The Honda NSX sportscar tuned by a three-time Formula One champion was a phenomenon in the 1990s. Now it comes racing back with a stylish revamp, writes Tiff Needell
Ayrton Senna won three Drivers’ Championships with Honda engines from 1988-91. And in the middle of this he still found time to involve himself with the development of Honda’s New Sportscar eXperimental (NSX). Launched in 1989, the Honda NSX made great use of aluminium construction to keep the weight down and had a 3.0 litre normally aspirated V6 mounted transversely in the middle of the car. It was the flagship for Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing – a feature that dramatically changed the engine note as the revs rose above the 5,000rpm mark and maximised the power output all the way to its wailing 8,000rpm limit. With a five-speed manual gearbox and Senna-tuned handling, it was a driver’s dream.
By modern standards the 270bhp engine doesn’t sound much, but a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds was Ferrari-fast back then and, by the time production ended in 2005, 18,000 cars had been sold. Now, the NSX is back and the epitome of everything the fashionable supercar needs. Cutting-edge technology includes flappy paddles, turbos and electric motors. Add four-wheel drive and direct yaw control with torque vectoring power delivery, and you don’t even need Senna’s talent to speed round the corners.
Despite using the latest manufacturing materials, with all the comforts and safety requirements of a modern car and a floor-full of batteries to power the electric motors, the NSX has unfortunately gained 400kg, hitting the road at a hefty 1,788kg, yet still launches to 62mph nearly two seconds faster. The power output begins like the original with a V6 petrol engine (now 3.5 litres and turbocharged) pumping out 500bhp towards the rear wheels. But, before it gets there, there is a 47bhp electric motor that fills in all the gaps in the V6’s power kerb and counters any turbo lag. Meanwhile, each front wheel has a 37bhp motor that provides extra traction when demanded.
Add up all those numbers and you might think this should be a 621bhp car, but the electric motors and engine will never need to produce maximum output simultaneously. Indeed, on corners, often only one front wheel will be being driven while the other is having its brake automatically applied as part of that torque vectoring yaw control. This is the sort of stuff that has been banned in Formula One as it’s so clever it balances the car for you!
The NSX offers four different driving modes and I expect most of the time will be spent in ‘Quiet’ with the nine-speed gearbox left to sort itself out in automatic and the magnetic ride shock absorbers allowing the driver to cruise with the minimum of fuss. You can liven things up by switching to ‘Sport’, then ‘Sport+’, but if you’ve gone that far you might as well jump to ‘Track’ and have some fun! Instant acceleration will launch you forwards and the clever yaw control will hold the car on its line and make you feel like you’re driving a nimble sportscar. It won’t sound as good as the old NSX, but nothing does in these turbo-dominated days.
Honda NSX facts:
Top speed 191mph Acceleration 0-62mph in 3.0 seconds
Engine 3.5 litre turbocharged petrol generating
500bhp +73bhp from three electric motors Gearbox nine-speed twin-clutch automatic
Economy 25mpg Price £143,950
Performance 8/10 Handling 8/10
Economy 7/10 Comfort 8/10
Quality 9/10 Desirability 8/10
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See the Honda NSX in action
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