26 years ago, Honda
stunned the world by introducing Japan's first supercar, NSX. Featuring a lightweight
all-aluminum chassis, mid-engined layout, high-revving VTEC motor and
steering, it was renowned for agile handling, easy control and everyday
practicality. Honda sold 18,000 units in the next 15 years. However,
the road leading to the second generation NSX has been a lot rougher
than expected. Honda kickstarted the project in 2007. It was supposed
to be a very different car – a front-engined GT powered by a
high-revving V10. Running prototypes had been developed and extensively
tested, but the project was eventually cancelled due to economic
reasons. Meanwhile, Toyota leapfrogged it and introduced Lexus LFA.
In 2011, the NSX project was resurrected. It returned to its roots of
mid-engined layout and V6 power, but this time it was added with
electrification which also enabled AWD and torque vectoring. The design
prototype was displayed in Hollywood movie The Avengers and then the
2012 Detroit motor show. Somehow, Honda kept changing its mechanical
design during the development. To improve balance, its V6 engine was
repositioned from transverse to longitudinal mounting. To fight with
more powerful rivals, the V6 was added with twin-turbochargers. Then it
needed a strengthened chassis to contain everything. These changes
caused further delay. Finally, after 9 years of development, the second
generation NSX goes on sale in late 2016. How much money was spent in
total? Honda won't tell, but it must be substantial. I guess it could
beat Bugatti Veyron to be the most expensive supercar project ever
be the most expensive supercar project ever completed.
With that in mind, you might be less critical to its high price. The
new NSX starts at $160K in the US or £140K in the UK. Add
carbon-ceramic brakes, track tires, carbon-fiber kits and a few
options, it can easily top $200K or £170K, more than Audi R8 V10
Plus, Porsche 911 Turbo S or even McLaren 570S! While the Japanese
supercar is no longer as bargain as it used to be, it offers more
ingredients than anyone else in its class, because until now it is the
only one running hybrid power and front-wheel electric torque
vectoring – BMW i8 is not considered to be in the same
performance league, and it does not have front-wheel torque vectoring.
Think a poor man's 918 Spyder and it won't be far off.
Thankfully, it gets the supercar look to match its price. While it
doesn’t look as dramatic as a Ferrari 488 or Lamborghini Huracan, it is
stylish in its own right. The wedge, razor-sharp design, especially the
blade-like C-pillar intakes, gives it the necessary aggression to catch
your attention without looking familiar. Meanwhile, the low bonnet and
large windscreen are reminiscent of the original NSX. It might have
been even better if it brought back also the wraparound rear window,
but I am convinced that the current arrangement benefits weight and
chassis rigidity. My only reservation is the rear end – the 3 meshed
air outlets, diffuser and exhaust lack styling at all, looking as if
the designers ran out of time to finish the detailed design.
Surprisingly, the car was
designed and developed by the American operation of Honda, although the
hybrid powertrain was developed in Japan HQ. Even more surprising, its
assembly takes place at the Marysville plant in Ohio, USA, where Accord
and TLX are produced. Production rate is about 1500 units a year.
The new NSX is sized very close to Audi R8, i.e. wide, low but
relatively short, thanks to the minimal rear overhang. At 1204 mm tall,
it is even lower than the Audi, virtually matching McLaren 570S. As for
aerodynamics, the company declines to reveal its drag coefficient and
downforce figures, just saying it "achieves top-class aerodynamic
balance and supercar aerodynamic downforce". Considering no active
aerodynamic devices are employed, and there are as many as 10 radiators
to cool (thanks to hybrid system), I suppose it is wise not to reveal
those figures. Admittedly, the NSX tops only 191 mph, unlike its rivals
which are all qualified for the 200-mph Club, so aerodynamic efficiency
is less important.
Its chassis is a spaceframe construction made of multiple materials.
