Honda has long been a company that strives to innovate. When it feels a lawnmower doesn’t cut grass efficiently enough, it goes and designs a new one. When private jets need a high-tech overhaul, Honda engineers step in and create something truly fresh.
The same can be said for many of its cars. Back in 1990 Honda tore up the rulebook and unleashed a full fat supercar that proved painfully rapid transportation could also be reliable and relatively affordable: the NSX.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the Japanese marque is innovating once again, as the second-generation NSX packs the same sort of hybrid hypercar technology that’s typically reserved for models such as the Porsche 918 and McLaren P1, yet it costs as much as a Porsche 911 Turbo and is as user-friendly as a hot hatch.
Honda NSX (2016) preview: Hyper Drive
It’s highly likely that you’ve already studied every last detail of the new NSX’s cutting-edge powertrain, as the thing has been teased, touted and revealed for years. But all the PR in the world can’t make up for driving the thing.
Underneath the NSX’s rear glass hatch sits a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6. It develops 507bhp and 406lb/ft of torque – enough to worry the Audi R8. But Honda, being Honda, hasn’t stopped there.
No, the Japanese engineers have theoretically thrown in another three engines in the form of two electric motors at the front wheel, dubbed the Twin Motor Unit (TMU), and a third at the rear axle, which is labelled the Direct Drive Motor.
These are powered by a large battery pack that sits behind and beneath the NSX’s two front seats and receives its charge via kinetic energy from the braking system and the V6 engine, which acts as a generator to help keep juice levels brimmed.
But unlike a Prius or other such hybrids, this system isn’t designed to eke out every last drop of fuel (although it does manage a respectable 28mpg). Instead, the motors fill in the gaps in the torque curve, which results in blistering acceleration and scintillating performance.
Honda NSX preview: Better off (not) connected
The new Honda NSX is a car for the digital generation and, as such, allows computers and technology to take care of the important stuff that’s typically handled by analogue hydraulics, racks, cogs and cables.
The brakes, for example, aren’t actually connected to anything. The pedal is attached to a brake operation simulator and electronic control unit (ECU), which determines how much force is applied to the discs.
This is so the regenerative braking system can work efficiently, but it creates a headache for the engineers tasked with building a track-day weapon that’s designed to pound the circuit all day.
Nick Robinson, NSX Vehicle Dynamics Project Leader, explained that his team had to fashion a warning system that sounds when the brakes start to overheat. “In a normal vehicle, the brake oil begins to boil and the brakes overheat, meaning the pedal starts to go slack, warning the driver to ease off.
“This doesn’t happen with our system, so we had to build in a warning sound. But that’s not enough, especially when someone is concentrating on the race circuit. So we then decided to add physical play into the brake pedal when the vehicle senses overheating.”
Honda NSX second-gen preview: A digital delight
There are almost too many engineering masterstrokes to mention in one article. But believe us when we say every single one has teamed up to offer a truly impressive drive.
Select Quiet mode from the cool four-step rotary dial and the systems on the NSX come to life without a peep. Go easy one the accelerator and it’s possible to creep away using battery power alone. The perfect getaway vehicle? Definitely. No that you’ll fit much in the back.
Spin that dial once to the right and the vehicle enters Sport mode where its vocal V6 comes to life. Driving in this setting unshackles some of the performance on offer but it feels restrained. The noise from the engine behind the driver’s head is whiny and can get a little tiresome, so it’s not long before Sport+ is selected.
Here, the NSX really starts to come to life and the soundtrack improves somewhat. The exhaust note is pumped directly into the cabin via some pipes behind the driver’s head and the exhaust gas routing is pumped out of the un-baffled centre pipes. There are barks, pops and bangs on the downshifts and a glorious howl when the accelerator is depressed.
But the real excitement comes in the most extreme mode: Track. This winds back the stability control and releases the full performance potential of both the electric system and the combustion engine.
Roll up to the start/finish line. Keep the left foot on the brake. Plant the accelerator and let the revs rise to 2,000rpm. The needle bounces off a digital limiter. Release the left foot and be prepared to have your spleen disintegrated.
The Launch Control functionality is ferocious and although Honda won’t give an official 0-62mph sprint time, it’s safe to say it is easily under 3-seconds.
Honda NSX 2016: From track to town and back
The phrase “everyday supercar” is touted all too often these days, as most high performance machines are so sophisticated that complete fools can drive them. But the new NSX really is a doddle to live with.
Its seats are comfortable, yet don’t require too much climbing in and out of; its proportions are compact; visibility is good, making it easy to park in town; and its driving modes ensure it can be quiet and relaxing on a motorway cruise.
Perhaps the biggest let down, though, is the cabin and its infotainment system. While the leather trim and ergonomically designed steering wheel hint at premium performance, much of the switchgear feels cheap and plasticky to the touch, while the Garmin navigation system appears to be years out of date.
Hop into an Audi R8 or Porsche 911 and the interior ambience and infotainment tech on offer feel light-years ahead.
But overlook the finishing kit and you are left with one of the most complex speed machines on the market. One that utilises direct yaw control to drag the car around a corner. A car that features innovative Ablation Cast Nodes, which reduce the front and rear overhangs without compromising crash safety. A car with rear brakes that are cooled by special underbody vents.
There’s so much going on underneath the skin of the new Honda NSX that it almost feels like a few days behind the wheel isn’t enough. But our test drive revealed a vehicle that is supremely capable on a race circuit, goading the driver to push harder and go faster, while the hybrid powertrain makes it great to use around town.
Honda has already sold its allocation of 60-odd cars for the first year and the subsequent years are pretty much already accounted for, too, which comes as no surprise. So even if you do have a spare £137,950 to part with, you’ll want to get on the waiting list pronto.
The car makes heads swivel every time it rolls through busy areas and instantly starts conversations surrounding its futuristic powertrain and sharp exterior styling every time it is parked up.
If Honda does something about the human-machine interface and sexes up the interior slightly, it will have a near-faultless vehicle on its hands. Even if that would see that already sizeable price tag increase beyond supercar levels.