What is it about fast Hondas? Last year the Civic Type R had hot hatch fans frothing at the mouth in anticipation, but that was merely a warm up compared to the pre-launch hype for the new Honda NSX. It’s been nearly a decade in the making and now it’s finally here with eye-watering performance and a plethora of clever technology.
Top of the list is a 3.5-litre twin turbocharged V6 paired with no less than three electric motors – two at the front and one at the rear. This gives the NSX a total of 573bhp, not to mention four-wheel drive, torque vectoring and electric propulsion. It also has variable rate electrically-assisted steering, four different drive modes and a nine-speed dual clutch transmission.
This technology defines the 2017 Honda NSX experience, but it does so with remarkable subtlety. Those mourning the loss of Honda’s naturally aspirated screamers are in for a pleasant surprise, because although the new turbocharged engine redlines at a relatively modest 7,500 rpm it pulls across a huge range. By the time you actually reach the rev limiter, with engine screaming and electric motors pawing away at the road, it feels like you’ve been flat out for at least 7,499 of those rpm.
This seamless application of electric thrust also gives the NSX quite simply the best throttle response of any turbocharged car we’ve ever driven. Were it not for the occasional whoosh from the wastegate, and a faint whine from the electric motors, you’d be oblivious to this high tech trickery; it almost feels like a naturally aspirated engine (albeit one endowed with supernatural powers).
Before we get too carried away, it’s worth pointing out that all this hypercar technology does come with a downside. At 1,814 kg (1,776 kg minus fluids) the 2017 Honda NSX is not a light car. It disguises this remarkably well, but there are occasional hints. The performance is never anything less than explosive, but subjectively it doesn’t feel quite as shocking as the sub-3 second 0-60 mph time would suggest. That may be due to the unwaveringly linear power delivery and seemingly limitless traction, though. Even on damp roads it instils an incredible amount of confidence.
The NSX’s party piece is the way it seems to bend physics to its own devices. On turn-in it feels agile and alert, with quick steering that delivers plenty of precision and even some meaningful feedback. The wheel is a curiously bulbous shape that looks like it shouldn’t work, but it’s actually a joy to hold. Thanks to the variable ratio rack you never have to take your hands from the ten-to-two position either.
All this talk of torque vectoring and variable ratio steering sounds a bit synthetic, but the end result feels utterly organic. It’s almost like two cars in one, with great low speed agility mixed with a reassuring sense of composure.
Our nigh-on £170,000 test car had virtually every conceivable option fitted, including the £8,400 carbon ceramic brakes (although you might argue they should be standard at this price and performance). It also uses the electric motors to harvest energy under braking, but the pedal feel is exceptionally good for a hybrid. The initial bite is actually better than the McLaren 570S’s carbon ceramic system and stopping power is huge.
The gearbox is also worthy of note. Honda describes it as a ‘7+2 DCT’, with seven closely spaced ratios for normal driving, plus a low gear for standing starts and what amounts to an overdrive top for motorway cruising.The 2017 Honda NSX shuffles the gears smoothly in auto and flicks between the ratios with lightning precision in manual mode. The only downside is the plastic paddles that feel like they’ve been lifted from a PlayStation steering wheel rather than a £170,000 supercar.
It’s a similar story for the rest of the cabin. Functionally it excels; the seats grip you in all the right places (although they do feel a little high), the visibility out the front is exemplary and there’s a refreshingly simple layout to all the controls. The downside is that some of the materials in this Honda NSX do feel a bit out of their depth at this price point. As a result the interior lacks that wow factor that you might expect.
On paper the 110-litre boot sounds tiny, but it’s wide enough to form quite a useful luggage space in the rear (there is no front-mounted storage due to the positioning of the electric motors). Although the car has no plug-in capability and no electric-only mode, it does have a quiet mode that will use the electric motors instead of the combustion engine wherever possible. This also limits V6 to 4,500 rpm, which would no doubt be handy if you used the Honda NSX for early morning commuting.
And you really could do that. It’s a tremendous cliché, but anyone could get in this car and drive it; you don’t have to be a superhero to extract a reasonable amount of the performance, either. You do have to be lucky to get your hands on one, though. Honda’s UK allocation is 60 cars for the first year of production and just 40 for the year after that (all long since sold out).
It’s perhaps something of a paradox that one of the most accessible supercars ever made should be confined to such small numbers, but that might not be the end of the story. Although neither have yet been confirmed there are persistent rumours of both a convertible version and a hotter NSX Type R in development. Honda, it seems, is determined to keep us in suspense for a little bit longer.
By Chris Pickering