Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

2016 / 2017 Drive-My

Honda / Acura NSX Education Clever Money Cars. Driving the best automotive bets. The Honda NSX is brilliant to drive. Want one? Here’s how to get the best. It changed the the rules of engagement in the supercar club at launch in 1990, and looks to do the same as a great investment. The inside gen on Japan’s greatest supercar of all.  A supercar that drove better than a Ferrari, was built like a Benz and as easy to live with as a Civic? This Honda is the answer. Words Chris Chilton. Photography Jonathan Jacob.


Cast your eyes over the NSX and you can picture the fleet of rival cars Honda’s engineers were benchmarking their brave new halo car against. It’s clearly Japanese, clearly a Honda, but also built from a multitude of classic sports car riffs: the Porsche 959 bridge spoiler, Ferrari-style pop-up lamps and coved flanks, and Corvette ZR1 in the glazed and (optional) black-coloured top. It’s a supergroup of iconic design cues; a car born of the 1980s but destined to make its impact in the following decade.

Reach for the handle located just above the beltline and the frameless door swings open to reveal some brilliantly period ruched leather on the door card. Originally this car would have sported seats covered in more of the same material, but it now has a tasty set of buckets along with the gold BBS rims that give it an appealing modern twist without killing the character.


Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

Throwing a leg over the sill to climb in, a plaque bearing the legend ‘manufactured by Honda Motor Co’ tells us again what the red ‘H’ badge on the nose has given away. Below it, there’s a number: 1000059, revealing this as the 59th NSX to leave the Tochigi plant. The floor mats are monogrammed with the name of the first owner, an original option. We can’t help but wonder how great Takemoto-san must have felt driving Japan’s first supercar – and wonder how long he kept it when the country economically imploded in the early 1990s.

By Ferrari or Lamborghini standards – then or now– the visibility is incredible. We sit close to the floor but the low scuttle and slim pillars mean we can see almost everything. There’s a whiff of dismay at the dash design, which looks like it could have been cribbed straight from an Accord then canted over like a BMW straight-six, and the plain black leather-wrapped airbag wheel that shouts saloon more than supercar. But what’s lost in charm is made up for with electrics that work and switchgear that isn’t from the Fiat parts bin. In fact, judging by those weird column stalk pods, it’s actually from the Starship Enterprise parts bin.

The instruments, though bland, are large and clear. So clear that there’s no missing that the rev counter’s red sector doesn’t start until 8000rpm, a solid 500rpm after Ferrari’s screaming flat-plane crank 348 had thrown in the towel…

That’s some achievement given that this C30A V6 shares DNA with the motor you’ll find in a humble Rover 800. Okay, so maybe it’s disingenuous to stress the link. The NSX’s six has a 90º vee-layout, in common with the also-transverse Rover’s lump. But this one featured niceties like forged conrods, an extra camper bank to operate its 24 valves, and, of course, VTEC.

The Honda NSX wasn’t the first UK Honda car to use the company’s Variable valve Timing and Electronic lift Control system. But it’s a key part of the NSX’s character, and helps it make up what it gave away in cylinder count and swept volume to some key rivals.

At low revs the NSX’s V6 – measuring 3.0 litres here, but stretched to 3.2 for the later models – sounds crisp and feels eager, the sensation (literally) amplified on this car thanks to its fruity aftermarket exhaust. Brush the right pedal and the response is instant, the resulting shove in the back not sledgehammer big, it’s true, but surprisingly urgent. It’s surprising because the maximum of 209lb ft of torque sounds emaciated by modern standards and doesn’t arrive until 5400rpm. Which is about the time things start to get properly interesting.

Within a few hundred rpm of that moment the mild cam lobes, with their modest lift that have been optimised for strong low-end torque and driveability, are sidelined, a rush of oil pressure actuating a second set of spikier lobes and more aggressive valve timing. Together with the opening of a second intake in the induction plenum, VTEC turns what seemed like a pleasantly docile, shockingly driveable sports car into something worthy of banging on Maranello’s front door and demanding the Ferrari 348 step outside for a fight.

