It’s one of the most overused expressions in motoring journalism: ‘It’s like an F1 car for the road.’
Used to describe just about any new model with more horse power than the Grand National and a price that’s on a par with a modest-sized property, it’s an easy – and fairly lazy – link to make.
Nevertheless, here I am using that very same cliche. And I’m not even sorry.
That’s because Honda’s NSX is – in my opinion – the closest road-going representation of the racers currently being piloted by the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel that you, in theory, can buy from a showroom right now. But should you?
F1 for the road: The Honda NSX is one of the most forward-thinking supercars of the moment, being one of the few to adopt hybrid performance in the sub-£200,000 market. So does electrification hinder or heighten its appeal?
Let’s get one thing straight from the offset – not everyone is going to be able to afford Honda’s supercar.
The basic on the road price is £149,950. The Andaro Blue version I had for a week was kitted up to the eyeballs with additional spec – £4,800 of it being the paint alone – and cost £180,250 once I’d tallied up all the extras.
While that’s only around the same price as a front wing and nose cone for a Mercedes’ W09 F1 car, it’s still far from chump change for you and I.
Fully-equipped like this one, the NSX teeters dangerously close to the price you have to pay for a Ferrari 488 GTB or McLaren 570S. And that’s not good news for Honda.
NSX is a name that carries serious weight, thanks to the original Honda supercar that went out of production 13 years ago.
But while Honda’s been out of the performance-car game – instead developing new ways to transport potted plants in a Jazz – the established marques have been blitzing the market with new machinery, expanding their supercar expertise and scrambling over each other for the biggest chunk of what is a pretty limited clientele.
But despite this Honda’s having no problems with sales. In fact, it claims it can’t make the NSX quick enough to appease demand – even here in the UK.
The first allocation of 100 cars sold out within a year of becoming available, and most of the second allocation – due to arrive this summer – have been snapped up by fanboys (and girls) already, with the waiting list currently standing at 12 months if you put a request in today.
Fortunately, three cars – at the time of this test – have been allocated to the press fleet (one being in the workshop having been rudely vandalised with an unsightly diagram on the bonnet), so I didn’t have long to wait to get my hands on one, with this review coinciding nicely with the 2018 Formula One season opener in Australia at the weekend.
The NSX isn’t cheap. While it costs £149,950 basic, the example we tested tallied in at just over £180,000 – that’s Ferrari 488 and McLaren 570S territory
The high-spec NSX we drove is about the same price as a front wing and nose cone for Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes W09 F1 car
The first allocation of 100 cars sold out within a year of becoming available. If you want one, the waiting list is 12 months
What makes it more like today’s F1 cars than anything else on sale?
Formula One is more advanced now that it has ever been. Downsized engines, hybrid powertrains, regenerative power systems – they really are testing the boundaries of the technology that governments will force all motorists to use in the next few years.
And the Honda NSX shares more ingredients with F1 cars of 2018 than any other thrill-seeking model on the market.
Here’s my argument. Like the Formula One prototypes, it uses a turbocharged V6 petrol engine. However, at 3.5 litres, it’s more than twice the size of the 1600cc capacity motors used by Red Bull Racing, Force India and the rest.
Just like high-profile names such as Alonso, Raikonnen and Verstappen, NSX drivers will have the motor wedged just inches from their ear, with the six-cylinder lump dropped as close to the centre of the car as possible, just behind the backrest.
But Honda has also decided to follow the footsteps of F1 into the fiendishly complicated world of electrified hybrid performance, while the supercar fraternity has tended to play it safe with conventional petrol-only powerplants.
And it hasn’t scrimped on the supplementary kilowatts.
There are two electric motors up front – one powering each of the front wheels – and a third bolted between the engine and the nine-speed transmission, which is one gear more than F1 rules stipulate.
It’s not short of power as a result. With 573bhp when all power sources are active, it’s more potent than a Lamborghini Huracan or Porsche 911 Turbo S.
F1 has moved into a new era of hybrid powertrains, which has not been to all tastes – especially enthusiasts begging for V8 and V10 motors as used in the past
Like Formula One, the NSX uses a hybrid V6 powertrain, though the petrol engine is more than twice the size as those being raced in the 2018 season
Under the bonnet of the NSX is a phenomenal computer than decides when petrol power is used, when electric propulsion takes over and when best to combine the two to produce stunning performance
But this is where it gets complex, as not all these sources work at the same rate or at the same time.
Instead, the Mensa-busting computer has the unfathomable task of deciding if the car should use electric power only, just the V6 engine, or a combination of everything.
And that’s before you reach a turn in the road. Then it has to choose which of the front motors needs to work at what speed, how the traction control kicks in, if the inside wheels need some braking applied to make the car pivot quicker, and how much power is sent to each corner of the car – all in a bid to take a bend as fast as physics allow.
That’s no small achievement. Think of it as like deciding what to have for dinner tonight, but in the same millisecond working out what ingredients you need, how they need to be prepped, the optimum cooking temperature, what has to be readied first and how you’re going to present it on a plate, while actually doing that all at the same time.
Fortunately, the system is so seamless that you’ll never need to know any of this…
The computer also decides how much power is being sent to each wheel to ensure the NSX corners at optimum speeds
With all this technology crammed into one car, you might think it could become overly complex. But the system is so seamless that you’ll barely know when it’s swapping through drive modes
NSX is a name that carries serious weight, thanks to the original Honda supercar that went out of production 13 years ago
It might be complex but it feels more special for it
In the most timid of four driving settings (Quiet), delicate throttle actions mean you can use this six-sum supercar in pure electric mode with not a single pollutant emitted from the exhaust – something you can’t do in many other vehicles of this ilk, the BMW i8 being an exception.
