Honda NSX review – the consummate everyday sueprcar

Henry Catchpole
25 Sep 2017
Verdict:

How does Honda's hybrid supercar hold up on the UK's most testing roads?

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
£132,715
For 
Excellent pedal feel for fly-by-wire brakes, chassis balance
Against 
Engine noise, sport mode largely redundant

The £130,000 Honda NSX hybrid supercar is actually quite hard to pin down. In essence it is a bit like a mini Porsche 918 Spyder with its combination of a petrol engine, electric motors and four-wheel drive. Rather than the Porsche’s 4.5-litre naturally aspirated V8, the NSX has a twin-turbocharged 3.4-litre V6.

We’ve almost become inured to the look of the new NSX having seen it on motor show stands over the last few years. But although it can look a little fussy at standstill it looks superb in motion and the impact of the wide, angular rear is terrific, helped at night by lights that stretch the full width of the car.

Machinerynical Highlights

Providing the bulk of the power is that twin-turbo V6, which puts out 500bhp between 6500 and 7500rpm and 406lb ft of torque between 2000 and rpm. In addition to this is a direct drive electric motor situated between the engine and the nine-speed dual clutch transmission.

The electric motor generates an additional 47bhp at 3000rpm and 109lb ft between 500 and 2000rpm. Finally there is also a Twin Motor Unit on the front axle, each of these motors puts out 36bhp at 4000rpm and 54lb ft between 0 and 2000rpm. The maximum outputs (obviously not arrived at simply by adding up all the individual maximums) are 573bhp and 476lb ft.

As well as third generation magnetic ride dampers, the NSX’s handling is helped by (deep breath) Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. The key component of this is the torque vectoring available using the twin motors at the front. The limited-slip differential on the rear axle is also brought into play to create something called Direct Yaw Control, which essentially helps make a heavy car (1725kg) feel much lighter and more nimble than it should.

Lots of attention has also been paid to the aerodynamics, in particular to reattachment of the airflow behind the front wheels. The aim of this is to better channel the air through the intakes by the C-pillars. At this point the air is split between flow into the intercoolers, flow across the top of the rear deck and a stream that emerges from a small slit above the rear lights.

At first glance, the construction of the car is not particularly advanced, with no carbonfibre to shout about. However, there is a world-first application of ablation cast aluminium. It has the stiffness of a normal casting and the ductility of a forging, which means the parts can be used as attachments points for the suspension while also acting in the front and rear crash structures.

Performance and 0-60mph time

We carried out a launch control in the NSX, which was unflustered and pretty effective. You simply select Track mode, push hard on the brake pedal, floor the throttle, watch the revs build to about 2200rpm at which point a message will appear in the dials and you release the brake pedal.

The electric motors create impressive initial thrust off the line, there is then a very slight drop in the shove as the 3.5-litre V6 takes over before normal service is resumed and the combined forces propel you all the way to as much as 191mph. Honda hasn’t actually released any figures for acceleration, but equally they aren’t denying the 2.9sec claims that have been floating around. It should be mentioned that this sub-3sec figure is with a one-foot rollout, so you’re probably looking at very low threes by normal standards.

How does it drive?

Perhaps the best way to tackle this is to go through the various driving modes in order. So, let’s begin with Quiet mode which you can either view as a boring very un-supercar sort of mode or quite a cool stealthy ninja method of slipping along unnoticed. I prefer the latter.

I love the ability of Porsche’s 918 to slide silently off a driveway early in the morning without waking the household. I also like its ability to disarm any number of disapproving looks by making no more noise than a Prius and I feel exactly the same about the NSX. The engine will kick into life, but as you’d expect, only quietly. The steering is also at its lightest, the damping at its comfiest and all in all the NSX is a very easy way to trickle around.

Sport is next up and felt like a rather redundant mode. It’s a sort of everyday driving mode, but with an engine that sounds really quite unpleasant. Not loud, just lacking in any musicality. Better, to jump straight to Sport+ if you want a bit more urgency. The steering gains noticeably more weight (although it is still not heavy) and the dampers stiffen a little more (although the ride remains remarkably pliant).

> Click here to read our review of the Ferrari 488 GTB

Seemingly, however, you can’t turn off any layer of ESP at this stage. The engine is much more vocal, with more sounds of turbocharging (you could probably make a CD called Sounds of Turbocharging, full of relaxing chirps and whistles, and sell it alongside ones of Whale Song and The Indian Ocean) but needs to be above 4000rpm to achieve a soundtrack worthy of a sportscar. Once up there it sounds really rather good though, with the hollow induction bark being channelled into the cockpit via some piping behind you.

On the road the NSX feels incredibly capable but also extremely composed. Speed, and lots of it, is easy to find and easy to carry through corners. But it’s the way it exits corners that is most remarkable; the torque vectoring and electric motors on the front axle mean you can be on the power exceptionally early without any loss of traction or worry you won’t stay on your desired line.

The steering wheel is a similar size and shape to a Ferrari 458’s and the idea is that you shouldn’t have to move your hands from the quarter to three position. The rack obviously has to be quick enough to allow this and it is, although it has none of the nervous or twitchy feelings that you can get with Ferraris.