But the light-switch moment you’re expecting, that frenzied change of personality when the second set of high-lift valve lobes kick into play on a four-pot VTEC, never happens. It’s subtle – the engine note hardening, the tap on the shoulder becoming a proper push in the back and the rev counter needle moving with vigour as it hoves in on eight grand.

We’ve already passed the 270bhp power peak 700rpm earlier, but the noise is so epic we can’t help but keep it pinned. The NSX’s V6 might be at least a couple of pistons short of the accepted super ideal, but we’d swear otherwise when that mix of intake howl and exhaust wail is hot footing down our ear canal. Plenty of great-sounding engines have been built since the NSX was launched but this V6 is still special.

And that soundtrack is enough to compensate for the actual amount of go on offer. It still feels strong, but the new Civic Type R can almost match the NSX’s 5.3sec to 60mph time, reach 100mph two seconds quicker and see it of at the top end too.

Who cares? This still feels like a genuinely fast car, gives you the confidence to green-light any half-sane overtaking opportunity, and throwing gears at the V6 to extract every drop of performance is a thrill no modern dual-clutch paddle-shift box can top. There are only five to throw, a stumpy lever and neat, mechanical action to help you do it, but Honda clearly hadn’t been studying supercar etiquette when it created a gearbox that didn’t ask you to skip second gear when the oil was cold. What were they thinking? No wonder blinkered Ferrari buyers wouldn’t take it seriously.

Maybe Honda’s engineers were busy focusing their efforts on getting the pedals close enough to let us roll on to the gas for a little baaarp to introduce one gear to the next. The brakes feel strong and the crisp throttle response means we can always dish out the right number of revs.

It’s hard to believe anyone with two functioning legs could bring themselves to hobble an NSX with a four-speed auto. Yet look for a used NSX today and you’ll have to swat away scores of emasculated two-pedal cars to find a decent unmolested manual. To really dilute the experience some later cars featured a heavier targa top body and electric power steering. But car 59 gives us a taste of the NSX as Senna and the Honda development team originally intended.

Contemporary testers talked of the steering lacking clarity in communication, but the sensations wriggling through the wheel and nudging my wrists seem unambiguous today. Without assistance and with fatter rubber to move, the rack feels overly weighty at low speeds, and by modern standards it’s relatively slow.

But get rolling and it shrugs of the heft, turning into corners with real conviction and little evidence of roll, the chassis imparting a real planted feel that’s no doubt partly due to this car’s aftermarket Tein coil-overs. They’re probably responsible for a ride quality that’s harsher than the famously supple NSX felt when new, but what you lose in comfort you gain in body control. This is a busy car on a B-road – it’d be a weapon on a fast, smooth racetrack.

We can tell this car, NSX 59, a grey import, has been enjoyed comprehensively. Who can blame those ghosts from the logbook for really taking this NSX to the middle of nowhere and giving it large at every opportunity? The NSX thrives on a thrashing. It’s never intimidating, always on your side. Yet it’s also a car that can be your friend when the red mist has receded. It’s comfortable, easy to drive and the boot is huge, at least without the spare wheel.

Consider for a moment what sets a Modern Classic apart from its crustier, temperamental predecessor. Modern levels of performance and handling play a part, sensible prices too. But more than that it’s the sheer usability. The NSX is at the more extreme end of the daily driver spectrum, but that usability, the factor that set it so far apart from other supercars when new and changed the make-up of the whole genus, remains a strong suit today. And it’s no less of a thrill to drive one for it.

Experience an NSX and you can’t help feel desperately sad that after breaking the mould Honda never developed the concept further, letting others quickly regain ground. This year, the NSX finally returned to Honda showrooms, but by all accounts the latest hybrid machine is a soulless affair.

