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First drive: Honda rebounds with NSX

Euro beater: Honda is pitching the NSX at high-end European product, including the Ferrari 458 Italia.

Resurrected NSX supercar injects massive dose of excitement into Honda brand

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Honda logo27 Oct 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

HONDA’S reborn NSX supercar is charged with resuscitating the company’s brand image across the globe, and after a lengthy gestation period the hybrid hero will touch down in Australia late next year.

After a couple of all-too-brief laps around the test track at Honda’s research and development facility in Tochigi, Japan, this week in the lead up to the Tokyo motor show, we think the NSX has what it takes to give Honda back its mojo.

GoAuto, along with a throng of journalists from around the world, were among the first people given the chance to briefly sample the all-new petrol-electric supercar.

Speaking at the drive event, Honda NSX chief engineer Ted Klaus said the NSX would compete on pricing – in the United States at least – with the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi’s R8 V10 Plus, but added that the “emotional competitor” was the Ferrari 458 Italia.

Mr Klaus said that while he understands people will naturally compare the NSX with BMW’s plug-in hybrid i8, the two are entirely different vehicles.

“What’s neat about our vehicle and i8 is that they both take people into the future so that comparison I think is fair,” he said. “(But) I think from a fundamental standpoint it is unfair because our vehicle is very focused on driving dynamics. We have spent a lot of time and energy and cost to get the centre of mass low and close to the driver. The i8 is a different animal.

“It is clever, but it is more of your M3, M5, M6 vehicle. It looks very futuristic and low to the ground, but it is really more of an extreme GT solution. We are a focused sportscar, they are a plug-in we give you a wide range of performance as an electrified sportscar.” Mr Klaus said the NSX is more than a hero model for Honda, and added that he is confident it will be an ongoing model for the brand and will not disappear from the line-up in the way the original did.

“This car is not just about brand halo it is about unleashing all of the power of Honda in a continuous way. We have been asleep for 10 years with this car but now we are back and we want to sustain it so that is going to be the next big challenge.”

Honda Australia director Stephen Collins confirmed with GoAuto that the NSX would arrive here in late 2016 – with pre-launch marketing activities commencing early next year – and he did not rule out releasing pricing early to lock in pre-orders.

“I would like to release it early. How early we can go is a big question,” he said. “At the end of the day this is a special car and I think we will be looking for individual orders and putting those cars into production individually so we can customise as much as possible. I think that means you would really need to give as much information as you can.”

Mr Collins would not be drawn on pricing for the NSX, and said there were a number of factors to consider.

“It is a supercar. I don’t want to speculate at this point. There are a lot of factors. Obviously the strength of the Aussie dollar is an influencing factor. So we will just have to wait and see,” he said.

Not all Honda dealers will be equipped to sell the NSX, with Mr Collins confirming that five Sport Hybrid dealers in Australia – one each in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney – will handle sales and service for the hybrid supercar.

Mr Collins also said he did not anticipate an issue with vehicle allocation for Australia.

“Whatever we can sell we will get. It depends on how well it is going in other markets, particularly the United States. I am not worried about how many we can get, just about getting it to market as quickly as possible,” he said.

The NSX will be built in the US at Honda’s new Ohio plant that will exclusively produce the rear-engined supercar.

After almost three years since Honda revealed the NSX concept at the 2012 Detroit motor show, the Japanese car-maker has this week announced more powertrain details for its hi-tech flagship.

In the four years it took to develop the NSX, Honda engineers changed their minds about using a transverse-mounted naturally aspirated V6 engine and instead went with a twin-turbo longitudinally mounted V6, which pushed out the development time and has impacted launch timing.

The petrol-electric powertrain consists of a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre DOHC V6 petrol engine, matched with a hybrid system that includes three electric motors – a rear direct-drive electric motor, housed between the engine and gearbox, and an independent electric motor in each front wheel.

The engine drives through an all-new Honda-developed nine-speed dual-clutch transmission and a new ‘Sport Hybrid’ version of the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system, which was a feature of the 2007 NSX concept before the development program was officially cancelled a year later due to the global financial crisis.

Honda says the total system output for the NSX is 573hp – or about 427kW – and while the electric motors offer up 73Nm on each wheel, the overall torque figure for the 1725kg sportscar is a whopping 646Nm.

Peak power is developed at 6500-7500rpm while maximum torque is on tap from 2000rpm right through to 6000rpm.

The NSX’s figures are well above the output of the 266kW/320Nm BMW i8 and more in line with exotic fare such as the Ferrari 488 GTB that punches out 492kW/760Nm from its 3.9-litre turbo V8, McLaren’s 650S that delivers 478kW/680Nm from its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 and the 448kW/560Nm of the 5.2-litre V10-powered Lamborghini Huracan.

Like some of those iconic rivals, there is a sense of occasion about the exterior styling of the NSX, with designers giving an obvious nod to the striking 1990 original while bringing it into the 21st century with sharp lines, a purposeful stance and an almost futuristic front-end treatment.

It seems just as much attention has gone into the cabin, which has a cockpit-like feel, an ultra-modern look to the dash and controls, advanced technology evident in the various screens and instrument displays, a perfectly sized steering wheel and exceptionally supportive sports seats.

But it doesn’t matter how well put together a car like this is, it is the feeling you get when you are behind the wheel.

Manoeuvring the NSX into position before take-off, it has the now-familiar silence of a hybrid vehicle, but once the right foot is planted, the electric power gives an instant – and we mean instant – surge of torque, forcing the driver back deep into the seat before the meaty twin-turbo V6 kicks in for a blast of power. Honda calls it ‘zero delay’ acceleration.

And what a soundtrack. The V6 and the electric powertrain combine for a delightful note, and while it is pumped into the cabin, it is not overwhelming like some European exotics can be. The noise, vibration and harshness measures Honda engineers have worked hard to achieve ensure a perfect level of aural pleasure in the cabin.

While accelerating in the NSX provides an experience that is not easily forgotten, the braking power is beyond impressive. Regenerative brakes help store energy, but they also pull the two-door coupe up in incredible time.

While we were only allowed two laps of a circuit that does not have any corners, we could tell the steering is beautifully weighted and it made us desperately excited for our next opportunity to get behind the wheel and really test the capabilities of the NSX.

Honda has not released 0-100km/h times or fuel economy, but they are sure to be impressive, given the hi-tech powertrain, sharp aerodynamics and weight-saving measures.

The NSX is a technological powerhouse, but the technology is so perfectly integrated into the car, it is never overwhelming, and it feels more advanced than the BMW i8.

Our time at the helm of the NSX was far too brief, but it was more than enough of a taste to realise that the long wait for Honda to develop this extraordinary car – and to rediscover its mojo – has been worth it.

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