This article was first published in 2004.
The name supercar has a lot of baggage that comes with it. A supercar
‘should’ be set up for only an experienced race driver to enjoy, it mustn’t be
practical, comfortable and - heck - it doesn’t even have to be reliable.
The Honda NSX proves that all of these trade-offs simply aren’t
Released to the public in 1989/1990, the NSX was a very brave move by the
Japanese manufacturer. Hot on the heels of Formula One dominance (in association
with the McLaren team) Honda set out to beat Ferrari and other exotic
manufacturers at their own game. As we said, it was a brave move...
The aim for the NSX’s head engineers was to create a sophisticated sportscar
that could be handed to anybody to drive. As part of this, the NSX is a
comparatively small car, even though its wheelbase was lengthened by 30mm in the
latter stages of design. This extra length was introduced to create more luggage
space. Practicality was not overlooked.
Interestingly, the NSX was largely hand-built and utilizes aluminium panels.
These aluminium panels are said to save 120kg compared to conventional panels.
Kerb mass of the early models is 1370kg.
The chassis won universal praise amongst road testers. With forged aluminium
double wishbones at each corner and a mid-engine rear-drive configuration, the
NSX turns into corners nicely and exhibits excellent balance. This is a vehicle
that can be finely controlled with fingertip steering inputs and gentle
modulation of the accelerator. The engine’s very flat torque curve also helps
the NSX exit the corner apex cleanly. Traction control comes as standard.
Interestingly, the NSX runs different diameter wheels front to rear. The
front uses relatively small 15-inch alloys wearing 205/50s while the rear gets
16-inchers with 225/50s. A ventilated disc can be seen behind each of the rims
with braking controllability coming from a 4-channel ABS system.
The NSX’s V6 engine is a beauty. Boasting titanium rods, direct-fire
ignition, 10.2:1 compression, variable air intake, DOHC, 24-valve heads and VTEC
(variable valve timing and lift) it was a technical tour de force. With a modest
swept capacity of 3.0-litres, the early NSX generates 201kW at 7100 rpm and
285Nm at 5300 rpm. Compared to many of its rivals, the NSX offers excellent fuel
consumption, minimal vibration and a user-friendly driveline - no knee-quivering
clutch to contend with.
Note that post ‘97 NSXs are available with a larger 3.2-litre engine.
Driving through a standard 5-speed manual ‘box, the NSX is easy to flick
through the gears and is very flexible. Traction from the torque-sensing LSD is
also generous, which helps the car to accelerate to 100 km/h in as little as
5.6-seconds (claimed). Contemporary magazine road tests typically recorded low
6-second 0 – 100 performance and low 14-second ETs. Top speed is between 260 and
Inside, the NSX offers comfortable seating for two together with all of the
luxuries you’d want. There’s digital climate control, a quality Bose sound
system, cruise control, electric adjustable leather seats and the usual
electrics. Oh, and don’t overlook the 300 km/h speedo. Note that only a driver’s
airbag is fitted to these early models.
And what about storage space? The NSX offers a boot that is relatively
shallow but similar in volume to, say, the more conventional R32 Skyline GT-R.
There are also some spaces surrounding the spare wheel, which lives in the
Visually, the NSX shouts performance. Honda claims their styling is based on
the F16 fighter jet – specifically its cab-forward layout. The body is low and
smoothly contoured and achieves an aero co-efficient of 0.32 – decent, but
nothing extraordinary by today’s standards. Note that a rear spoiler was
necessary to prevent aerodynamic lift caused by the sloping rear glass.
The NSX debuted in Australia in 1990 and although the motoring press was
forthcoming with praise, it never went on to be a giant-killer. Perhaps this is
due to the later release of the twin-turbo Mazda RX-7 and the Nissan Skyline
The Honda NSX - Today
The NSX is largely overlooked in today’s high-performance scene.
The locally-delivered 1991 example seen in our photos was recently sold by
Sydney’s Auto Style Performance Cars. With 82,000 kilometres on the clock and in
immaculate condition, it changed hands for under AUD$60,000. Not bad considering
the original RRP hovered around 150k...
Our test drive was a real awakening for us.
The first thing that took our surprise was the high level of comfort inside
the cabin. It doesn’t feel cramped, there’s headroom for tall drivers and the
leather seats are extremely supportive and comfortable. Moving away from the
kerb, the NSX’s steering is heavy - a deliberate move by Honda with their
electronically-controlled rack-and-pinion steering.
Once up to speed the NSX is a fantastic machine.
The engine has very strong throttle response backed by real acceleration even
at low revs. Despite rumour, this isn’t an engine that needs to be
spinning like a top - it’s easily capable of being short-shifted in every
With the accelerator pedal buried, the 3.0-litre V6 changes to its secondary
VTEC stage at about 5500 rpm. All the way up to its 8000 redline the engine
feels strong. And then there’s the wonderful howl from the VTEC engine mounted
behind you. A double glazed divider window and a trimmed engine hood prevent
excess noise making your ears bleed.
The ride is surprisingly compliant even over poor surfaces and we get the
feeling there’s plenty of suspension travel on offer. The steering is also
nicely direct without being hyper sensitive. Certainly, this is a car with great
fluidity between the steering, gearbox, brakes – everything. The NSX’s
relatively long wheelbase means good stability and power oversteer is very
controlled. The traction control system will let you have a bit of fun before
For around 60 grand - or down to around 50 for an example with higher
kilometres - the early Honda NSX is an attractive proposition. We can’t wait
until it's eligible for importing and compliance under the 15-year-old
regulations. This is definitely a car to shortlist.
Auto Style Performance Cars 0414 444 930