THE NEWSPAPER asked me to do a couple of road tests while Jeremy Clarkson is away, and offered me a couple of decent supercars that arrived at the lorry yard in Grimsby on the same day. Both were new versions of former flagship models: the Ford GT and the Honda NSX.
I saw the NSX pull up at the gates, and while I’d admit it is a good-looking car, it’s a Honda, isn’t it? I haven’t had the greatest experience with Honda’s racing bikes this year, and its performance in Formula One is embarrassing. It would be better for the brand if it were winning something.
And how can a Honda cost £144,765 (or £180,000 in this spec)? It makes great CR-Vs and Civic Type Rs, but the Japanese brand is not one I would associate with supercars.
I quizzed the bloke who dropped off the NSX half to death and learnt about some of the technology the car is loaded with. I knew it was a hybrid, with a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and electric motor assistance. What I didn’t know was that it had three electric motors that combine with the V6 for an output of 573bhp.
I drove the NSX home from the yard and climbed out of it feeling the car was nice — nothing more. I thought it was like a fast Volkswagen Golf R: understated, though not as understated as a Golf R, but not very exciting. I reckoned I’d soon get to the bottom of it.
If I’d been busy, I might not have bothered getting in it again that evening, but I had nothing doing, so I decided to take it out for a spin on the north Lincolnshire back roads, which I know like the back of my hand. After half an hour I realised the NSX is a true supercar.
“A BMW M3 CSL was the quickest thing I’d driven on rural back roads in the last 10 years. Until now. The NSX is the next level”
With all its engineering and electronic gubbins, some people might think that it’s doing the driving for you, but it isn’t like that. I’m not one of those people who describe bikes or cars as having soul; they’re either good fun or they’re boring. And how this car works is just brilliant. The proof is that it is so manageable on rural back roads.
Ten years ago I had a BMW M3 CSL. It wasn’t that impressive in terms of top speed, but it handled so well and was so predictable, I reckon it was the quickest thing I’d driven on those roads. Until now. The NSX is the next level. I can’t think of any car that could keep up with it on my local lanes.
To give it a proper workout as The Sunday Times requested, I spent a full day on the track last week with racing instructors, and still I could not get this thing into bother.
If you really wanted to, you could drive the NSX so hard it would be jumping out of line, the back end coming out, and you wouldn’t need to do anything to correct it: the systems sort everything out. The car was just laughing at me. After a couple of days I was struggling to think of anything I’d driven that was better than this.
A lot of it is down to the powertrain. Honda has been making V6 engines for the US IndyCar series for several years, but the unit in this car has nothing to do with that, even though the NSX is made in Marysville, Ohio. The NSX’s 75-degree V6 uses blocks and heads developed by the British company Cosworth.
V6s may not sound exciting in a world of V8s, V10s and V12s, but the NSX’s engine is spot-on. It sits in the middle of the aluminium body, with a nine-speed double-clutch gearbox bolted to the back, driving the rear wheels. Between those two is an electric motor that increases the torque and helps to fill in any turbo lag. At the front end, two more electric motors drive a front wheel each.
Entering villages, I’d drive at 30mph and the engine would turn itself off, and we’d roll through on electric power; then, as I accelerated, the petrol unit would cut back in, but it was so quiet, smooth and seamless that, as a passenger, you probably wouldn’t notice.
“Cars like this are bought as much for what they say as what they do. And in that sense the Honda isn’t going to cut it in the golf club car park”
There is a driving mode that allows you to hear the exhaust more, but it’s never popping and banging like a racing car. I like the subtlety of the NSX. I also like that I went from Caistor in Lincolnshire to Abergavenny in Monmouthshire on about half a tank, as the NSX averaged 29mpg. That’s good in a supercar.
The other thing the NSX has is four-wheel drive, or Super Handling All-Wheel Drive if you swallow Honda’s pill. The setup includes torque vectoring. As far as I understand it, torque vectoring is adjusting the drive delivered to each wheel to aid the handling. If you had a chassis with four wheels that were fixed pointing straight ahead, torque vectoring could make it go round corners just by altering the speed of the individual wheels. And it helps the NSX go round corners in a way I hadn’t experienced.
With all that good news, there must be some bad. One thing is that all the on-board technology makes the NSX weigh much more than purely petrol-powered supercars such as the McLaren 570S. The Honda and McLaren have a similar power output, but the NSX has a lower top speed: Honda claims 191mph and McLaren says the 570S does 204mph.
The difference is mainly down to the power-to-weight ratio. Even though the NSX has what is described as a “multi-material space frame”, it has a kerb weight of 1,776kg, compared with the 1,440kg of the McLaren.
Another thing is that cars like this are bought as much for what they say as what they do. And in that sense the Honda isn’t going to cut it in the golf club car park. Everyone has an idea of a Ferrari driver in their mind. Or a Lamborghini owner, or even an Aston Martin driver. You’ve got a box to put them in. But what is a typical NSX owner?
None of that matters, because the NSX is amazing. When people ask me what I drive, I say: “A Trannie van and a Volvo estate, mate.” I like the fact that if you had an NSX and someone asked what you drove, you could say: “I’ve got an old Honda.”
Yes, it’s understated, but if you’ve chosen an NSX, you know your stuff. It’s a proper doer’s car without screaming about it. And possibly the greatest car I’ve driven.
Head to head: Nonda NSX vs Porsche 911 Turbo S
|Porsche 911 Turbo S
Read more Guy Martin at guymartinproper.com
Jeremy Clarkson is away
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