While full EV is only exploitable for short distances (just over a mile when I tried it) it makes the NSX feel instantly special as soon as you disengage the parking brake.
Unfortunately, Greenpeace won’t be endorsing this driving mode any time soon, as it’s not entirely electric. The V6 engine always kicks in on start-up, though it rapidly diminishes into the background allowing you to waft through town in stealthy silence.
But tranquil creeping through a metropolis isn’t what the NSX is about.
The electric battery source, when driving in town at low speeds, can last for between one and two miles before the V6 petrol engine has to kick in
Not many supercars on the market today can glide through town without emitting a single pollutant and then thrash through the countryside at apoplectic pace
Find an open stretch of road, work your way through the remaining driving settings – from Sport to Sport Plus and Track – and the Honda quickly reaffirms that it’s by no means a planet-saving eco warrior; this is a full-blooded weapon designed for the most enthusiastic of petrolheads.
Right off the bat in Sport mode, the NSX is devilishly quick.
Even with a relatively tubby (by supercar standards) 1,776kg kerb weight – due to the batteries and motors – any fears that it might feel too cumbersome for a proper performance car soon disappeared, as the back of my head was abruptly buried into the sports seats at the first gutsy dab of the throttle.
With the surge of momentum comes a lovably raucous engine note – even if it might be missing a couple of cylinders for some supercar traditionalists – and the short barks of revs on downshifts through the gearbox are utterly addictive.
It even stops better than I imagined. Okay, it’s fitted with £8,400 optional carbon ceramic brakes, but they’re linked to a regenerative energy system to replenish the small battery for the electric motors – and if you’ve ever driven a Toyota Prius, you’ll know that this can make the stop pedal turn into a Victoria Sponge. Not in the NSX. It’s sharp and full of feel.
But that’s not the most impressive characteristic of the hyper-powered Honda.
What’s more flabbergasting is how it holds a corner at speed without a stutter or hint of struggle. You won’t know it but the onboard computer is working tirelessly in the background, as it calculates how to handle that fast-approaching curve and deposit you safely at the other end. And all the while it doesn’t feel synthetic or aided. In fact, it feels mechanical and hugely involving.
While it almost certainly never is the case, you, the driver, feel utterly responsible for each perfectly taken turn, and that’s a bigger testament to Honda than the cornering speed itself.
One let down is the interior quality. It feels more like a subdued Civic than an exotic supercar in places, especially the infotainment system
Ride quality – even by supercar standards – is harsh. Tuned on silky US highways, you’ll feel just about every foible in the British tarmac
It’s flawless then, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite the finished article, for three main reasons.
Firstly, the ride is punishing, even by supercar standards. This is mostly due to the suspension compliance being mastered on US roads (where it’s called the Acura NSX) and therefore far too rigid for the UK’s pothole-riddled routes.
The next issue is the dinky 1.3 kilowatt battery for the three electrified motors. It simply doesn’t provide electric power for long enough installments. This might sounds like a moot point for a near-600bhp powerhouse designed to tear up tarmac rather than glide over it mutely, but there’s no denying that it impresses when cruised silently through town as much as it does when you’re rampaging through the countryside.
The final flaw is the interior. Has it been lifted from a £20,000 Civic hatchback? Not entirely, but that infotainment system certainly has, and it’s way too crude for a car that is a mechanical masterpiece. If it was my £180,000, I’d feel short-changed by the cabin finish.
The NSX is proof that electrification can not only help the planet but also be put to loutish good use. MailOnline and This is Money deputy motoring editor Rob Hull (right) gave the Honda an unwavering thumbs up verdict
Fewer cars can corner as fast as the NSX, and that’s mainly thanks to the technology that helps you navigate every bend. However, it’s the Honda’s knack of massaging your driving ability that makes it a winner in our minds
The Cars & Motoring verdict
Like with the changing direction of F1, many will fear the arrival of hybrid technology in the most mighty of performance powertrains, but the NSX is a stark reminder that electrification isn’t just about curbing pollution – in cases like this it can be put to loutishly good use.
How the NSX has developed from the original model (which went out of production in 2005) to what it is now has in part been forced by the demands for technology that have emerged since Honda last supplied us with a supercar.
But the Japanese brand has refused to be strangled by these advances. Instead, it has triumphed by exploiting the arsenal of new weaponry it had to utilise and created a model that feels as special at 5mph in electric mode as it does at 185mph with the V6 singing at full chorus.
If you can afford it should you buy one instead of a Ferrari or McLaren? Plenty will argue not. But I guarantee that if you do choose the NSX, each time you get out of it you’ll marvel at how it just took you on that journey, no matter what speed it was travelled at.
HONDA NSX: FACTS AND FIGURES
Basic price: £149,950
Price on test: £180,250
Optional extras: Andaro Paint (£4,800), Carbon Fibre Exterior Sport Pack (£7,100), Carbon Fibre Engine Cover (£2,900), Carbon Ceramic brakes (£8,400), Carbon Fibre Interior pack (£2,300), Garmin Nav (£1,700), Heated power adjustable sports seats (£2,000), Alcantara headlining (£1,100)
Engine: Twin-turbo 2.5-litre V6 petrol
Power unit: Front twin motors, rear direct drive motor
Maximum power: 573bhp
Top speed: 191mph
Transmission: 9 speed semi automatic
Width: 2,217mm (including mirrors)
Kerb weight: 1,776kg – 1,814kg
Fuel tank: 59 litres
Fuel economy: 24mpg
CO2 emissions: 228g/km
CARS & MOTORING: ON TEST