NOV 05th 2015

First Drive: Honda NSX – Triumphant Return?

Honda NSX Paul Harmer 2016

No one could accuse Honda of not taking the long view over replacing its epochal NSX supercar. Epochal? With its revolutionary, all-aluminium bodyshell and high-revving, high-tech V6 engine, the original NSX changed the supercar terms of trade when it was first launched a quarter of a century ago.

BJ Baldwin on road promo

And when it finally ceased production in 2005, Honda vouchsafed that there would be an NSX replacement, eventually. But ‘eventually’ has turned out to be convoluted, with several false starts including the deep-sixed 2007/8 V10 prototype. So you can imagine the sense of anticipation that’s been building around the world, first at the Detroit Show in January when we first laid eyes on the new NSX and then at the end of last month, at the simultaneous launch in Japan and America, where the car has been designed and will be built.

What a machine it is. Michelle Christensen is the first woman to have been given charge of the felt tip box for a supercar and my hat what a fine job she and her team of eight have made. Initially angular and stealth-fighter like, further study reveals more curves, subtlety and lots of air intakes…

Honda NSX Paul Harmer

Under the skin this is a petrol/electric hybrid, so there’s a 500bhp/406lb ft, twin-turbo, dry-sump, all-alloy 3.5-litre V6, mounted longitudinally behind the rear seats, with a nine-speed, twin-clutch transmission behind that. Between the two sits a 109lb ft electric motor – which helps drive the rear wheels. Up front are two more 54lb ft electric motors driving each front wheel. The entire driveline produces a peak of 573bhp at 6,500rpm and 476lb ft at 2,000rpm. The 1kWh lithium-ion battery is designed to release and recharge its energy as fast as possible and it’s that energy, which smoothes the power from the V6 engine and also provides light switch reaction to the throttle, which Ted Klaus, chief engineer says gives the NSX ‘bragging rights’ amongst its peers.

The cabin’s a tight fit, but once in there, the seats are comfy and supportive, the digital instrument binnacle is busy and complex, but the main data is clearly displayed and there’s a cascade of transmission option buttons running down the centre console. Luggage space is almost nonexistent, but there’s room for a couple of airline carry ons in the boot. You sit as if in a racing car, low in the cabin, with the thick steering mounted high.

Honda NSX Paul Harmer

So that’s where you find us. At Honda’s research and development track in Tochigi, Japan; at the wheel, at last. Systems on, check. Track cleared, affirmative. Apply throttle, go. And with a bellow more bass than shriek, Honda’s new missile streaks onto the track, digital instruments firing up their scales, auto transmission changing up at the 7,500rpm red line. Feels fast, although Klaus won’t say exactly how fast. Scuttlebutt says 0-62mph in under three seconds, a max of 191mph and an average of about 30mpg.

There are four transmission modes, with the Quiet setting doing exactly what it says on the tin, Sport and Sport+ progressively hardening responses and suspension, and Track being the apogee of speed and reaction from the car’s systems. From fast lane changes on Tochigi’s smooth track you can feel the front motors driving and stabilising the chassis and in Sport+ the systems ease the car into the turns and help with a fast exit. It feels mostly natural, even if the steering is slightly divorced. Brakes are conventional steel rotors, but with massive Brembo callipers augmented by the regenerative braking which turns deceleration into battery replenishing electricity. Eye-poppingly effective they are, too.

Honda NSX Paul Harmer

This is a complex car and, with a wide range of responses available from its systems, you’d need several days of testing over a wide variety of roads and conditions to be definitive in a verdict. Those days will come ‘eventually’, but for the moment, the track reveals that the new NSX is quick and responsive, if slightly divorced from the driver, but with potential by the bucket load. Expect supplies to be short and the price to be around £150,000. Form an orderly queue, please.

Photography by Paul Harmer

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