Can the new Honda NSX use modern technology to compete with its more glamorous rivals? We headed out to Portugal to find out how it copes on road and track.
The new Honda NSX is finally here. Like its forefather, the new NSX foregoes convention and embraces the latest technology available to it, which today means hybrid propulsion and a host of computerised drivetrain trickery designed to demolish rivals. These days it goes up against the Ferrari 458 Italia and Audi R8 V10 Plus, amongst others, but can Honda’s great hope truly compete? Here’s our verdict.
Despite Honda’s claims, the new NSX looks nothing like its forefather. The two cars are separated by decades of design, and nary a trace of the original’s aesthetic remains. That’s not to say the new NSX isn’t pretty – it’s gorgeous. It has a futuristic aesthetic, with plenty of neat touches throughout.
That said, we can’t help but think it’s rather over-designed in places – the front end, in particular, looks rather too busy for our tastes, particularly when a large (and rather hideous) UK or Euro license plate is attached.
Beneath the surface, Honda’s opted to construct the NSX from a mixture components – mostly aluminium, along with touches of steel and a smattering of carbon fibre in places. You could be mistaken for believing this approach means the NSX is relatively lightweight, but it clocks in at a reasonably weighty 1,700kg. The upshot, however, is that it is, according to Honda, more than twice as torsionally rigid than competitors such as the Ferrari 458 or Audi R8.
Practicality really wasn’t at the top of Honda’s list when designing the new NSX. Its boot (positioned at the rear) is only large enough for a pair of cabin bag-sized cases or, Honda reckons, a set of golf clubs, but almost nothing else. Just don’t put anything perishable back there – being so close to the mid-mounted engine and the gearbox means the luggage compartment gets rather hot.
Inside, things aren’t as user-friendly as they could be. The NSX sits extremely low to the ground, so getting in and out is tricky if you’re not particularly supple. Once inside, you’ll find there are zero cup holders, so you’ll need to clutch your coffee or cold beverage for your entire journey. The glove box is tiny, the USB port is located in an awkward location on the transmission tunnel almost behind the seats, and there’s virtually nowhere to keep sweets on a long journey.
Performance & handling
The Honda NSX’s powertrain is as cool as it is complex. At its heart is a 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 engine churning out a meaty 507PS and 550Nm of torque This is joined, at the end of the crankshaft, by an electric motor that generates an additional 48PS and 147Nm. Up front, Honda has fitted two additional electric motors, installed in a single package, that produce 37PS and 73Nm each.
Any turbolag that would be encountered as a result of the petrol engine is eliminated by the first electric motor, which is often the first to respond when the accelerator pedal is pushed, driving the car forward until the petrol engine spools up and can contribute meaningfully. The twin motors up front, meanwhile, can chip in to deliver additional performance.
With all three elements working together, the NSX can deliver 581PS and 646Nm of torque, which is enough to facilitate 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds on its way to 191mph. Starts using the easy-to-use launch control mode are alarmingly quick – marginally faster than the violently rapid Audi R8 V10 Plus.
Acceleration once in motion doesn’t feel quite as quick as the Audi, however. Nail the throttle when travelling at 70mph, and the NSX feels as if it’s mostly shot its bolt, compared to the V10 Plus, at least.
That said, the Honda NSX is likely quicker around most circuits where horsepower doesn’t particularly matter – it handles like an absolute dream. Navigating corners is a joy; its steering is quick, but far from twitchy, and while it lacks feel, turn-in is super-precise, allowing you to hit corner apexes like a sniper. Part of this is down to clever torque vectoring technology, which allows the outside front wheel to rotate more quickly than the inside, effectively rotating the car more keenly towards the inside of the bend. This lets you take a better line through the corner and, because the NSX possesses all-wheel-drive, to get a better exit.
Indeed, there are few cars that let you get on the power as early, and with as much confidence as the NSX – it’s an absolute rocketship through the twisty stuff, despite its weight.
It’s playful, too – not in the same way as a proper rear-wheel-drive sports car, but its rear is lively in the right circumstances, yet never feels dangerous as the front wheels will help pull you out of danger.
The nine-speed gearbox, meanwhile, works a treat. In manual mode, shifts are super fast, both up and down, but weirdly it’s almost as quick around a circuit in auto mode. You can leave the ‘box to its own devices and be confident that it’ll be in the right ratio at the right time to give you a competitive lap time.
The brakes work incredibly well. Speed is scrubbed off through a combination of regenerative braking via the electric motors (upon lifting off the accelerator) and by the pads and discs when when you apply the left pedal. Not only are they effective at slowing and stopping the car in a hurry, they have great feel, too, which is rare in the world of hybrid sports cars.
Push the brakes too hard, however, and they do begin to fade. Our test car was fitted with two-piece carbon ceramic disks – 381mm at the front and 361mm at the rear – and after several (admittedly hard) laps, the pedal travel lengthened and a dashboard warning suggested peak stopping power was reduced.
Away from the track, the Honda NSX is pleasant. It’s all too happy cruising at motorway speeds and though it doesn’t feel quite as luxurious and quiet as an R8 V10, it’s a car you can drive daily.
Economy & efficiency
That hybrid powertrain is designed primarily to improve performance, but it does a decent job of maximising fuel, too. Honda claims it’ll return a very respectable 28.25mpg on the combined cycle, with 228g/km CO2 emissions. That’s a big improvement on the Audi R8 V10 Plus’ 23mpg and 287g/km.
The NSX can, unlike most of its rivals, operate in a quiet mode, which allows the car to be started up without a massive roar – handy for pulling away from the house at anti-social times of day. It can also be driven on battery power only, although only for extremely short distances. Naturally, it makes a bloody good racket once you rotate the mode selector into sport, sport + or track.
Equipment & value
£137,950 buys you a new Honda NSX, though you will have to pay extra for metallic paint – £800 to be precise. The optional carbon fibre rear spoiler will set you back £2,400, while carbon ceramic discs – an option we recommend – will cost you £8,400.
The £1,700 Garmin navigation system is pretty awful and got us lost several times, though that upgrade also gets you front and rear parking sensors, which may save you that money in bodywork damage over the long run. We’d buy it. Reluctantly.
The Honda NSX is phenomenal. Not only is it a technical tour-de-force, it’s also brilliant fun to drive. Some will rightly wonder whether it makes any logical sense to spend nearly £140,000 on a Honda when that sort of cash could land you something with a prancing horse on the front. Judge the NSX in isolation, however, and it’s almost impossible not to like. It’s beautiful, rapid, fun and actually better, in many respects, than its rivals.