The Honda NSX: 25 Years and Two Amazing Supercars
For 10 long years, Honda Motor Co. left the world without an NSX, and we were worse off for it. The NSX did for supercars what the Mazda Miata did for small roadsters. It showed that you could own an exotic mid-engined supercar and use it comfortably every day of the week but still have a razor sharp, perfectly balanced performance machine for track days on the weekends all in the same package. Only the Porsche 911 could previously argue the same kind of case for itself, but the NSX was more practical (not counting the lack of back seats), easier to keep running and more forgiving to drive. It was revised and developed but largely unchanged from the original production version in 1990 all the way up until the end of production in 2005. Now, after a decade of anticipation and teasing, Honda has finally revealed the production version of its next NSX. It’s a vastly different car in terms of layout, powertrain and styling, but looking at the respective automotive climates that each car has come out of, they’re more similar than one might think. So, how do the two stack up?
The very first Honda NSX (sold as an Acura in North America) debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 to rave reviews. If any Japanese company could have attempted to beat Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche at their own game, it was Honda. From 1986 to 1991, all Formula One World Constructors Championship were won with Honda engines, and Honda’s racing expertise and experience were among the best in the world. Grand Prix icon Ayrton Senna also famously helped the final revisions on chassis, suspension and handling to get the balance of the NSX just right. But it wasn’t just balanced and fine-tuned, it was also constructed with very exotic materials and techniques.
The NSX was the first production car with an all-aluminum monocoque body and engine, and the engine was the first of its kind with titanium connecting rods and forged pistons. The frame and suspension were alloy as well. The cockpit was even designed with inspiration from a study of the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet. Back to the engine, it was a 3.0-liter V-6 with Honda’s electronically controlled valve timing control system, called VTEC. This was long before VTEC became a cliché associated with tuner culture, and at the time this race-derived technology that created an ideal balance between performance and reliability was pretty wild stuff. The NSX was therefore quite ahead of its time, even in the futuristic world of the mid-engined supercar. It even looked the part with styling based on a previous design study conducted by Pininfarina. Motor Trend dared to call it “the best sports car ever built.”
The only big revisions with the NSX came in 1995 with the Targa roof NSX-T, in 1997 with a larger 3.2-liter engine with 20 more horsepower and new 6-speed gearbox replacing the previous 5-speed, and in 2002 with fixed xenon headlamps in place of the previous pop-up units. Special versions from 1990 to 2005 included the more hardcore track-focused NSX-R and NSX-S, but these were restricted to the Japanese market. An Alex Zanardi Edition was sold in the US and was quite similar to the NSX-S, and by the end of production in 2005 about 18,000 had been sold. The car was a huge image boost for Honda globally and an accomplished car on the track, so a new model was the natural next step. That was not to be, however, and the world would have to wait.
We didn’t think it would have been so long without the NSX. As early as 2007, Honda began development on a V-10 supercar and a fierce-looking prototype was seen testing at the Nurburgring, but by 2008 Honda was tightening its purse strings in the midst of the recession and all plans for a road legal supercar, as well as Honda’s Formula One team, were shelved. In 2011, though, news started coming out about Honda indeed developing a new NSX, one that would be quite different from the original car in its design but equally as groundbreaking. After years of teasing us with glimpses of the new NSX in photos, videos, concepts and video games, the production version was finally shown back in January at the North American International Auto Show.
As expected, it is indeed different from the original car. Previous plans for a transversely mounted, naturally aspirated V-6 (like the original car) were shelved and a longitudinally mounted twin turbo V-6 was decided on instead. This motor is enhanced by three electric motors (two up front and one in the back) to make it an all-wheel-drive hybrid, and the anticipated 550 horsepower will drive through a 9-speed dual clutch gearbox. The frame makes heavy use of carbon fiber, while the body is also made of aluminum and composite. The new NSX also has all the dynamic driving modes and convenience features typical of the current crop of supercars and will come in at a price of around $150,000, about 100 grand less than a Ferrari 458.
The NSX won’t get driven and scrutinized by the press until July, but this new version has all the ingredients to live up to the original car. In fact, the two cars are quite alike despite the quarter century separating the two and their differences in design philosophy. Neither car has done anything completely revolutionary. There were certainly cutting edge mid-engined exotics before the 1990 NSX and there have been other hybrid supercars (BMW i8, McLaren P1, Porsche 918) for a number of years now. There are also rivals of each that certainly look better or go faster or have more character, but that’s not what either NSX is about. They’re about giving the owner a perfect balance between performance, practicality and value. They’ve also been great examples of Honda brilliantly taking a look at the surrounding climate and potential rivals and producing an equally brilliant well-rounded product. Of course, it’s still too early to tell, but just as the original NSX was a star among the previous generation of supercars, the new NSX has all the makings of a star in this current generation. Hopefully it will all be worth the wait.
[Photos: Auctions America, Silverstone Auctions, Honda]
By Andrew Newton