I stupidly turned down the opportunity to test drive an NSX in 2001 and 2003. The cars were new, and on Honda’s regional test fleet; I recall the super-sweet PR women Nadia asking me if I was sure I didn’t want to spend three days with an NSX. 15 years later and I’ve still not forgiven my then Editor for making me say: “No, I’m certain of it, but thanks…”
Nearly ten years ago, when Honda announced they were working on the next generation NSX, I remember thinking I was going to get a second chance at driving one and perhaps even forgive my editor. A few announcements, many delays and a decade later, I’ve finally had a go at the car. The encounter left me mesmerized, and scratching my head.
This new NSX absolutely lives up to the original name: “New Sportscar eXperimental” and possibly even too well. In fact, now referring to “New Sportscar eXperience”, the NSX turned out to be quite the experience in extremes but does it live up to the NSX name, regardless of what it stands for? The original NSX is considered by many as one of the greatest sports cars of all time. Thems are big shoes to fill and while I can’t say if the new is as good as the old, I can say that the 2017 NSX will probably not go down in history as one of the most illustrious sports car ever but it is incredible nonetheless.
Styling inside and out
Every iteration of the NSX, from concept to final production, has been spectacular to behold. Set up on a turntable, on a stage, with spotlights, at a carshow, averting one’s gaze from this car seemed nearly impossible. The design details are very subtle, and very Honda. The shape is sleek, the flying buttresses are beautifully integrated into the roofline and both front and rear fasciae are unique. The optional interwoven painted wheels are a worthwhile investment. There’s no doubt that this is a triumphantly beautiful car.
There’s much more going on but clicking through the gallery will reveal little more; Berlina Black is a terrible colour for this car. From my seat behind the wheel, only the odd young male clearly identified the car as I drove by. I am convinced that any other shade would have done the designer’s work far more credit.
The same goes for the cabin. This is after all a Honda thus the HMI is very good. The seats look the part with big bolsters and major points are given to the steering wheel and its impressive grip; the highlight of the cabin in my opinion. The situation could have been far better had the tester’s interior been draped in saddle, red or seacoast leathers.
What’s more, the roughly $30k invested in the various carbon fibre packages are barely noticeable, both inside and out. Black on black on black sucked the special out of this particular example, something fierce.
Comfort and space
Within a few kilometers of driving it became immensely clear that Honda tried to make the NSX an everyday supercar. The cabin’s quiet, decently roomy with familiar and easy to use switchgear. The ride quality is better than decent and Honda’s even provided a Quiet drive mode in order to take this hyper-performance to a level of potential civility that is on another scale.
The driving position is excellent if perhaps only a few millimeters too high for my tastes. The power sport seats are supportive and well-conceived making it very plausible to drive the car over long distances but, and this is the bugger, they failed to address the needs of the daily commute, and the weekend road-trippers’.
The trunk is far too small to contain anything more than a pair of backpacks. There is no room behind the seats and there are no door bins or any other spot save for at the very rear of the center tunnel for keys/phones/change or anything of the like. And then we have the cupholders for your morning coffee; you’ll have to make a choice here as, once in place, take up passenger room. So, it’s coffee or a passenger or a passenger holding your coffee…
Value and equipment
It’s difficult to pinpoint who the NSX was built for. Well, it is and isn’t. With a base price of $193,000, it isn’t destined for the new Civic Type R owner looking to upgrade in a few years, that is unless lottery…
Value in this car is found in the powertrain’s unbelievable complexity, and efficiency. Otherwise, what you get as far as equipment and technology is very similar to what you will find in a new TLX, including the transmission controls, the 7” high-res touchscreen and integrated connectivity.
As is, my tester neared the $245k price point. At this price, it lands squarely in line with the Audi R8 V10, the Porsche 911 Turbo S (or the cheaper more hardcore GT3), and a McLaren 570S. As good as the NSX is, I’m not sure it fits here. In fact, cars like the $150k F-Type SVR and $125k GT-R are more up its alley. This once more brings up the question: Who and what is the NSX aimed at?
Performance and handling
Driving the NSX reveals much, not the least of which is how fast this car is. Reading through a detailed powertrain spec sheet is enough to give even a knowledgeable car person a mild headache. On paper, it’s quite complex, on the road it’s deceptively invisible, yet efficient.
The mid-rear mounted twin-turbocharged is the heart of the machine and produces 500 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque. Between it and the superb 9-speed DCT transmission is a direct drive motor that provides 47 horsepower and 109 torques. And then, there’s the front twin motor unit (TMU) which consists of two motors each developing 36 horsepower and 54 lb.-ft. of torque. Don’t do the math, it doesn’t work. Total system output is of 573 horsepower and 476 lb.-ft. of torque. Alright, that’s the simple part…
I’m not going to elaborate on how all of it functions; I myself don’t fully get it even after perusing the 109-page press release. Know that the launch control requires both feet and side-stepping the brake. You can do this all day and you’ll always reach 100 km/h 3 seconds and change. The electric motors slaughter all manners of lag so power is instantly available at all times.
Of the four drive modes, the important notes are that Quiet mode initially involves the V6 so a quiet getaway from the garage in the middle of the night won’t happen. Sport is the better setting for daily use, more than Quiet as throttle response is far quicker. Sport+ is fun for sampling the powertrain’s abilities, especially the 9-speed Dual-Clutch Transmission. And then there’s Track which lives up to it name.
It is on a track that we truly get to experience how this complex system works. The front electric motors being independent and able to spin at different speeds essentially kill the possibility of any torque steer. In fact, actual torque vectoring is performed by these motors enabling the car to pull itself out of a corner with undue ease. The power is on full tilt and the transmission crushes gears with aplomb (although with less foresight than a PDK, but very close) and the magnetorheological dampers reaction times are heightened.
In typical circumstances, the dampers are brilliant, transforming this hypercar into a shorter Accord Coupe. On a track (in Track mode), the suspension’s too stiffly dampened, limiting the tires’ ability to properly do their work. This explains why the car understeers more than it should. When entering a corner quickly while hard on the brakes, the struts seem to overcompensate to limit forward pitch. Once off the brakes, the front lifts too quickly compromising front tire grip.
Admittedly, the track where the car was driven was fairly tight which limited the possibility to seriously extract massive gobs of speed out of the car. The repeated heavy braking preceded by equally heavy acceleration never fully allowed the car to settle. Be that as it may, I expected the active magnetorheological to sort all of this out without issue.
About the brakes, the optional ceramic units are a must. What’s interesting here is that they work on a by-wire system and it has one distinctive advantage; the pedal does not suffer from regen braking interference.
There’s so much more to say about the car like how it manages tight country roads. It is here that I found the NSX to be most at home. In Sport+ mode, the combination steering speed, dampening and throttle settings are ideally tuned. Turn-in and lateral grip are immense enabling serious speed. The ride quality is never crashy – it’s always on point.
In the end, the NSX is a magnificent automobile to drive but Honda’s desire to make it good at everything ultimately limits its appeal as a supercar in my opinion. I think that an Individual/Custom drive mode where a softer suspension setting mixed with Sport+/Track parameters could have helped on the track, and would probably bring a different level of satisfaction in other circumstances.
Expectations are what hurt the NSX for me, and possibly for a large number of enthusiasts. The NSX is, again, an incredible car, it’s just not the type of “incredible” I was looking for. Looks like I’m still upset with my old editor…