Review and road test of the Honda NSX (2016 - 2018)
By Jonathan Crouch
This second generation Honda NSX, like its predecessor, took the fight to Ferrari in the junior supercar sector. And, like that earlier model, it went about the task a little differently. But how does it stack up as a used buy? Here, we look at the 2016-2018-era versions of this model.
2dr sportscar (3.5 V6)
What should a supercar be? We know the European answer to that question, a formula personified by Ferrari, echoed by McLaren and lightly evolved by the handful of less exotic premium brands who've dared to enter this rarified segment. What you get in each case is a race car for the road. What you need, says Honda, is this. Welcome to the MK2 model NSX.
The name may resonate because the earlier generation of this model, launched back in 1989, had such a profound effect on its sector. Here was an exclusive junior supercar as focused as any Porsche or Ferrari, but a machine that could be as undemanding to own and drive as a Civic. The letters stood for 'New Sportscar eXperimental' and when Honda experiments, the automotive world sits up and takes notice. They certainly did with that early NSX. The styling was inspired by an F-16 fighter jet and the selling price was pretty much half the cost of the comparable Maranello product of that era, a Ferrari 348. Famously too, the chassis was developed with the help of Ayrton Senna - but crucially, you didn't need his talent to really enjoy it.
We'd never seen a supercar quite like that. A machine an ordinary driver could take near to the limit on the road without frightening and possibly dangerous consequences. A car that wasn't awkward to drive in town. Or worrying in the wet. Small wonder that the original model stayed in production in 2005, Honda subsequently readying a V10-engined replacement that was supposed to celebrate the success of the brand's return to Formula One. It didn't happen. The F1 team floundered and fell victim to the period's worldwide recession, as did the replacement NSX. And that might have been that, had it not been for a dedicated band of enthusiasts within the company who refused to let this model line die. Finally, the Japanese management relented and a small team from the brand's American Acura division were tasked with reinterpreting what the 'New Sportscar eXperimental' concept should mean for the modern era. This MK2 model was their response.
Launched in 2015, then lightly updated in mid-2018, it was as different from its market contemporaries as its predecessor was from the competition back in the Nineties. This time round, the change lay in the way that the car took the hybrid performance technology used on £750,000 hypercars like McLaren's P1, the Ferrari La Ferrari and the Porsche 918 Spyder and made it available for Porsche 911 Turbo- money. As part of that, there are no fewer than four motors on offer - a 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo boosted by an electric motor, together powering the wheels out back, with the Sport Hybrid AWD system completed by two further motors powering the wheels up-front. This NSX can start and creep briefly on all-electric power, it can flash to 62mph in under three seconds, it can reach nearly 200mph flat out and it's everyday-usable enough to feel quite suitable if all you actually need it to do is to collect your dry cleaning. This, in Honda's words, is what an 'Everyday supercar' should be. Here, we're going to look at the pre-facelift 2016-2018 models.
What You Get
It's an established mark of supercar styling that every exterior element should serve a distinct purpose. That's certainly the case here, as part of what designer Michelle Christensen calls the 'Interwoven Dynamic' approach to the sleek silhouette.
In profile, you better appreciate the way that the bonnet line, roof line, floating C-pillars and rear quarter appear as one distinctive and unified curve. It all combines with remarkably short front and rear overhangs to create a sleek, yet muscular overall stance that properly conveys the required sense of purpose and power.
The cabin design doesn't share much with European rivals, apart from the way that the large centre transmission tunnel flows between the seats into the centre console. It certainly feels like a place designed to do business with the road, the focus appropriately centred on the magnesium-fashioned wheel, through which you view a driver-focused 8-inch TFT digital display dominated by a central rev counter incorporating a digital speed read-out. Flanking this gauge are two digital charge meters reminding you of this Honda's electrified remit, with that for the main battery on the right, with the left hand one briefing you on the Sport Hybrid system's current rate of 'Assist Charge'.
