Japanese supercar improved- Honda NSX

THE IMPROVED HONDA NSX (NA1)

Your eyes aren't fooling you. There are no panel changes in the new NSX. What is most obvious are the bigger wheels and better rubber. Any hint of suspension recalibration is not mentioned but yet the car feels slightly more stable in the corners. It appears that Yokohama does not have the monopoly over the OE tyre supply with Honda because the NSX has been seen with Bridgestone RE010's and Dunlop SP8050's. Our test car came shod with the new Dunlops and they seem to be just as comfortable despite going up one inch in diameter. Now the fronts are 215/45 ZR 16 and the rears are 245/40 ZR 17. With these new set of gumballs the NSX has even more grip in corners but the progressiveness that has been a hallmark of the NSX remains.

It may have a power assisted steering system but you wouldn't be the wiser. It is an electro-servo system that removes itself once the car is on the move. You still have to heave the steering a little but work has its rewards. Steering feel is perhaps one of the very best there is today. There Is virtually no kickback as the Honda engineers have devised a special knuckle that prevents it from ever getting into the steering. It is this that may leave some of the traditionalists a little cold, assuming that it is lifeless. True, there is no backchat but that does not mean a lack of feedback and all one has to do is tug at the steering and relish the super positive response of the NSX and how it informs you exactly what it is doing not only through the steering but all through the superbly sorted chassis as well.

By now everyone should know that the NSX is the only all-aluminum monocoque car in production. The other, the Audi A8 is actually a spaceframe design. Lower mass is the key to the NSX's prowess. Weighing at least 200 kg less than a conventional steel monocoque sports car, the NSX's similarly sized components, namely the power plant, suspension and tyres are stressed less and actually produce far better results. It accelerates quicker, stops shorter, corners harder, turns in more rapidly and there is always less mass to keep in check at every turn.

About a year back, the guys at Honda actually produced a R-spec version which could circle the 21 kms of the Nurburgring in 8 minutes and 5 seconds, called the NSX-R, a striped down version which saved about 120 kgs. Of course if you can live without the stereo, air-conditioning and power windows, it was a great car. Well, thankfully the improved NSX is still fully equipped and seems hardly changed with the exception of the inclusion of dual airbags. Indeed only after an exclusive back to back comparison with the original NSX did we notice the small but nonetheless significant changes which were all revealed in the driving as the interior is unchanged.

The engine is still the same titanium conrod, 8000 RPM, 274 Ps, 3.0-litre, V-6, V-TEC screamer that is mounted transversely barely inches aft of the occupants in a mid-ship configuration. This time we tested the manual transmission to fully appreciate what this super engine offers. Believe it or not, the engine bellows like a throughbred and when it hits the second cam, it begins a Formula One like scream as the tacho needle tries to bury itself in the red, simply intoxicating. Actually the engine feels as if it could carry on like this all day but caution takes precedence as we need to try the Targa F-Matic later. But there is little point in stretching the engine like that as the 0-100 km/h time of 5.6 seconds is already in supercar territory. It may not be the fastest but what it can do with all that acceleration, no other car can match. There is no need to be a budding Schumacher to deliver the goods. The NSX is your ally all the way to the limit and back. It makes you seem like a far better driver without being obvious about its assistance. That one actually has to work out a bit helps give that impression. The important thing is, how good you feel after having driven it. This latest NSX has a slightly more eager delivery of power as if the latest PGM Fl ECU has been better optimized. Just as it has done with its V-TEC Civic engines, Honda is not telling what it has done with the NSX.

Do not have the impression that the midship configuration provides magic handling in any way. It will still bite back those lame of foot and judgment. To aid drivers, Honda has devised and included the best Traction Control System there is today. It is completely unobtrusive and helps the average driver to be as smooth as Alain Prost. Only when switching out the TCS does one realize just how coarse ones driving skill actually is. Just leave the TCS on, you'll thank the stars you did.

In corners, the NSX has now better poise upon entering and exiting, perhaps with a touch more stabilizing understeer dialed-in. We realize that this extremely small difference could be a matter of tyre selection and it could well be that the balance is exactly identical. It is firm without being harsh and comfortable without being soft. Its ride-handling compromise is on another plane altogether. The ergonomics on the inside are first class and work with the deft precision that we have come to expect from Honda making this a driver's car par excellence.

The 5-speed manual gear box is an absolute delight to use. It is very precise and slick but still requires effort. There is no need for a gate guidance template and it is not as cramped together as the 6-speed boxes we have sampled. The biggest joy of having a manual transmission must be the ability to feel the rawness of the engine and all its power surging through. There is no torque converter slipping and sliding to slur the take-off and change over points. Moreover the manual version gets some 20 PS more than the auto version as it need not merely cater for low to mid-range torque any longer. It is the dizzying and intoxicating charge to the redline that is the magic and this Japanese supercar does it all so well.

However we'll let you in on a little known fact, the NSX actually plays this sonorous tune only for a select audience, namely the occupants. On the outside there is only a hint of the V-TEC singing its signature tune but on the inside it is clear as day. Its not deafening and at most it rises to in 1st gear is 90 dBA, all of it pure music to the ears. But if one is on a romantic night out, the engine will remain almost as quiet as a sedan and it will trickle along in hot city traffic without a bother. The clutch may be heftier to use but is never tiring in traffic jams. Couple that to an excellent climate control system and you have the ideal everyday supercar and that is no exaggeration.

Yet this machine does require effort and skill but not so much that ordinary drivers cannot enjoy it. There is reward for the work and the only muscles aching from strain will be those facial ones holding up one's broad grin the whole time spent in the driver's seat.

Fast Facts

ENGINE
CAPACITY : 2977cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V6
VALVES : 24-valves
BORE X STROKE :
COMPRESSION RATIO :
MAXIMUM POWER : 274 PS at 7300 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 284 Nm at 5400 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : 5-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED :
0-100km/h : 5.6 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Double wishbones
REAR : Double wishbones

BRAKES
FRONT : Ventilated discs
REAR : Ventilated discs

TYRES
TYPE : Dunlop SP8050
SIZE : f: 215/45 ZR 16, r: 245/40 ZR 17

SAFETY
ABS : Yes
AIRBAGS : 2
TRACTION CONTROL : Yes

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4405mm
WIDTH : 1810mm
HEIGHT : 1170mm
WHEELBASE : 2530mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1370 kg
TURNING CIRCLE : 11.6m


PRICE in 1996

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