Criticise the generic mass-market cabin if you like, but that’s the only thing soulless about the original NSX. Chris Scott, the owner of this car, could have bought one 11 years ago when prices were on the floor. He didn’t, and regretted it; forced to sit back and watch as values picked up and rise to where they deserved to be. Only last year did he grab what might have been his final opportunity to buy. If you’ve always wanted to experience the car that shaped the modern supercar, now is the time.


Need an NSX in your life? Turn over for our expert buying guide

Who can blame those ghosts From the logbook for really taking this NSX to the middle of nowhere and giving it large at every opportunity?’

‘VTEC turns a docile car into something worthy of banging on Maranello’s front door and demanding the 348 step outside for a fight’

 

I BOUGHT ONE CHRIS SCOTT

‘The NSX was my life goal since my dad took me to see my first one at Viking Honda back in 1991. At the age of 10, this supercar stirred my heart. I realised my ambition, and bought this car in September 2015 as a Japanese import, and I’m the first UK owner. It had been imported six months previously and been left forgotten at an importer. I made a cash offer, which was accepted and had it delivered to my home.


‘The acceleration is totally analogue. No electrical nannies, and even the traction control doesn’t interfere, as it’s easy to switch of. The sharp manual steering feels every inch of the road, and the suspension set-up is harsh over uneven ground, but on a good A- or B-road it opens up into a true driver’s car.

‘My dad is no longer with us, and he would be proud to see I’ve secured this car as part of my collection of Hondas. I have his old car keychain on my NSX keys as a reminder.’ If you’ve any questions about buying one, Chris is happy to help anyone with Honda-related queries (he owns a 1978 Accord and a 1973 Civic). [email protected]

Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

 

BUYING A HONDA NSX

Honda’s supermarket-friendly supercar wasn’t a strong seller in the UK. Now it’s in demand and prices are rising – here’s how to buy a good one.


What a difference 10 years makes. Despite all the plaudits, the five-star reviews and the earnest efforts of the journalists and aficionados who sampled this most single minded of supercars, Britain never really warmed to the NSX as a brand-new proposition. Sales were almost 1990s Maserati-esque, with fewer than 18,000 trickling from showrooms worldwide over its 15-year production run.

But times have changed. Where once the NSX languished in the £15k to £30k doldrums, the past year has seen prices rise to the point where the best cars are now tipping over the £50,000 mark. The ultra-rare Japanese-market-only first-gen Type-R has become legend – just three are known to live in the UK and you’re looking at a hefty sum to have one of the 460 examples built gleaming on your drive.

So why now? Japanese performance car culture has matured from simply just overly body kitted and stickered metal pulling burnouts in car parks. Thanks to Gran Turismo, Fast and the Furious and a global community fed by the internet, what rises in the East most definitely piques attention in the West.

Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

A new generation has looked beyond the European hegemony, and those who yearned for Honda’s everyday supercar as a youth but whose fiscal time has come are now falling over themselves to dip in.

In all honesty, the NSX always deserved our attention anyway – it really is as good as those aficionados and journalists make out. Yes, the interior may not be as special (or brittle) as the Italian opposition, and it may lack the headline horsepower figures that pub bores thrive on, but what’s the point of 500bhp if you can only use half of that? That’s the appeal of the NSX – it’s easy to drive fast, easy to look after and easy to live with. As we’ve shown you on the past five pages, it’s a potent cocktail of driving pleasure.

But you must exercise caution. While Honda has a justifiable reputation for bulletproof reliability, it’s important to buy a car that’s been looked after properly. Some have been heavily modified, and while there’s nothing wrong with that it’s best to make sure that the spanner wielders were named specialists with a track record of top-quality workmanship.

The NSX was engineered to be the very best – and here’s how to source the finest of the breed.

 

ESSENTIAL CHECKS

Tristan Longden is a director of Torque GT (torque-gt.co.uk), one of the UK’s leading Japanese car specialists and JDM importers. ‘The biggest clue to how good these cars are is how rarely they change hands. It’s not uncommon to see the early NA1s having as few as one owner from new not only in the UK but also in Japan. Parts and servicing is considered to be on the pricey side compared with the majority of Japanese performance cars of the 1990s, but the NSX is a cut above. As an owner of an NA1 NSX-R, I’d never part with it.’


