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The NSX Approach

Honda NSX - the seven day supercar.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images

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 necessary.

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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.

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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.

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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 270 km/h.

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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.

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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 nose.

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.

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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 GT-R.

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.

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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.

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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 gear.

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 stepping in...

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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

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