The wheel does have some feel through the electric power-assistance too and it talks to you at low speeds, which is good, but strangely it’s not a very mechanical feeling helm. In fact the NSX goes about the business of going quickly with, seemingly, very little involvement from the driver. No sort of adjustment or correction is ever needed; you don’t even feel what the drivetrain is doing other than the exceptional speed it has helped generate.

It takes a lot before you start to feel on top of the NSX; a lot of speed and a lot of commitment. It feels so unshakeable, even at such high speeds, you begin to fear how it might react if you did ever reach its limits. As you edge closer and closer to the extremes of the NSX’s abilities you do begin to feel what its clever four-wheel drive system is doing. You also start to feel the NSX’s mass and you can begin to use that to manipulate it around corners; you feel the rear axle go light as you trail brake heavily into tight corners, the car then rotating towards the apex.

The nose will begin to push wide when you do start nudging the very high limits of grip, but it feels perfectly natural to lean on this very mild slip, working with it all the way through a long corner until you feel confident getting hard on the throttle as the bend opens out. At which point the balance will switch nicely to the rear. The NSX is an easy car to balance, but as its limits are so high moments where you do feel truly involved with it are fleeting.

If you move the Drive Mode dial to the right and hold it, then after a few seconds you’ll engage Track mode. We had a few laps of Thermal Raceway near Palm Springs to try this out in combination with the optional Pirelli Trofeo R tyres (it’s on Continental rubber as standard). The NSX feels much the same on the track as it does on the road, but the space and freedom allows you more opportunities to appreciate how it feels at the edge of its limits.

It’s easy to work the front into a corner and if you choose to trail brake then you can happily have the rear of the car moving under momentum. Get on the throttle with the car set up like that and it will power oversteer out of the corner, but most of the time there is just a sense of huge traction as the motors on the front axle help to drag the car cleanly out of bends.

The nine-speed DCT ‘box is impressive when left to its own devices. When you take control via the paddles, it is quite easy to run into the rev-limiter at 7500rpm and I found that you frequently had to make one last extra downchange on the way into corners to ensure you were in a low enough gear. Most automatics and double-clutch transmissions aren’t calibrated to change down sufficiently before a corner, or hold onto gears for long enough when driving enthusiastically or on track. The NSX, however, responds exactly how you would want it to, always being in the gear you’d naturally select anyway.

> Click here to read our review of the BMW i8

Perhaps the most impressive thing, however, and something that sums up the new NSX is the braking. It is fly-by-wire and has to meld the wonders of regenerative braking with the more conventional forces of pads on carbon discs. Instinctively I was mistrustful of the idea of the brake pedal being attached to a switch, but if you didn’t know you wouldn’t guess. Full of power and easily modulated, the brakes just felt very natural. And it’s really the same for the rest of the car, because despite all the technological wizardry it is harnessing, the NSX feels quite natural and intuitive to drive.

We’ve enjoyed the NSX so much that we included it in our 2016 Car of the Year test and it finished in joint fourth place with the Audi R8 V10 Plus. It surprised a large proportion of the judging panel, most of which didn’t expect a car so heavily laden with technology could prove to be this exciting. 

Price and rivals

The naturally-aspirated trio of the Porsche 911 991.1, the first generation Audi R8 V10 Plus and Ferrari’s 458 provided the benchmark for the second coming of the NSX. These cars represented the supercar establishment during the NSX’s development, but since then the McLaren 540C, Porsche 911 Turbo and current Audi R8 V10 Plus have upped the ante in this fiercely contested segment.

The Audi R8 V10 Plus occupies the same financial bracket and sticks to the old naturally aspirated school of thought – the last model still doing so in the mainstream supercar arena. The NSX suffers a 30bhp deficit to the R8, but boasts significantly more twisting power with 476lb ft of torque compared to the R8’s 413lb ft.

The Honda flagship also has competition from McLaren’s minor, the 540C, in essence a cheaper 570S. The entry-level McLaren retains all the granular tactility of the 570S, although the engine feels a little numb in comparison and the whole package is a smidge less polished. The Woking-based supercar may drop a few car lengths to the NSX when both are driven in anger, but it is the more engaging to drive of the two.

The Porsche 911 Turbo’s list price places it in NSX territory. Little more needs to be said of the 911 Turbo’s phenomenal point-to-point pace, which exists within the practical 911 package that can even accommodate a pair of (toddler-sized) passengers in the second row – a unique feature amongst these rivals.

The BMW i8 is the NSX’s closest rival in terms of technical anatomy. A single electric motor deploys power at the front axle to supplement the 1.5-litre petrol unit driving the rear; the combined output of the hybrid powertrain is 357bhp. The BMW i8 though, operates on a lower, sports performance plain rather than supercar echelon within which the NSX competes. Incidentally, the i8 also undercuts the NSX by about £30k.

Anything else I should know?

The NSX’s attention to ergonomics is evident – the everyday supercar tag has been preserved and adhered to. For example, the A-pillars have been designed to be thinner and less obstructive than in other modern cars. Using a rectangular steel tube design called 3DQ, the width of the pillar is just 89mm, compared with a claimed standard width of 124mm. The interior surfaces of the cockpit have also been designed to give more support where you need it when driving hard, namely the areas where the outside of your knees/lower legs want to rest.

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