While most of it are cast, extruded or stamped aluminum, the floorpan
is reinforced by carbon-fiber, and the structural parts at A-pillars
are made of rectangular-section ultra-high-strength steel, which are
thinner than equivalent aluminum thus benefit visibility. The body
shell is made of aluminum sheets (bonnet, roof, doors and engine lid)
molding compound, or otherwise known as glass-fiber reinforced plastics
(fenders and boot lid). The optional carbon-fiber kits will convert the
roof, engine lid, front splitters, side skirts, boot spoiler and
diffuser to the lighter material. Even so, the
car still tips the scale at close to 1.8 tons, which is at least 200 kg
more than an R8, 250 kg more than 911 Turbo S and 350 kg heavier than
the carbon-rich McLaren! Even if you take the 160 kg worth of battery
and electrical components out of the equation, the Honda is not going
praised for weight control.
However, highlight of the car should be its powertrain. Thankfully, the
mid-mounted, 3493 c.c. V6 is not derived from the SOHC unit employed by
Honda’s sedans and SUVs. It is a bespoke design with dry-sump
lubrication to lower center of gravity, and a unique 75-degree V-angle,
which lowers center of gravity again compared with conventional
60-degree design. Moreover, it reduces crankpin splay angle from 60 to
45 degrees, enabling a stronger and lighter crankshaft. The crankshaft
and con-rods are made of forged steel, but the pistons are cast
aluminum. The bore is coated with plasma-transferred arc spray to
reduce friction. The DOHC cylinder heads feature dual-variable cam
phasing but not VTEC anymore, sadly. The fuel injection combines direct
injection and port injection. The V6 has a nearly square combustion
chamber design, with 91 mm bore and 89.5 mm stroke. Even so, it
redlines at 7500 rpm, pretty high for a turbocharged motor. The
arrangement is conventional, one serving a bank of cylinder and having
its own intercooler. It does not have variable geometry turbines like
Porsche, but it runs a lighter boost pressure at 1.05 bar. Moreover,
the turbo lag at lower down the rev is fully masked by the electric
motors, so it should feel like a large naturally aspirated V12.
The V6 alone produces 507 horsepower from 6500 rpm until the redline,
while maximum torque of 406 lbft is delivered between 2000 and 6000
rpm. Note that Nissan GT-R’s engine remains the most powerful V6 built
in Japan, with up to 600 horsepower in Nismo spec. Nevertheless, the
Honda V6 is partnered with a better gearbox – a 9-speed dual-clutch
transaxle. Not only this is the world’s first sports car with 9 forward
ratios, but its gearshift is far smoother than the brutal Nissan
transaxle, mainly because the 9-speeder is mounted right behind the
engine, whereas GT-R’s gearbox is mounted at the opposite axle.
poor man's 918 Spyder and it won't be far off.
The so-called Sports Hybrid SH-AWD system owes a lot to that of the
flagship RLX sedan. The basic design is the same, just in reversed
position. An electric motor sandwiching between the V6 and gearbox
provides up to 48 hp and 109 lbft of torque to the rear axle, or acts
as generator to recapture energy from braking. At the front axle, there
are 2 electric motors, each drive one wheel to provide AWD as well as
torque vectoring. As demonstrated by Porsche 918 Spyder, this could
enhance its agility a lot and belie the weight of the car. Each front
motor is rated at 37 hp and 54 lbft. They are geared to work up to 124
mph. Beyond that, the NSX reverts to rear-drive.
Total system output is 581 horsepower and 476 pound-foot of torque. It
roughly matches McLaren, Audi and 911 Turbo S but fails to set new
standards even before you consider its extra weight. By the way,
Porsche 918 Spyder, is 50 percent more powerful again.
Juice of the electric motors comes from the Lithium-ion battery pack
located behind the seats. It looks big enough, but actually its
capacity is only 1.3 kWh, compared with 6.8 kWh on Porsche 918 Spyder
or 7.1 kWh on BMW i8. No wonder the system offers neither plug-in
charging nor a true zero-emission mode. Between the seats and in the
is the power inverter which converts DC to AC voltage to drive the
motors. Despite the front motors and the optimum positions of battery
and inverter, the NSX’s front to rear weight distribution is 42:58, the
same as McLaren 570S.
