No Such Exuberance

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For all its glory attained on the race track, Honda has yet to transmute that into its road-going cars. With the exception of the Civic CRX, the average perception of a Honda is that of a well made, reliable, user-friendly car, a vehicle which appeals to the older driver.

With the arrival of the NSX, though, that perception might be about to change.

It takes only one glance at the shape to tell that Honda is serious about its entry into the ‘supercar’ league, for the shape could well have come from the Pininfarina design studio and destined for Ferrari. One’s first reaction is not to say ‘Honda’, but to say ‘Ferrari’.

That it should look like a supercar was one thing, but the Japanese wanted a lot more besides. Not only did it have to be quick and look the part (the easy part), it had to have all the hallmarks of any Honda car. In other words, while looking the part as a younger man’s toy, it had to be friendly enough for the average Accord owner to drive.

In this respect, it has completely achieved its aims. Great care has been taken in the design of the cabin. The front seats, vinyl inlaid with leather, are comfortable and power-operated. The pedals are not offset, as found on many other supercars, and the clutch is light. The ergonomics and the all-round visibility, with the large glass area, are first class. Outside noise is well insulated (the use of a vacuum double glazed rear window helps here) but internal sound is provided by the first class Bose audio system. Air conditioning and a climate control ensure driver and passenger are as mollycoddled as in any saloon.

Constructed entirely in aluminium over aluminium box sections for rigidity, with the exception of a steel tube section which runs the width of the car, the car should be quite light, but in fact is quite heavy at 1410 kg, some 60 kg more than a Porsche 911 Carrera 2. Much of this weight is accounted for by the luxury devices required in the cabin.

The technology is more than skin deep, though, for this car is quite a hot bed of ideas, unlike many other supercars. There is more to the 3-litre quad cam V6 engine, which develops 274 bhp at 7300 rpm, than meets the eye, all done with a view to making this car accessible to Mr Average, but the benefits of which can be appreciated by the true enthusiast.

There is a VTEC variable valve timing facility which is linked to a variable volume induction system (VVIS) which endows the engine with tremendous torque without compromising its ability at the 8000 red line limit. The direct ignition system, in which each of the long life platinum tipped spark plugs are linked to their own coil, is found on few other cars and a clever traction control system which is clever enough to distinguish between wheelspins on slippery surfaces and wheelslip in high speed corners. Toe changes are reduced, but not at the expense of a harsher ride, since the need to stiffen the suspension to eradicate it is supplanted by the use of a compliance pivot in the front double wishbone suspension set-up.

Put all this together in the slippery (Cd.032) mid-engined shape and you have quite a car, but, the £60,000 question, for that is the estimated price of the car when it comes to Britain, is does it live up to expectations on the road?

The answer is yes, but with a few qualifications.

A chance to drive the car around the old Nürburgring circuit a few times showed the chassis to be well balanced and the overall handling of the car safe. When pressed hard, it has the tendency to drift into a safe understeer — one had to try very hard to get the tail out.

The power is readily available on tap at any given moment in the rev range, the smoothness of the engine belying the work it is doing under the bonnet and the quietness de-sensitising the speed. Even at speeds twice the motorway speed limit in Britain, normal conversation was easy.

If there is a qualification about this car, it is the fact that it has achieved everything that the manufacturers wanted. It does look the part, it is comfortable, it is fast and its handling is safe and predictable. . . . and yet somehow, in a quirky way, one misses the thunder that should come permeate the cabin as the power is unleashed, and one regrets the absence of adrenalin when sitting behind the controls for the first time, but that is an enthusiast talking.

Honda have achieved what they set out to do in the supercar league as they did in Formula One. Ferrari, what is your response?