which, together with a hollow rear spoiler made from the same stuff, a lighter battery and the elimination of kit such as the central locking system, helps chop around 145kg from the standard car’s 1445kg kerbweight. That front scoop is more than just window dressing, too. It’s part of a series of aerodynamic tweaks, including a rear diffuser, that are claimed to keep the Type-R welded to the tarmac at high speed.
Peer inside and the fantastic Recaro bucket seats, titanium gearknob and yellow instrument dials should remove any trace of doubt over the R’s game plan, although the presence of air conditioning and electric seat motors seem odd given the weight savings made elsewhere. Sadly, the ‘grey’ car’s lovely Momo steering wheel has bitten the bullet to make way for an airbag-equipped item.
But you’ll forget that, and the slightly high-set seat, the moment you turn the key. Doing so opens the floodgates and unleashes a rich torrent of mechanical noise into the cabin. Engine tweaks are limited to blueprinting the internals, so Honda quotes the same ridiculously pessimistic 276bhp as it does for the standard car (torque is up 4lb ft to 224lb ft) but we’d put money on it making more.
Gear ratios are the same, too, but a lower final drive and that weight-saving program result in a tangible jump in performance over the 170mph and 5.7sec to 60mph claimed for the standard car. Talk is of a 4.8sec potential, but what really matters is that it feels deliciously fast as you slice up and down the six-speed manual ’box. It also sounds even better than before as the needle howls towards the number eight on the left-hand dial, accompanied by a frenzied crescendo of induction and exhaust rasp.
We weren’t able to try the NSX on the sort of nasty British A- and B-roads that have the potential to reveal an unpleasant side to stiffly set-up cars but, on track, the uprated springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and new bushes work brilliantly, making this a car in which even mildly handy drivers can lap quickly and confidently. Pedal spacing is ideal for heel and toe work and the ventilated brake discs feel massively powerful, hauling the R down from big speeds time and again without signs of fade.
But even better is the steering – unassisted on the R and hugely heavy when parking – which demands a fair amount of arm work even at speed, but rewards with an incredibly detailed and uninterrupted dialogue between you and the front wheels, leaving you in absolutely no doubt about events at the sharp end.
At a time when too many manufacturers are trying to fob us off with synthesised feel for the sake of saving the odd mile per gallon, it’s this single aspect of the Type-R that leaves the most lasting, and welcome, impression.
So incredibly capable is the chassis, though, that you just know it could handle a whole lot more grunt. Front-end bite from the special Bridgestone RE070s is phenomenal in the dry and, so good is the traction, you can safely employ full noise exiting quicker corners without unsettling the rears. The same technique on second-gear turns reveals the Type-R to be just as happy drifting as the NSX always was. The legality of those boots for European applications is still unclear: we genuinely hope they get the nod.
As you’d expect, there’ll be a premium to pay for all this extra ability. Full prices are still guesswork, but reckon on £75,000 for the R against £60,000 for a regular NSX. So good was the standard BMW M3 that we questioned the sanity of someone willing to pay over £60k for a CSL. Until we drove one – then its 50 per cent mark-up seemed almost justifiable.
A decade and a half after we drove our first one, the standard NSX still works as one of the most usable, affordable supercars on sale, but we have absolutely no qualms recommending you dig deeper for the Type-R. For all its honing, it’s still as usable as a regular NSX, and what little you lose in practicality you more than regain in sheer dynamism. All at a price little higher than you’d have paid for a standard car three years ago.
In terms of rivals, only Porsche’s hard-core 911 GT3 matches the Honda on price, ability, focus and sheer aural pleasure. Subjectively, the Porsche feels the swifter, but maintaining that pace certainly requires more learning, commitment and good old-fashioned skill.
If Honda does give the okay to sales in the UK, official Type-Rs could be available within a few months. We know we’re not alone in sincerely hoping that happens.