How striking would this look as a roadster?

How striking would this look as a roadster?

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What is the Japanese for automotive near-perfection? Lexus build quality? Without a doubt. When it comes to engines, though, Honda stands head and shoulders above all others. The one in the NSX might just be its best yet.

After seven fantastic days with what was a hard-driven prototype, nothing about the car made me tired, irritated, uncomfortable or longing to be seated at the same height as those in SUVs. Or even cars: the NSX has a driving position which is perfect, is never awkward to enter or get out of. Plus, how can you not grow addicted to any supercar which looks this futuristic and which generates so much enthusiasm from those who see it?

Positioning, image and sales potential

Not that there aren't certain issues with the NSX. For example, what could better demonstrate the strange situation which Honda UK and Honda Motor Europe find themselves in than this model? Even if you pay up to GBP33,000 list for a CR-V - the brand's formerly priciest model - there is then a more than GBP110,000 leap from there to the cheapest NSX. How on earth do you market this supercar? In North America, it's an Acura, so the gap isn't as large, and yet, it is still a factor, worldwide. 

As has sadly been noted too many times on just-auto.com, HUK and HME are the divisions which lag so many others in the world of Honda. The good news is that the awful years of what looked like an unstoppable decline might have finally come to an end. Could some of the magic of this arresting looking supercar be a factor? Everywhere I parked it or refuelled it, people were at times wildly happy to see it and knew what it was. The word does not appear on the exterior, either, the H logo being the closest it gets to that.

Back to the brand's current position in Britain, and the greater European region. The new-shape Civic is finding favour, a fresh CR-V will be rolling into dealerships at year-end (including the first hybrid powertrain in the model's history) and a facelift for the Jazz will hit showrooms from early 2018 after a regional premiere at the Frankfurt IAA

Next month's German motor show is also where the world should be getting its first look at a prototype of a secret future electric model. HME had until a few days ago been quiet on the topic of a missing diesel engine for the Civic (it's coming but not until March). Also, without the rest of the world's latest CR-V, it has no proper alternative to those wanting to trade in their old Civic wagon for a new one. That's because the rise of C segment SUVs saw a potential estate version of the new Civic axed. 

Marketing - none needed

Given all of the above, a year-on-year dip of only per cent for UK sales in July, versus an overall decline of nine per cent, is a good result. As the high profile ad campaign for the Type R adds some fairy dust to the cheaper versions, expect Civic sales to grow in the coming quarters, and there might even be a halo effect from the hero NSX, which is HUK and HME's flagship. Let's see if I can find ways to slip DNA and iconic in somewhere below, for I am the curator of this review.

The gentle mocking of over-used and nonsensically-applied terms hopefully illustrates what I believe HUK and HME have on their hands with the NSX: a car which needs no eye-rollingly florid ad campaigns or press releases. I've just handed back the white car you see above and not once did I have any thoughts about Earth Dreams or even The Power of Dreams. The NSX is the real deal, not the synthetic supercar which some might condemn it to be.

Engineering

How can anyone not admire the minds which decided to reject the V10 engine which had originally been developed for a new NSX in favour of a three motors and one turbocharged V6 combo? Yes, it weighs more than the first generation car did in 1989 but I know which of the two I'd rather be in should the unthinkable happen and an especially violent collision occur.

For the record, the made-in-the-USA car is constructed around an aluminium-intensive spaceframe, with kerb weight coming in at an official 1,776-1,814kg (it depends on the spec). That's far from light and yet is it really relevant when no-one seems to give a fig that Teslas are way over the two-tonne mark? Pushing this rocketship along is the biturbo 3,493cc V6 supported by three motors. Two drive the front axle and the third is there to fill in a hole in the torque curve of the V6. 

If you're aware of the lack of mechanical connection between the mid-mounted engine and the front wheels, it's initially perplexing as to why there is a transmission tunnel separating passenger from driver. Then it hits you: this must be where the battery for the hybrid system sits. It is. There are two fuel tanks, also positioned as part of an admirable obsession with balance. Oh, and did I mention the TEN heat exchangers? Some of these you can see after opening the bonnet. There is no room for any luggage up front (and the boot behind the engine has an official capacity of just 110 litres).

The multiple radiators are there to cool seven primary heat sources: the V6+motor, two turbochargers, Honda's own nine-speed dual clutch gearbox, the PDU (power distribution unit) and those two motors which drive the front tyres. This car will also run as an EV for short distances too. That helps with the CO2 average which is 228g/km. You simply turn a dial to QUIET and if there is enough saved energy, it will activate, even at speeds way higher than park-silently-when-you-come-home-very-late. The other choices are SPORT, SPORT+ or TRACK. The last of these is bonkers mode.

Do Hondas ever die?

This car had clearly been thrashed: it dates to the original press launch in 2016 and you hate to think how many times the launch control system has been activated. There was some sign of wear on the edge of the red leather which covered the driver's seat and…that's it. 

