RATED

THE PAST AND PRESENT ARE WORLDS APART, BUT BOTH THESE RED-BADGED BEASTS SHOW THE BRILLIANCE HONDA CAN ACHIEVE

BY DAN PROSSER

YHAVE seen the video. The brown leather loafers; the unfortunate, bright white socks. When Ayrton Senna tested NSX-R at Suzuka in the early 1990s, it was, to him, of promotional activity. He could never have known like me would still be wittering on about that day more quarter of a century later. But itís just too good to forget, One of the great F1 drivers at the height of his powers, chunks out of a very special supercar as though a championship was on the line. Then there are the surgical heeldownchanges, the kerb-hopping four-wheel drifts... the questionable footwear could dull the occasion.

Maybe that Suzuka moment will never be bettered. new Civic Type R and a stunning first-generation NSX-R Pearl Yellow rather than the Championship White of car) sat before me, their keys stuffed into my pocket, this might just be a moment thatíll be worth retelling hence. them, the fifth-generation Civic Type R and the NSX-R, which sits so low you could trip over it, the Type R story. I suppose itís fitting that Hondaís hot hatch should arrive in the same year that its performance brand reaches the quarter century (2017). The dynasty began with the pop-up headlight NSX-R in first car to wear the now famous red ĎHí badge. would have you believe the NSX-Rís normally 3.0-litre V6 develops 206kW, but if that high-revving, motorsport-derived unit isnít actually churning out more than 100 horsepower per litre, Iíll be amazed. Nonetheless, itís unlikely to develop more power than the Civicís turbocharged four-pot, which is rated at 228kW/400Nm. Such is progress.

Talking of progress, the new Type R is such a big improvement on the previous model that itís hard to believe they were separated by just two short years. It has independent rear suspension now, of course, and a Comfort mode that allows the car to ride with remarkable fluidity and control across a bumpy road. It also has very direct steering, a brilliantly effective limited-slip differential, excellent brakes and a playful, adjustable chassis. The engine is mightily strong too, if somewhat laggy, and the seating position is close to being perfect. Itís our 2018 Performance Car of the Year for a reason.

It is frustrating that you canít couple the slack dampers with a more aggressive powertrain setting and the showy, try-hard styling does take some of the shine off (the NSX-Rís uncluttered, authentic treatment makes the Civic look a bit daft, I reckon), but overall this is truly one of todayís hot hatch greats. Hondaís Type R brand is in a very good place indeed.

But what a spectacular place it was back in 1992, before any of us really knew what Type R stood for. The mid-engined NSX had been around for a couple of years already, its engineers having worked extremely hard to make it both more rewarding to drive than the equivalent Ferrari Ė the unloved 348 Ė and more usable every day, Porsche 911 style.

There was, therefore, an awful lot of motorsport precision and agility to be dialled back in. Hondaís engineers started by stripping out as much weight as they could get away with, tearing out sound deadening and the spare wheel, and replacing the standard chairs with carbon-kevlar Recaro buckets. Lightweight Enkei wheels, meanwhile, helped to reduce unsprung mass. The total weight loss was more than 100kg so the NSX-R sat at the kerb at a flyweight 1230kg.

IF THAT HIGH-REVVING, MOTORSPORTDERIVED ENGINE ISNí T ACTUALLY CHURNING OUT MORE THAN 100 HORSEPOWER PER LITRE, Ií LL BE AMAZED

WHATEVER SPARK IT WAS THAT CREATED THE SUPERB NSX-R MORE THAN 25 YEARS AGO, HONDA HAS NOT YET LET IT GO OUT

The chassis was stiffened with a couple of additional braces and the spring and damper rates went up. Not just by a bit: the front springs were more than twice as stiff as the standard carís, the rears almost half as firm again. (Contemporary reviewers reckoned the NSX-R was actually too stiff, which, you might imagine, says more about the era than the car itself.)

5 TYPE R REVELATIONS

01 INTEGRA (DC2)

Often called the best front-wheel drive performance car ever, the DC2-series Integra Type R marries an intoxicating drivetrain with an agile, playful chassis and sweet steering.