There's no conventional gearstick - just a McLaren-style narrow centre console strip incorporating gear change buttons and the electronic handbrake, collectively a set-up you'll quickly adjust to. All of this works pretty well, but quite a few of the materials used to trim this layout feel decidedly low-rent by premium supercar standards. The same comment applies to the 7-inch centre-dash Honda CONNECT colour touchscreen, just below which sits the large silvered dial you'll need to control the various settings of the car's 'Integrated Dynamics System' driving mode
The boot is much wider than it at first appears - wide enough in fact to swallow the full-sized set of golf clubs that the Japanese maker insists will somehow fit.
What to Look For
One of the reasons you'd choose this NSX over, say, an Aston martin or a Maserati in this segment is that you'd expect it to be much better built and more reliable. And, by and large that's true. There aren't many MK2 model NSX owners and amongst them, we struggled to find anyone who had much bad to say about their ownership experience. Obviously, you're going to want one with a fully stamped-out service history, looked after by the only two authorised UK dealers, Chiswick and Crown Honda in London. But that should be a given. Otherwise, it's just the usual things - checking for parking scraped and chipped alloy wheels and so on.
You really need to be careful in replacing parts on such a specialist car. Best to liaise with the only two dealers authorised to sell it - Chiswick and Crown Honda in London.
On the Road
In considering this MK2 NSX, don't think of it as an expensive Honda: think of it instead as a cut-price hybrid hypercar - because that's what it is. An electrified supercar with a battery providing electricity to two small motors driving the front wheels as well also to a larger one at the back that assists a big 3.5-litre V6 powering the rear axle. Which makes this a 4WD hybrid powered by four motors. Yes, really. Continuing with the futuristic technology, the powerful brakes aren't actually connected to anything - the big pads are activated 'virtually'. And the e-steering works in much the same manner. If, as a committed driving enthusiast, you're seeking an ultimately involving junior supercar, it might not sound too promising a recipe, but it doesn't take long behind the wheel to discover that Honda somehow wove all of these elements together into a pioneering supercar that pushed class boundaries just as much as its iconic predecessor did. This NSX inspires cornering confidence in a way most exotic rivals from this era simply can't match. And it's certainly fast enough, despite the inevitably prodigious weight that tends to afflict any car that mates electrical output with a turbocharged combustion engine.
That twin turbo powerplant generates 500hp, with a further 73hp contributed by the combined efforts of the three electric motors we mentioned earlier. These work together to deliver an electrified boost that smoothes over the slight reductions in torque you'd otherwise find in the upper and lower parts of the rev range. The electric unit at the back, the so-called 'Direct Drive Motor' which is wedged between the twin-turbocharged engine and its nine-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, acts as both a flywheel and a starter motor. Up front meanwhile, lie the two further 38hp motors that together create this car's 'TMU' 'Twin Motor Unit', there to drive the front wheels, provide torque vectoring for extra cornering traction and complete the operation of this car's Sport Hybrid AWD system. The 'TMU' also recovers braking energy during deceleration to supply power to the hybrid batteries. These boost performance to the extent that 62mph can be dispatched in just 2.9s en route to a 191mph maximum. Yet they also aid frugality to the extent that a running cost improvement of around 10% is possible over this car's most obvious McLaren and Ferrari rivals. Expect 28.2mpg on the combined cycle and 228g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures).
The supercar segment from 2016 to 2018 is full of compelling supercars. But this MK2 model NSX offered something a little different, just as its predecessor did. There's so much technology in the hybrid drivetrain that this model might easily have become something of an engineering exercise rather than a raw, involving super-sportscar. That this didn't happen is due to the fact that it was developed by people who love their driving.
It's a machine that's greater than the sum of its parts, a pioneering contender in this class that saw its creator once again pushing boundaries. Like the original NSX, this one reinterpreted what a supercar could be and delivered everyday usability that few competitors could match. It's unconventional. It's divisive. And it defines the spirit of its brand in a way that charmed us completely.
Honda NSX (2016 - 2018) review by Jonathan Crouch