1 ‘Most parts are still available in the UK, but we order genuine Honda parts directly from Japan when needed,’ explains Tristan. Prices on these fluctuate depending on exchange rates. ‘We also offer premium performance upgrades. We’d always recommend sympathetic modification to enhance the car, rather than transform it.’

2 ‘The NSX has a complete aluminium monocoque chassis,’ says Tristan. ‘The exhaust, fixing brackets and other minor pieces will be the only places where oxidisation is a problem.’ Panels can be expensive to replace – bear that in mind when looking to ‘standardise’ modified cars. Bad panel gaps are a sign of poor repairs.

3 ‘NSX engines are exceptionally well put together,’ says Tristan. ‘But don’t buy a car with a rough idle, the smell of oil burning or excess smoke.’

4 Gearboxes are robust, but notchy synchros are sign of trouble.

5 The suspension is similarly strong; only general wear-and-tear parts needing replacing. ‘New OEM dampers cost around £300 per unit. We also offer performance upgrades which a number of our customers opt for. These add adjustability and sharpen the handling but will obviously set you back a little more.’

6 Clutches can represent a major expense. ‘Although we’ve heard of clutches lasting more than 50,000 miles, that very much depends on the driver’s driving style,’ says Tristan. ‘Budget around £1200 for the clutch kit and five to six hours to fit it.’

7 Check the service history carefully for yearly services. Every two years the oil/air/fuel filters need replacing, as does the brake fluid, coolant and engine/gearbox oil. The ancillary belts also need replacing. Torque GT charges £165 for yearly services, and £325 for two-year checks. The big service comes at 60,000 miles, where the clutch fluid, spark plugs, cambelt, idlers, tensioner and water pump are also replaced. Torque GT charges £975 for this.

8 Tyre prices aren’t horrific. For a set of Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R fronts (215/45 R16) you’re looking at around £220 fitted. Quality rears (245/40 R17) range from £160 for a pair of Kumho Ecsta Le Sport KU39s, to around £240 for a pair of Potenza RE050As. Prices include fitting and are sourced from blackcircles.com.

9 Electric windows are a known issue. The mechanism can break and can take up to six hours of labour to fix.

10 The NSX has three amplifiers in its stereo system, and they often burn out. If you’re tempted to pump up the volume – don’t. This is what causes the problem; and, as the amplifiers are handmade for each car, fixing them will relieve you of around £1000.

11 ‘We always check the ABS pressure hose for signs of ageing but these are very inexpensive to replace,’ says Tristan. ‘Other than that, it’s the usual disc and pad wear to look for. A new set of standard-sized NA1 discs are about £425. High-performance drilled and grooved ones will cost around £600.

12 Check the struts that hold up the bootlid and the engine hatch glass. These struts fail after five years and can cost up to £90 to fix.

13 ‘The V6s are already highly tuned so it’s difficult to get big power gains without spending a lot of money,’ says Tristan. ‘Manifolds and exhaust systems make a notable difference. Headers range from £1500-3000 and full exhaust systems from £1000- 3500 depending on brand.


Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

Prices are from £23k upwards for automatics, with F Matic Targas at £35k+. UK-supplied manuals start at £30k, with low-mileage cars now £50k+. For imports, add £5k. NA1 Type Rs are £120k.

 

KNOW YOUR NSX: SPOTTER’S GUIDE

The NSX made supercars better for everyone. But there’s more to the legend than just the original car – over the years it evolved and matured. Some say the later standard cars lacked the immediacy of the original, but all agree that the very best are the R models. Pity they never officially came to the UK.


1989 NSX

The original NSX was a revelation when it was unveiled at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. The first cars packed a 3.0-litre, 270bhp V6 that redlined at a screaming 7300rpm. Engine size grew to 3.2 litres in 1997; 276bhp and 224lb ft torque was the result.