Like most modern sports cars, the NSX rides on double-wishbone front
suspensions and multi-link rear suspensions with forged aluminum
control arms and cast aluminum knuckles. Each corner is served with
magnetorheological adaptive dampers, which vary stiffness within 2
predefined ranges – a softer range for Quiet and Sport mode, and a
stiffer range for Sport+ and Track mode. These modes also alter the
powertrain, gearbox, steering and stability control settings, of
Since the original NSX already employed electrical power steering so
many years ago, there is no way to revert to hydraulic setup like
McLaren, Ferrari or Aston. It is a dual-pinion design with variable
ratio, which gets faster with more lock applied, but it avoids
the notorious active steering that Audi used.
The standard brakes use floating steel discs (with aluminum hubs)
measuring 370 mm up front and 361 mm at the rear, clamped by Brembo
6-pot and 4-pot calipers respectively. The optional carbon-ceramic
brakes are just marginally larger (380 mm) up front and
keep the same size at the back. Wrapping around them are 245/35ZR19 and
305/30ZR20 rubbers. Strangely, Honda offers 3 choices: the standard
street tires are Continental, while track day visitors may opt for
stickier but short-lived Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R or ultimately Michelin
Pilot Sport Cup 2, as on Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
To make sure the NSX rides and handles well, Honda put it to extensive
testing at Nurburgring, Autobahn and the mountain passes in Alps. It
also bought a Ferrari 458, Audi R8, 911 Turbo and GT3 to benchmark it.
A pity the currently class-leading GT3 RS and
McLaren 570S were not available then.
The most disappointing aspect of the NSX has to be its interior. The
dashboard and door panels are full of cheap shinny plastics and very
fake-looking fake alloys that would have been deemed disgraceful in a
£30,000 Audi TT, let alone something 5 times the price. Its
styling is not much better, more akin to an Acura SUV than a super
sportscar. The part-leather, part-Alcantara bucket seats, while being
comfortable and supportive enough, don’t look very classy. On the plus
side, you enter the cabin with relative ease compared with a McLaren,
thanks to slimmer and lower door sills and conventionally hinged doors.
The cabin is also wider than the McLaren, as its spaceframe chassis
consumes less space than a carbon-fiber tub. However, compared with
Audi R8 and especially Porsche 911, the NSX’s headroom is more limited.
There is not much in-cabin storage space either – the glovebox is
small, no cubbies for small stuffs, and there is absolutely no space
left behind the rear seats, not even for a small brief case. By the
way, the boot behind the engine compartment is also very small.
Practicality fails to match the original NSX.
You sit low in the NSX as the seat has no height adjustment. Despite
that, the driving position is fundamentally good, while visibility is
excellent through the large windscreen, if not a match of the original
car. The steering wheel looks a bit cheap and the gearshift paddles
behind feel plasticky. The instrument is TFT but the graphics are not
particularly sophisticated. Most offensive is the Civic-sourced
touchscreen infotainment system, which is unresponsive and cumbersome
to use. Honda still needs to learn how to do supercar business.
However, to drive, the NSX is much better.
On the Road
Like all hybrids, the NSX offers multiple driving modes. It always
starts at Quiet mode, which is rather superfluous because the small
battery has juice for only one or two miles. Beyond that, it
automatically fires up the engine, although it will keep the latter
running below 4000 rpm. Sport mode is equally misleading because it
actually reads “comfort” or “normal” in our dictionary. This means the
true sport mode is Sport+. It frees up the engine, opens up the exhaust
noise, speeds up the gearbox, weighs up the steering and firms up the
suspension. Track mode turns up the throttle response and gearshift
loosening stability control without disabling it completely.
The V6 starts with no drama, idling silently as if a luxury car engine.
Plant the throttle and you are surprised with its immediate response.
That’s the effect of electric motors! With the instant electric torque,
its power delivery is more linear than anything turbocharged. The car
accelerates rapidly, if not as brutally as the McLaren due to its extra
350 kilos of burden. Road tests confirmed this feeling – the NSX needs
3.1 seconds to sprint from rest to 60 mph even though Honda implied
sub-3. This is already a bit slower than the McLaren,
let alone the 4-wheel-drive 911 Turbo S, R8 V10 Plus and Nissan GT-R.
