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.