Honda NSX

Honda’s most exciting car in two decades is ready, but will it bother the supercar elite?

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

ONLY a proper supercar can make you swear involuntarily, and produce actual shock and phwoar at its performance. The new and longawaited Honda NSX is a proper supercar, then, as we’d dared to hope it would be, despite being powered by a mere V6 (and three other motors, including one for each front wheel).

Honda sprung a surprise drive of the new NSX at its Tochigi proving ground before the Tokyo Motor Show and Wheels was the first one out of the pits onto the high-speed bowl.

Our first impression was of dazzling, dizzying speed, but the “holy shit” moment came halfway through the second lap when my bowing-even-while-seated co-pilot insisted I slow down to 50km/h on the straight, switch back from manual mode to Drive and then plant it.

The combination of the fulltorque- torque-from-zero-revs shove of the three electric motors with a typically howling Honda engine – an all-new 3.5-litre, twinturbo V6 – is enough to push the swear words out of your chest along with all your oxygen. The delighted Japanese engineer in the passenger seat responded to my rude outburst only with, “Yes, thank you. Thank you!”

Just how fast the NSX is Honda won’t say exactly, yet, but its claims of superiority over what it considers rivals – Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8 V10 and Ferrari 458 – are intriguing.

Chief engineer Ted Klaus says 0-100km/h times are pointless because “everyone measures them in different ways”, which is not entirely true, and also claims that numbers aren’t important, yet he’s happy to say his car is faster than all three (the Porsche gets to 100km/h in a claimed 3.2sec).

He’s also keen to claim that the NSX is up to 300 percent more torsionally stiff than its competitors, an astonishing figure. So is it faster than the

FIRSTDRIVES SPECS

Model Engine Max engine power Max engine torque Max system power Max system torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Honda NSX 3493cc V6 (75°) dohc, 24v, TT + 3 electric motors 375kW @ 6500-7500rpm 500Nm @ 2000-6000rpm 427kW @ 7500rpm 646Nm @ 1500rpm 9-speed dual-clutch 1725kg 3.0sec (estimated) Not available $250,000 (estimated) Late 2016

new Ferrari, the 488 GTB? “Wow, that thing’s a beast, huh?” the enthusiastic American nods.

Translation: “We really didn’t expect them to make a car that fast, so we’ll keep comparing ourselves to the 458 instead, thanks very much.”

That means the NSX , with its combined total of 427kW and 646Nm in a car we now know weighs 1725kg, is probably capable of something near three seconds flat, but you can bet it’s quick to 200km/h as well.

The entirely new 75-degree, 3.5-litre bent six features pistons with oil-cooling galleries, in-cylinder direct injection and port injection, and a dry sump system, with everything focused on delivering a low centre of gravity (its COG is said to be a whole 25mm lower than the original NSX). On its own it makes an impressive 375kW and 500Nm.

A crankshaft-mounted Direct Drive electric motor provides another 148Nm of shove from the rear, while a Twin Motor Unit apportions 73Nm to each of the front wheels. Just behind the passenger’s seat is an Intelligent

We reached 180km/h halfway into the first deeply banked bend with ease

Power Unit (IPU) providing the computing grunt to apportion all this power appropriately.

The whole thing runs through a new nine-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is basically a seven-speed gearbox with a launch gear and an overdrive.

Then there’s the construction, which features super-slim A-pillars, world-first “ablation-cast aluminium” and “3DQ ultra-hightensile steel”. The build is said to be “aluminium intensive”, but there’s also plenty of high-strength steel and a carbonfibre floor panel, while buyers can choose between an aluminium or carbon roof. In short, it sounds expensive, but what’s it like to pilot this motoring moon-shot?

“We’re very sorry, but because there are so many drivers here from around the world we’ve had to impose a speed limit of 180km/h.” This announcement from a deeply bowing Honda official is greeted with slightly stifled titters. Even when they’re being mildly racist and suggesting that foreigners can’t drive, the Japanese are polite about it.

Obviously, 180km/h sounded like it would be fast enough to give us a reasonable impression of what the car can do, but in actual fact it’s a number we reached halfway into the first deeply banked bend, with staggering, stupid ease.

Honda had also speed-limited the software so we couldn’t just sneak past 180, and closer to the 310km/h top whack.

Klaus says the NSX is about more than numbers, which is what people always say when theirs aren’t the biggest, but he has a point, because it’s what lies beneath Honda’s vitally important halo supercar that makes it genuinely unique, and should make it ballistic on the road.

Its design brief was to be what its predecessor was – NSX stands for New Sports eXperience – an every-day supercar that can be driven with ease by anyone, but one that will “respond vividly to the most skilful drivers’ inputs”.

The shape of the NSX, which has graced multiple motorshow stands for what feels like the past 50 years, may not be as exciting as a 458 or as recognisably classic as a 911, but it looks sharp enough to slice tarmac and is prettier in the metal than in photos. It’s at its best from the rear, where you can clock the tricky-looking engine through a glass panel and its low, meanlooking exhausts poking out of a properly supercar-spec diffuser.

You can bet, though, that the final shape is less about style and more about the aero package, and it feels fantastically planted to the ground, even at just over 180km/h.

