Hopefully by now you've watched our NSX video over on Tribe Nation, where Honda's new super-complex hybrid supercar meets the purest version of its iconic predecessor. If you haven't, please look away now because I'm going to say stuff concerning the outcome.
Okay, so you're back. And now you know that I ADORE the NSX R. It's such an intense car to drive, demanding of the driver but offering the sort of response, feedback and rewards that only the very best can. I think it's in my top five cars ever, sitting beside the mighty 4.0 RS, the unloved but simply sublime Ferrari F50 (the R actually reminds me very much of this amazingly raw supercar), the wild 458 Speciale and the beautifully tactile and staggering sharp 675 LT. Or should that be a 918? Hmmm, maybe a Carrera GT. Oooh, then there's the Lexus LFA, Ford GT, Mitsubishi Evo VIII MR RS. To be honest it's pretty much impossible to choose a top half dozen or so cars. It all depends on the day you catch me, I suppose. But the point is that I love pure, uncompromising and unique driving experiences. And that last part really gets to the nub of why I love so many Japanese cars. They go their own way. Sometimes to disastrous effect, but often with unexpectedly glorious outcomes.
It started for me with the Skyline. I was never much of a gamer so I became aware of this mysterious four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer monster through magazine articles. They were few and far between but painted a picture of something so different and alien but spellbindingly effective. The exact opposite of the Ferraris of the time, or the 911s for that matter. This was before I'd driven a 911 (or anything else, save for my Dad's Uno Turbo i.e around a gravel car park) and hadn't seen the light. The constant magazine fawning over the Porsche made me sort of hate it. This huge, weird-looking coupe seemed like a great big hammer that was electronically guided to strike down precisely on the 911 myth and squash it like a bug.
When I rather incredulously started driving cars for a job the R34 GT-R was on sale in the UK but only for a short period and I didn't really get to experience it. But I found a new love. The Mitsubishi Evo. Many of my colleagues preferred the warmer character of the throbby Subaru Impreza, but for me the crazed speed and hyper-agility of the Evo was at once unnatural and completely intuitive. I can still feel the way those cars would shift into oversteer on the brakes and then claw themselves straight. In the process the Evos would be sliding sideways but with their wheels pointing straight. Eventually the engine's thrust would overpower the sideways inertia and you'd feel like a hero. Except for the time I ran out of room/talent/hit diesel/sneezed/was dazzled by oncoming traffic, and hit a lamp post. But that's another story.
The problem is that once you're hooked by these strange machines with their wilfully complex four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer, active yaw control and god-knows-what-else chassis, you delve still further and find new layers. The weird JDM special editions, the creations by NISMO, the unique Type Rs with proper lsds and double-wishbone suspension, the stripped-out cars intended to be turned into Group N rally cars with mechanical instead of electronic diffs and tiny 'gravel brakes' and flat seats that will instantly be ripped out and replaced with competition items. The Spec Cs, Type RA-Rs, the Zero Fighter, the S-tune, the 400R and Z Tune, the MR RS, the list is endless and each one seems all the more irresistible because it seems to go to absurd lengths to eek out more performance. If I could I'd fill a very big garage with various Japanese cars that some people (many people) wouldn't understand.
However, in a time where cars seem to be converging on common technologies, the Japanese should stick to these weird and wonderful traditions. Maybe even amplify them further. The GT-R is a fantastic example of the unique cars that come from this philosophy of pursuing driving excitement through technology and I love it. Far from feeling digital it's clonky and creaky and physical. And there are cool, strange variants like the SpecV and the Nismo Time Attack (which no journalist has ever driven as far as I'm aware). Lexus have also trodden their own path with the shriekingly brilliant but misunderstood LFA, the ugly and slightly outpaced RC F and the also outpaced but somehow deeply satisfying GS F. Sadly Subaru and Mitsubishi haven't continued the good fight (the new WRX STi is pretty horrid and the Evo X was never a proper Evo and is now deceased anyway), but there are always casualties along the way. Maybe they'll be back, along with Mazda with the long-rumoured but still unconfirmed rotary-engined sports car. I do hope so. The addiction needs feeding.