Having spoken to a technician whose job it is to maintain this particular pre-production example, I wanted to know how many rebuilds had been done or which components had been found to be lacking. None. He seemed to be in as much awe of the design of the entire drivetrains as I was. Seeing it through the eyes of a mechanic was instructive. I don't know the answer to this question and yet it's worth asking? How sort of condition would a Ferrari be in after the same amount of extreme use?

'My' NSX had a VIN ending in zero eight and is one of several cars which have a little plaque which says '#0000 PRECISION CRAFTED BY PERFORMANCE MANUFACTURING CENTER'. Series production ones have a number and we know what this means for the eventual fate of this hard-worked prototype: it will be retired. Or worse: let's not think about what that could mean. It cannot be sold.

Pricing and exclusivity

To me, the pricing of the NSX is steep. That's because I am a huge fan of the cheaper and available-as-a-roadster Audi R8. Which is the more exclusive car, though? The white Honda stopped people everywhere. It's very low, which is a factor, and the front end just looks so aggressive and…fast. The shapes of the headlights and the illuminated red curves at the rear are two other factors which make it possibly even more spectacular by night. 

The press car carried lots of options and is listed at GBP172,150. You don't have to have the GBP8,400 ceramic brakes with red calipers, GBP2,000 special seats, GBP2,900 worth of carbon trim around the top of the engine, GBP4,800 'Andaro' white paint and all the other gear; instead, the base price is GBP149,950.

Mind-warping combined power and torque - 581PS and 646NM are standard, given enough road it will scream through all eight gearchanges at 7,500rpm (or more) as it drops into ninth and potentially touches the official maximum speed of 308km/h or 191mph. I can believe it. Look at the car: there are no spoilers or 'active aero' devices. Stability at high speed is impeccable. Yet, plant the throttle at low-ish speeds and those big rear tyres will easily slip sideways, which is enormously enjoyable, and then the fronts grab and help to correct the slide. Yes indeed an AWD supercar which is twitchy at the back end. It won't bite either: brilliant balance combined with cleverly calibrated stability control takes care of that.

Faults?

Going back to the topic of this car's engine and drivetrain seeming to be as strong as Honda's balance sheet, there are a few things which could do with a rethink. My disclaimer is that I was told about this car's heritage as a pre-build so not all of its components are strictly production-spec. 

The white NSX stickers embossed on the side glass were a bit frayed, the carpets were shiny rather than plush and there was nowhere to securely store even the smallest drinks bottle or cup. Something else also needs a mention, as it reminded me of the same look which you will find in Subarus: the infotainment system has a default screen with a background like the start of Star Wars. Which should be cool. Only that it isn't. Instead it looks more like that comedically tacky 'starlight' headliner in some Rolls-Royces. Dear Honda. Far better to have a blank screen. And speaking of the car's ceiling, this is expertly trimmed in Alcantara and a six foot two friend had a fair bit of air between his hair and that man-made-suede.

It's a little bit Civic on the inside

I know it's not an R8 or a Sports Series or a 911 but still, Honda IS up against luxury marques and so it needs to provide an interior which is to the same standard as these. For what the UK importer charges, anyone leasing an NSX should rightly expect something which looks and feels high-end. Most of it does - the doors, seats, centre console and instrument cluster. Some of us would prefer slaughter-free materials but I know I am in the minority so will shut up about that. The steering wheel is frustratingly close to being perfect in shape and feel but has more than ten buttons and lots of words on it instead of symbols - and the centre has a too-large silver-plastic H on it. WWMD: What Would McLaren Do? Not this.

I feel bad listing these really silly things, and for sure you would soon not notice them, if you owned an NSX. But, the last bit of bitching could be a deal breaker for many: where is the McLaren-style button to lift the front end for driveways? I had to ease out of mine at about one MPH and still there was an awful light scraping sound. I also had a look under the press car's rear end and the carbon spoilers had been scarred by previous drivers. 

If this car were mine, I would forgive all of the designed-in faults. Why? Because it's so glee-inducing to drive. The thing looks like no other car and it is one of those rare vehicles which you could spend years gazing at and occasionally notice a detail that had been previously missed. Is it beautiful? No, not to me. Not in the way that Concorde or an E-TYPE or an 8C is. It's more like Marc Newson's Lockheed Lounge: already a classic, everyone who sees one is smitten, only the fortunate few will ever be an owner.

Would a roadster be even better?

Perhaps Honda has an NSX targa or spider planned, who knows? Yes, I would have one - open or closed, but it would have to be a special occasions car. Which is probably fine as there is a rapidly rising number of people in China and India and elsewhere who will queue to have an NSX. I just hope that it doesn't become like the original or even the GT-R: left alone, forgotten about by its maker and then, after a year or two, by potential buyers too. 

It is a maddeningly near-perfect machine this. Just imagine how great it could be if Honda Motor Europe was allowed to redo some of the interior, and nothing on the outside was touched, apart from an electric lift system for the suspension. What's the Japanese for near-perfection? NSX.