02 INTEGRA (DC5)

The later DC5-series Integra Type R is faster and more powerful than the DC2, but it has never been quite as brilliant to drive. Still, ití no hack and certainly worthy of its place here.

03 ACCORD (CH1)

Honda applied the Type R principles to its sedan to great effect. A high-revving engine and uprated chassis made it entertaining and practical, but sadly, it didní come to Australia.

04 CIVIC (EK9)

The first Civic Type R was another hot Honda that never officially came to Oz, although a few enthusiasts have imported them since. Its buzzy 1.6-litre engine was good for 136kW.

05 CIVIC (FK2)

The previous-generation Civic was arguably the most extreme hot hatch before the current one. It had 228kW, a top speed of 270km/h and a bone-crushing ride.

The VTEC V6 was blueprinted, ensuring the finest tolerances possible, and the gear ratios were shortened. Between November 1992 and September 1995, just 483 NSX-Rs were built. The model never officially came to Australia, but you might (and we really mean might) find one thatís been imported if you know the right people. This particular car is an immaculate example, despite its 106,000km on the clock.

It looks sensational out in the wild too, that long rear section reaching backwards like the deck of an aircraft carrier, the contrasting black roof mimicking the canopy of a fighter jet. This is a car with a military sense of purpose. The cabin is more single-minded still, the dashboard wrapped in suede and the steering wheel a gorgeous, non-airbag, thin-rimmed Momo item. You look beyond the rim to see the instrument binnacle, which houses the clearest dials I have encountered: black faces, crisp white markings, bright yellow needles.

Itís a wonderful cabin, made all the more inviting by incredible visibility. Arrow-thin A-pillars, an impossibly low scuttle and clear over-the-shoulder vision mean you see even more around you than you do in the Civic. On the move, you feel as though you can watch the tarmac rush directly beneath the front wheels, so good is forward visibility. Itís an extraordinary thing and it makes you realise why so many modern supercars feel so big on the road: you canít see out of the bloody things.

Once the NSX-R is rolling, you become aware of just how stiff it is. And not just by 1992 standards, either, when most other high-performance cars had rangy, long-travel suspension, but by todayís jarring, big-wheeled standards. Those contemporary reviewers werenít wrong: 25 years ago, the tough ride must have felt like rattling down the Spanish Steps on a hospital stretcher.

Blessedly, the ride does improve with a little pace and there is enough damping quality to ensure the body remains relatively settled on bumpier sections. The car feels busy, but never like it wants to leap off the road surface. The trade-off is rock-solid body control on smoother sections and a flat-bodied stance while cornering.

The unassisted steering, meanwhile, is utterly brilliant. In low-speed bends, you need to use a little muscle to keep the lock on, but with the wheel fidgeting and nudging this way and that in your hands, you feel every tiny slip and scrub from the front tyres. At higher speeds, you simply hold the wheel in a fingertip grip and allow it to patter busily, then gently pour in a little lock to tip the car into a flowing bend. That sort of tactility is completely lost on modern supercars.

The brakes are plenty strong enough and thereís good traction, too. Itís hard to say if itís the steering that steals the show, or the drivetrain. The power and torque figures donít promise an awful lot but, out on the road, the NSX-R feels every bit as quick as a focused supercar should. The V6 doesnít do much at low engine speeds, but it switches over to the lumpier cam at around 6000rpm and really gets going. Rather than snap around to the limiter, it pulls forcefully and insistently through long ratios to the far side of 8000rpm, the car whipping along quicker as the gnashing from the valve train intensifies and the exhaust note rasps harder and harder.

Maybe itís the lovely manual gearshift that steals the show. The Civic has a sweet shift, too, although it isnít as addictive. The hot hatch isnít half as memorable as the supercar overall, of course, but it does demonstrate an important point: whatever spark it was that created the superb NSX-R more than 25 years ago, Honda has not yet let it go out.

The Specs

Past and present heroes