1992 NSX Type-R

Honda stripped out the sound-deadening, air-con, traction control and more to remove 120kg for this track-biased special. Suspension tweaks to combat oversteer, limited-slip diff and close ratio box all add up to perhaps one of the finest cars ever made.

1995 NSX-T

Addition of Targa roof reduced torsional rigidity, so Honda added 45kg of structural reinforcement. From 1995 ‘standard’ NSXs had suspension tweaks, power steering and the option of semi-automatic gearboxes. Manual cars got an LSD.

2002 Facelift NSX

1997’s performance update had added aluminium alloy body panels and a six-speed gearbox. 2002’s facelift meant losing the lovely pop-up headlights. Suspension was tweaked further and a four-speed automatic with manual function was an option.

2004 NSX-R

Honda got busy with the carbon-fibre autoclave with this one, shaving 100kg from the standard car. According to Honda the handbuilt, blueprinted engine chucked out 290bhp. ‘Pull the other one, it has a lot more,’ said anyone lucky enough to drive it.

{gallery}NSX{/gallery}

 

Investment

In pretty much all matters automotive, it’s usually wise not to look at the past in order to gain a sense of what’s going to happen in the future. And with that in mind, we’re not exactly going out on a limb in saying that the Honda NSX is a surefire future investment.


In 1990, when the NSX first went on sale for £60,000 in the UK, it was possible to buy a Toyota 2000GT for similar money. This was one of Japan’s most special sports cars – a beautiful creation powered by a wonderful Yamaha developed straight-six, and proving that the Japanese were capable of building Ferrari-beaters way back in the 1960s.

Sadly, a mere 337 were made, but the parallels with the Honda NSX are there for all to see. Last year, a 2000GT sold in the USA for a cool $1m. Just bear that in mind…

Will we be looking at million-dollar NSXs in 2040? Probably not, but given at least two of them have solid Ayrton Senna provenance, we wouldn’t count it out entirely. In a market where classics are averaging 5% growth, expect the NSX to do somewhat better, and continue its value surge. Interest in the best Japanese cars has never been keener – there will always be more buyers than sellers. These are one to buy now, enjoy for years, and then pay you dividends, should you ever be persuaded to sell it.

Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

 

The DRIVE-MY view

The Honda NSX really is a car of its time. It represents an era when engineering was prized above marketing hot spots – if you judge a car solely by its specification sheet, then this isn’t the one for you. But sample one for yourself and you’ll fall in love with the sublime chassis balance, rasping V6 engine and sheer usability. Be in no doubt, these are very special cars. The NSX joins a select number of genuinely dual-purpose supercars. You can take it to the race track for a day of hot circuit action, but when it’s time to go home after a hard day, your granny could take the wheel and make it back safely.


They’re uncommonly reliable, too. Where traditional Italian supercars are said to make you an expert at winching cars onto a flatbed truck, the NSX will keep going and going. And you’ll be grinning all the way.

It’s a car that’s likely to keep you smiling should you come to sell it, too – Japanese performance car culture has conquered the West and the NSX is the purest form of its ideal. One day we’ll look back at current prices and scarcely believe they were ever this cheap. If you want one, act now. Thanks to The NSX Owners’ Club (nsxcb), Torque GT (torque-gt.co.uk) and Chris Scott.

Honda / Acura NSX Japan’s greatest supercar of all

This particular car, only the 59th to roll of the production line, uses a 3.0-litre V6. Later manual cars had a 3.2-litre. Interior may lack exuberance of its Italian rivals – but at least everything will work more than once.

{module Honda Acura NSX Mk1}


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Additional Info
  • Year: 1990-2005
  • Engine: Petrol 3.0-litre V6
  • Power: 270bhp at 6800rpm
  • Torque: 210lb ft at 4000rpm
  • Speed: 160mph
  • 0-60mph: 7.0sec

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