UNWRAPPING THE NSX
AFTER A THIRD STINT IN HONDA'S SUPERCAR I THINK I FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHY YOU WOULD WANT ONE
Winston Churchill described Russia as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ and that seems to be just the sort of perplexed conclusion most people reach after driving the new NSX for the first time. Me included. I’m lucky enough to have a large mental reference library of cars stashed away in my brain. I can remember what my internal organs feel like when an F40 hits 4000rpm. I have the muscle memory that makes a Honda S2000’s gearshift readily recallable. And if I close my eyes I can hear the sound of a barely silenced BDA climbing through its rev range. Of course these important ditties don’t leave much room in the old grey matter for other fripperies like working out how to make a fortune on the stock market, but that’s fine. As long as I can judge where a new car fits in to various parameters and then reach an overall assessment of it then all is well with the world. Which is why I didn’t like Honda’s junior supercar flummoxing me.
The first time I got behind the nicely ergonomic wheel was in America where drove it (briefly) on both road and track in Palm Springs before coming home scratching my head like a dim child with nits. There were things I liked and things I didn't but the overwhelming feeling was that I needed a lot more time behind the wheel, preferably on familiar roads, to understand it. The second time I drove one was during a big group test in Scotland. It was deeply impressive and felt faster point-to-point than almost anything else on the test, but it left me a little cold compared to some of the other cars (to be fair there was a 911 R and an M4 GTS in attendance, so it was a harsh comparative light that I was shining on it). As a result there was still a nagging feeling as I was driving home that I hadn’t got to the nub of what the NSX was all about.
But now, after a third spell with Honda’s New Sports eXperience, I feel like I’ve finally got under the aluminium skin of the NSX. On this occasion I wasn’t really approaching the NSX with the specific intent of testing it. I was mostly fulfilling the role of delivery driver, helping Jethro out with a video that you’ll see very soon. What this meant, however, was lots of relatively mundane driving. I picked the NSX up from Honda UK HQ in Bracknell before driving it home through a mind-numbing rush hour. The following day I pottered to the shops in it when I discovered there was only some out of date yoghurt in the fridge. Then I drove to meet Dean Smith to have a go on his mountain bike. That evening I schlepped the four hours up to Anglesey. The next day I did some laps of the track and a few skids for the video cameras (admittedly less mundane and also a huge amount of fun. It goes sideways very easily on its standard rubber and the way the electric motors in the front stabilise slides makes it feel very like the current generation of R8) and once my watch and stomach were both telling me it was well past supper time I set off home again, arriving there in the early hours of the following day via a brief kip the car park of Sandbach services. By lunchtime on Thursday it was back at Honda having taken me to a meeting at the Bill Gwynne rally school along the way.
Not once did it feel like a pain getting in or out. It somehow didn’t feel too ostentatious either, in fact the Civic Type R arguably looks wilder (you can read James May’s thoughts on that in his tribe). The seats are comfy, the cabin is ergonomic, the speakers are excellent and there’s Apple CarPlay. Visibility is very good thanks to the thin A-pillars, making it easy to thread down roads. The electric motors give you huge instant performance at any speed and mean you are essentially never in the wrong gear, yet they also make it a doddle to drive in traffic. Oh and the ride is exceptional.
The only thing that really swims against what I’m about to say is a slightly paltry amount of luggage space. Because when you peel away the enigma, unwrap the covering of mystery and look at the riddle in the cold prosaic surroundings of a Sainsbury’s car park, you realise that the new NSX is just like the original: An everyday supercar. And a very good one at that.