The original Honda NSX was revealed at the Chicago Motor Show in 1989. Developed with the help of late Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, the car enjoyed a 15-year-plus production run – but with the facelifted model discontinued in 2005, it’s been a while since Honda had a machine to challenge the likes of Porsche and Ferrari.
In 2007, the company confirmed that a new supercar, powered by a huge V10, was being considered for release at the end of the decade. But then the recession hit, and the brand backtracked, announcing that all plans for a new NSX had been cancelled. Now, though, 10 years since the previous model rolled off the production line, Honda is readying its most exciting product for two decades – in the form of a brand-new, hybrid-powered supercar.
The model, which the firm says “challenges prevailing beliefs about supercars as much as the first generation did a quarter of a century ago”, was unveiled earlier this year at the Detroit Motor Show. Its twin-turbo hybrid drivetrain will comprise a mid-mounted petrol V6 and three electric motors, and produce more than 550bhp, distributed via all four wheels.
Looking like a cross between an Audi R8 and McLaren 650S with its aluminium composite and steel body, the bold new NSX casts a striking profile. The low roofline and gaping side vents give it an undeniably aggressive look, with dazzling LED headlights and a pair of sharp blades on the bumpers. It pushes the boundaries of Honda’s previously conservative design language.
At the rear, there are no hints of the eco-friendly hybrid powertrain. There are four central exhausts, LED lights and a race-inspired diffuser. It’s noticeably wider than you might think, too, with huge 295-section rear tyres giving the car substantial but necessary contact with the tarmac. Suffice to say, in the metal, few cars can match it for road presence.
Every element of the NSX’s exterior design has been carefully sculpted for high-speed stability. It’s undergone extensive wind-tunnel testing at Honda’s development centre in Ohio, leading to modifications to the bonnet vents, side air intakes and boot spoiler.
In keeping with the legacy of the original – dubbed the world’s first all-aluminium supercar – the new NSX features world-first material applications and construction processes. It uses a space-frame design constructed of aluminium, ultra-high-strength steel and other “advanced materials”. It gets a carbon fibre floor, too, to help
make it ultra-rigid and even better to drive.
The design’s been optimised to concentrate the weight low and towards the middle, and Honda claims the car has the lowest centre of gravity in its class. Mike Accavitti, senior vice president of Honda’s upmarket US arm Acura, told us: “The NSX delivers pinnacle supercar performance, with zero-delay acceleration and confidence-inspiring dynamics.”
It also benefits from fully independent all-aluminium front and rear suspension, plus six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers gripping standard-fit carbon ceramic brakes. All NSXs get 19-inch front and 20-inch rear alloys, wearing Continental ContiSportContact high-performance road tyres.
Under the skin is a specially developed nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which Honda says delivers “synapse-quick gearchanges and rev-matching downshifts”. It’s paired with a longitudinally mounted direct-injection V6 petrol engine, boosted by a single electric motor driving the rear axle. At the front are two further electric motors, which can vary the amount of torque they apply individually to each wheel. Honda calls the configuration its Sport Hybrid all-wheel-drive system (SH-AWD), working in conjunction with Agile Handling Assist (AHA), which subtly applies the brakes to each wheel in order to enhance dynamic stability.
The brand tells us the NSX has undergone extensive testing at some of the world’s most challenging race tracks. No lap times have yet been announced, but if the latest Civic Type R is anything to go by, Honda won’t have passed the NSX for production until it was happy with the result.
Inside it’s trimmed in bright red leather, with driver and passenger cocooned by the high centre console and intricate dash. The seats are firm but not uncomfortable, and the instrument cluster has an adaptable TFT display. The centre console houses the heating and climate controls, which sit neatly below the now-familiar central touchscreen.
However, the engine start button takes centre stage, nestled within the Integrated Dynamics System dial control, allowing the driver to choose between Quiet, Sport, Sport+ and Track driving modes. This allows for total reinvention of the NSX’s personality – for whisper-quiet early mornings or full-throttle circuit driving. The NSX also features a launch mode (which harnesses the V6 petrol engine and the electric motors) for lightning-fast standing starts.
The original was praised for its usability, but this model is designed primarily to be a first-rate driver’s car. Lead designer Michelle Christensen said: “The new NSX was engineered to be an aggressive daily driver. We definitely adjusted things to make it suitable for daily use, but in the end it all goes back to the driver’s experience.”
Visibility is clearly not as much of a priority, although the thin A-pillars and generous approach angles should ensure the new NSX is still a car you can use every day. Engineers have highlighted the exposed mid-frame below the handcrafted leather dash panel as a nod to a ‘naked sports bike’ – one of the NSX’s primary design inspirations.
Ted Klaus, chief engineer and global project leader over NSX development, told Auto Express: “We’ve developed a human-centered supercar that responds to the will of the driver and builds upon the NSX heritage.” The new car will be built exclusively at Honda’s Performance Manufacturing Centre in Ohio, where around 100
highly skilled “low-volume production specialists” will conduct full body construction, paint and final assembly. Badged as an Acura in the States, it’ll still be sold as a Honda in the UK. Prices will be around $150,000 (£100,000) in the US, but expect that to rise a little taking export taxes and VAT into account. First deliveries are pencilled in for spring 2016.
The future looks bright for Honda. With its new model line-up nearly up and running, an even hotter NSX Type R could also be in the pipeline. Ted Klaus said: “Everyone who loves cars wants to see a version that we say is pure red. The NSX has always been silver first, moving towards red later. Someone asked, ‘when will you be satisfied?’ Probably never. What you do today, you can improve on tomorrow.”
Auto Express caught up with NSX lead designer Michelle Christensen to talk all things styling, aerodynamics and whether it’ll be a future classic...
A: “The biggest challenge also became the biggest building blocks of the new NSX – which was keeping the purity of the original, and achieving an effortless synergy of man and machine. For the exterior design, for example, we tuned every surface to function with air flow and cooling, and deleted extra trim and garnishes that took away from the performance.”
A: “It was more about deciding to keep pushing harder in order to achieve the best. With this car we felt like we produced something not only worthy of the NSX badge, but also a thrilling supercar worthy of the modern-day sports car enthusiast.”
A: “The new NSX was engineered to be an aggressive daily driver, much like the first. For the exterior we definitely adjusted things to make it suitable for daily use, but it all goes back to the driver’s experience.”
A: “As our starting point, we inherited the 2012 show car’s design theme. We went back and resculpted every surface, primarily to add more sensuality in the surfaces, and second, for aero performance. We also were able to exaggerate key features such as the side intake to ensure that it became a more powerful, exotic statement, as well as the functional centrepiece.”
A: “Managing the total air flow around the car was a very synergistic process. After adding a front-end vent to cool the brakes, we noticed that led to building pressure in the wheel well. After some hypothesising, we created a slot in the front fender and tested again. Not only did it alleviate the pressure built up in the front fender well, but that very same air stuck to the body side as it travelled down the car and went straight into the side intakes.”
A: “When we took on the project in 2012 we made it our goal to enhance the performance through the design, which entailed distilling the styling down to only what needed to be there. I think that process of omitting unnecessary bits and pieces is what made the design a bit more pure, and will keep the NSX ageing well into other generations – like the original.”
A “You’ll definitely start to see design cues from the new NSX in our future models. But, most importantly, developing the NSX in our studios has had a profound impact on the way we approach making cars, as well as rekindling the company’s love of sport and racing. So you can expect to see that soul in everything we do!”
How do you think the new Honda NSX will shape up against the Porsche 911 and Audi R8? Let us know in the comments section below...