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Technical analysis

11/01/2021
A supercar from the “Land of the rising sun”

Honda NSX

 

Thirty years after throwing down the gauntlet to European supercars, Honda’s sports car gets a makeover, maintaining the highest standards of driving pleasure.

 

Duilio Damiani

Before the NSX there was nothing. It was 1989 when an eager Ayrton Senna sat behind the wheel - in loafers and white socks, as shown in a famous video clip - of the new-born NSX. Not just another car, but the unexpected weapon with which Honda wanted to challenge Ferrari not only on race tracks, Formula 1’s golden age was the perfect setting for such competing spirit, but also on the road. On the road – as well as on the market - no Japanese brand had ever dared to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus and Porsche, just to name a few. Only Honda, exploiting the know-how acquired on the track and with the help of an exceptional tester, Ayrton Senna, believed in it to the end, creating the first true Asian super car at the end of the 1980s, one that immediately met with great success and admiration.

New Sport eXperience, NSX to be precise, the name chosen 30 years ago, still identifies the new generation of the Japanese legend, launched in 2017 after many delays – following a first glimpse of the prototype shown at the Detroit show in 2012 - either because of the crisis affecting the car market back then or because of the incessant technical refinement, bordering on fussiness, so typical of the Japanese. The result? On a par with, if not beyond, most high-end vehicles, just as it was for its predecessor.

 

LITTLE ROOM, PLENTY OF FUN

Impossible to go unnoticed, considering the uncompromising design. Muscular, aggressive, refined details, such as the rear pillars detached from the body to facilitate the airflow towards the cooling intakes, or the large intakes located on the bonnet dedicated to the electric units, the NSX is not shy about size being 4.47 metres long, 1.94 metres wide (2.22 metres if you take the mirrors into account) and 1.21 metres high - or low depending on how you look at it (just 94mm from the ground), with a wheelbase of 2.63 metres that contributes to optimize weight distribution (42-58% front-rear). The total mass stands at around 1.8 tons in running order, not exactly a feather considering the type of vehicle. This weight, however, is dictated by the car's generous powertrain and imposing size, despite being able to accommodate only two people.

Forget family trips, at the most one may carry just one passenger. Not much luggage either, reduced to just a handbag and little else, crammed into a 125 litres compartment. The interior dimensions are what we would expect of an authentic sports car, with fine leather and Alcantara just about everywhere, digital instruments, central display and an elbow-high tunnel that houses the battery pack of the hybrid system. A cosy “cocoon”, made from a modular aluminium space frame chassis with high-strength, three-dimensional elements designed to minimise the size of the pillars but offer high structural stiffness at the same time, together with aluminium body panels, composite materials and carbon fibre. The large windscreen offers ample visibility, and the same can be said even for side and rear visibility (usually sacrificed in UHP cars with a rear engine). Wraparound seats and ergonomic controls convey a sense of absolute control, both in terms of electronics settings and the car's response to the driver's commands, which is immediate. The dynamic settings, managed by an IDS (Integrated Dynamic System), offer four driving modalities: Quiet for normal driving, Sport for a rather more spirited driving, Sport+ when more punch is required and Track, for a day at the tracks or if you feel the need to deactivate a few stability and grip controls in favour of a more intuitive and instinctive ride taken to the limit.

 

GOING OVERBOARD

Not one, not two, not even three, but four engines working simultaneously, one ICE unit and three electric, for a truly impressive combined performance. The main unit is the new 3.5 litre V6 with 75° cylinder banks, mounted longitudinally at the rear. This new generation twin-turbo, powered by dual electronic injection and 24-valve distribution, is capable on its own of delivering 507 bhp and over 56 kgm of torque from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm. And that's not all: the first of the electric motors operates on the rear axle, with 48 bhp of direct transmission, driven independently at the start or synchronised with the thermal engine during acceleration. At the front, the two TMU (Twin Motor Unit) - one for each wheel - deliver 37 bhp each and over 15 kgm of torque available at zero rpm (meaning that the NSX is a true four-wheel drive), and contribute in correcting any hint of skidding acting on both front wheels by adding or cutting out power independently from each of the front wheel. The Sport Hybrid Super Handling All Wheel Drive system, which has a total of 581 bhp, is managed by a double clutch 9-speed manual transmission with limited slip rear differential, electronically operated through an integrated dynamic system which modifies parameters such as engine output and set up, right down to the sound coming out of the exhaust all manageable comfortably from the driver’s central display. The suspensions benefits from four independent wheels, with
an Independent Double-wishbone at the front with active variable settings. Braking power is guaranteed by four powerful Brembo carboceramic discs in addition to the braking action of the electric motors, which act as recharging units for the hybrid system's lithium ion battery pack when decelerating. The steering is very direct and filtered by a variable-intensity power-steering, which allows for an extremely responsive driving facilitated by the assistance of the TMU unit, reacting instantaneously to the first hint of a grip loss working on the traction on each individual front wheel. Tires come with different sections on the two axles, with two 245/35 ZR19 at the front and a pair of 305/30 ZR20 at the rear, able to provide adequate grip and a smooth ride. Average fuel consumption stands at 9.4 km/litre.

With a top speed of 307km/h and scorching 0-100km/h acceleration in just 3.6 seconds, the NSX rightfully ranks among the most exciting sports cars. No “monster” performance, but close enough. However, if this doesn’t satisfy your desire for thrills, well-founded rumours speak of an upcoming evolution, expected next year, in a Type R version, upgraded with an overall power output of 640 bhp. Completing the NSX range, we find a roadster dedicated to those motorists who enjoy the feeling of driving with the wind in their hair.

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