Has the long wait for the return of an exciting acronym been worth it?
How do you follow an acknowledged classic? That was the task facing Honda when it decided to build a successor to its NSX sports coupé. The original NSX was one of the most engaging fast road cars ever.
The job of designing a modern version capable of competing with anything built outside Japan was eventually given to a team from Honda US, alongside an elite group of Japanese engineers who had worked on the old NSX.
The result is a McLaren P1-style hybrid rather than an eco hybrid. It has three electric motors (two 36bhp units at the front and a 47bhp one at the rear) plus a new twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 that revs to 7500rpm and produces 500bhp driving all four wheels through a nine-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
It costs £143,950 on the road, which is around £500 more than a McLaren 570S.
At 2217mm the part-aluminium, part- plastic, part-mixed-material spaceframe NSX is one of the widest cars on the road. Magnetorheological dampers control the double wishbone suspension. Optional carbon-ceramic brakes were included in our test car’s spec.
Inside, shiny black and silver plastics don’t quite speak of a near-£150,000 car, but most of our testers liked the seats. The ones in a BMW i8 seats are skinnier and more flat, while a McLaren’s seats more closely echo the company’s motorsport history.
The unintuitive Garmin-ish satnav has a tacked-on look and feel and the infotainment touchscreen is annoyingly complicated, but with the rest of the instrumentation being clear and easy to read, you could say that all the driver essentials are there, even if there’s no overall feeling of specialness.
The NSX is not a plug-in hybrid, and hardly ever runs with the combustion engine off. As such, it loses out on the futuristic appeal of the BMW i8 or Porsche 918 Spyder. Instead, Honda has gone for a subtle integration of the electric motors’ influence with a view to creating a more conventional ‘junior supercar’ driving experience – which is as good a way of proceeding as any.
By super-sports standards, a 3.3sec 0-60mph time and a torque figure of 476lb ft might not seem all that stellar, but what those numbers don’t tell you about is the nature of the NSX’s pulling power. With the throttle flat and the transmission locked into manual mode the ‘Assist’ gauge will show you how brilliantly the three electric motors complement the petrol engine in its weaker areas either side of its midrange.
As you might expect a car with this engine to be, it is fiercely quick above 5000rpm, but the really impressive thing is how hard the NSX hits when it’s below 3500rpm in a low gear. It doesn’t make a particularly soul-stirring noise, being more grumbly than grandiose, but there’s real character there.
The nine-speed paddle-shift auto is wonderfully quick in manual mode, and the brake feel is a real confidence-builder. The launch control is far from violent, leaving you feeling that the car could be quicker. The upside is that it also feels like you could give it maximum launches every day without stressing the mechanicals.
At nearly 1.8 tonnes the new NSX is 400kg heavier than the previous one, so the odds were always stacked against it being able to carry forward the old car’s marvellous fluency, even with the new NSX’s electric motors keeping the centre of gravity low.
And that’s how it turns out. On the plus side however the directional responses are much sharper, the handling flatter, the steering quicker and the grip stronger. It’s as wieldy as an Audi R8 or a Mercedes-AMG GT, and more confidence-inspiring than either thanks to its lucid steering and stability under power, even though finding the ideal suspension mode from the modes available is tricky.
The back axle will step out if you press too hard, a consequence of the weight it’s carrying. Still, in terms of driver reward the handling is close to brilliant just about everywhere, with talkative steering and nice throttle adjustability on the limit.
The BMW i8 undercuts the NSX on price by quite a way, but the Honda is considerably cheaper than a Ferrari 488. In exchange for your sub-£150k, Honda will give you world-first powertrain technology with a pleasingly light touch.
The NSX is that rare kind of mid-engined exotic, a very mature and complete driver’s car. It could have more equipment and feel more special to travel in, but as an overall package of pace, innovation, sophistication and driver appeal, only the outstanding McLaren 570S tops it at this price.