The gap grows further at higher speeds. It takes just over 7 seconds to
reach 100 mph, at least half a second adrift of its rivals. As its
front motors give up beyond 120 mph, the defeat becomes even more
noticeable. By 150 mph, it is already 2, 3 and 4 seconds slower than
the Audi, Porsche and McLaren respectively. Make no mistake, the NSX is
very fast, but it is GT-R-fast rather than exotic-fast.
Thanks to the impeccable integration of electric power, the V6 rarely
gets noticed. At lower revs it sounds subdued and nothing special.
Above 4000 rpm it starts singing more freely, but even so it is a
hollow growl mixed with turbo wastegate whoosh, not as soulful as an
Italian V8 or as spine-tingling as an AMG V8. Most telling, the VTEC V6
of the old NSX sounded sportier.
The NSX is
very fast, but it is GT-R-fast rather than exotic-fast.
No complaints for the 9-speed DCT. In fact, it is as good as Porsche
PDK, serving fast yet seamless gearshifts. How is this achievable? The
answer is using the rear electric motor to speed up the engine to
rev-match during downshifts. Clever.
Despite its sheer weight, the NSX is surprisingly agile and precise in
corners. Again thanks must go to the individual motor serving each
front wheel, and you have to praise the flawless calibration of the
system. The electric power steering might be short of tactile
communication, but it guides the nose precisely, while its weighting
and speed are just about perfect. In Sport+ mode or beyond, the car
turns into corner sharply, displaying neither understeer nor oversteer
because the responsive front motors are always looking after the
cornering attitude. The magnetorheological suspensions keep the car
rock steady in corners, although their softer setting is too soft for
committed drive, while the stiffer setting returns less ride composure
than the 911 or 570S, especially on mountain roads – after all, they
have too much load to take care of.
The standard Continental tires don’t generate world-class grip though.
They are the achilles’ heels of the NSX, no wonder most test cars
offered to motoring journalists wore the optional Pirelli P Zero Trofeo
R rubbers. The latter are not as durable or weather-proof, of course,
but find a clean track and they impress immediately with strong grip
superior lap time. The balance is also altered. With Continentals, the
NSX would understeer moderately at the limit (no such problem on roads
Pirelli and the driving mode set to Track, it runs much more neutral,
with a hint of oversteer. Normally the NSX does not encourage
powerslide because its stability control doesn't stand large slip
angles. However, should you turn off the stability control and trail
brake at the limit, you might swing its heavy tail sideway quite
massively, which reveals one of the vices of the NSX: it is not
designed for track abuse. Well, no cars weighing as much should be
subjected to track abuse.
The last mentionable element is braking, which is simply superb.
Hybrid cars with regenerative braking have no reasons to brake with
such a linearity and good pedal feel. The NSX achieves that with brake
pressure simulator, which calculates the necessary feedback and uses an
electric motor to push back the pedal. The steel brakes are powerful
enough for road use, while ceramic brakes should receive no complaints
The new NSX has a big shoe to fill. As its predecessor was so widely
acclaimed, expectation for the new car is unusually high. In spite of
so many years spent and so much money invested in its development, it
cannot quite repeat the accomplishment of the old car. While it is
world-class in most important areas, it does not set any new standards
like the original. The hybrid powertrain is neither plug-in nor
inclusive a true EV mode, so it is not going to be a green supercar
like Porsche 918 or BMW i8. As the chief function of its
electrification is to
enhance performance and handling, we have no choice but to compare it
with conventional rivals like Porsche 911 Turbo S, Audi R8 V10 Plus or
McLaren 570S. The NSX fails to match the performance of these cars, or
agility and involvement of McLaren, the practicality and all-round
ability of Porsche, the build quality and engine noise of Audi, or the
pure driving experience of 911 GT3 RS. If it were as bargain as the
original NSX used to be, it would have been still considered a winner.
As it is not, it becomes just another choice of the highly competitive
segment. Even in the context of Japanese sports cars, it is no greater
than Nissan GT-R and the late Lexus LFA.
As for technological innovation, it does not break any new ground from
918 Spyder. Still, after more than 10 years of wait and all those
development, it is a relieve that Honda has finally managed to bring
back the NSX. Its persistence and commitment are already