The steering also feels race-car heavy and pointed at the same time, and is reminiscent of the

01 SEE TECH; FEEL TECH

Cockpit feels airy and very cabforward, Carbonfibre trim sections and slivers of metal help give it a suitably modern and techy look, while the instrument cluster has an adaptable TFT display. The high centre tunnel houses the powertrain electronics. cab forward, much like the old car. cab

02 HIGH FIBRE DIET

The new space-frame structure, joined by screws, welding, and lots of adhesive, is described as aluminium-intensive. There’s also high-strength steel in the super-thin A-pillars and a carbonfibre floor panel. A carbonfibre roof is optional. space joinedby self-piercing rivets, newspace-

03 NINE OF THE BEST

Transmission is a nine-speed to the engine via an electric motor. That motor delivers 35kW and 148Nm. It adds power to the transmission’s input, but not beyond the engine’s total output.

It also acts as a generator during transmission braking. p dual-clutch unit that’s coupled

04 FLICKING A WIDER VEE

NSX’s 3.5-litre V6 runs a wide of gravity. Both direct and port injection are used, along with variable valve timing and a pair of single-scroll turbos. Total engine output is 375kW between 6500 and 7500rpm; max torque is 500Nm between 2000 and 6000rpm. 75-degree angle to lower its center

Lexus LFA, which is basically the car Honda realised it didn’t want to build, back when the NSX was also set to be a front-engined V10 GT car that would have cost three arms and a leg, and ended up losing the company money.

The new NSX is entirely unlike any Honda I’ve ever driven, and feels properly futuristic inside, with a 3D-gaming style dash layout, lots of funky buttons, plenty of headroom (for those tall US buyers) and excellent vision.

What it also promises, with its so-called Super Handling All- Wheel Drive, is something that again prompts the word ‘unique’.

Klaus says its ability to use the motors inside each front wheel to provide a kind of direct-feed torque-vectoring system with electronic yaw control will deliver a whole new kind of cornering experience.

“It will give you the kind of precise line-tracing that will be just amazing; you will look at the apex with your eyes and the car will follow – this is what we mean when we say cornering like it’s on rails,” he enthuses. “What we’re looking at here is a whole new kind of car.”

It’s a bold claim, and one we can’t wait to test on the road, but our track experience certainly suggests that the new gearbox is super-slick, the acceleration is remarkable to the point of profanity, with the numbers on the colourful digital speedo blurring in an appropriately Japanime-style, and the whole car feels compellingly complete, solid and technologically advanced.

Combining the modern, electro-shock shove of a Tesla with the famous screaming grunt of a Honda engine makes for a vehicle that could, just possibly, be worth all the waiting.

There are those who’ll question whether this can be a worthy successor to the original NSX, which genuinely did change the supercar playing field, because it’s now being largely designed and developed by Americans, but that’s a flawed theory.

The Japanese who work at Honda HQ don’t treat their jobs as merely a form of employment.

They – as most people in Japan do – think of their work as a higher calling, and their company as kind of benevolent deity. It’s clear, from the excitement the locals were displaying in Tochigi, that this will be a car the whole of Honda will be proud of, and it needs to be, because they’ve been shorter on excitement than a Downton Abbey marathon for years now.

It’s a shame that, like BMW’s similarly engineered solution to the future, the NSX’s hybrid nature means it will never sound like a proper supercar. If you leave it in its default ‘quiet’ mode it will cut the engine out entirely and tootle off the line in full electric mode, which is all wrong in a car with this legendary status. Sport+ and Track seem more suitable and give you the full whack from both electric and ICE sources, as well as stiffening the Ferrari-style magnetic dampers and sharpening the steering.

In this mode there is at least some old-school screaming from the V6 and some whistling from the turbos, but it’s never going to drown out the 458 next to you at the lights.

Australian buyers, some of whom have already slapped down deposits without even seeing the specs – or the still unannounced price, which we’re tipping will be more than $250,000 – will be able to find out next year whether the new NSX lives up to all the hype.

I’d swear, loudly, that they’re going to love it.

PLUS & MINUS

Three motors plus battery adds weight; lacks proper supercar roar Feels fast and futuristic; trick all-wheel-drive system; techy interior

Stars, stripes, halo

It might seem surprising that the NSX, the most Japanese of supercars, has been designed in Marysville, Ohio, and is very much the baby of a big, hokey bloke called Ted, but there’s a story behind that.

Sources tell us that Honda Japan, which seems to have been focused on being as unexciting as possible for the past decade, wanted nothing to do with the NSX project, but Honda America was determined to have a new halo car, and threatened to go it alone if necessary.

The company’s new CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, is delighted with the result, as he’s determined to make Honda fun again.

The NSX is a great start, and you can expect an even more exciting R version in the near future.

There is at least some old-school screaming from the V6 and some whistling from the turbos, but it’s never going to drown out a Ferrari 458

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Audi R8 V10 $365,000 (estimated)

Realistically, Ferrari’s 488 GTB and Porsche’s 911 Turbo are going to be too quick for the new NSX, but the Audi would give Honda a fairer fight. The R8 is one of your last chances to own a non-turbo, non-hybrid, properly deafening supercar, and is all the better for it.

BMW i8 $299,000

If anything, the i8 gives you even more tech cred than the NSX because you can plug it into the wall to charge it, and because it looks more like the car Tron drives on his day off. Probably not as good to drive at the very pointy end as the Honda should be, however.