The sun has gone wild on the California sky, bending the air red and gold, purple and pink, filtering through swollen clouds and splashing across the asphalt in warm pools. It’s fall in Napa Valley, and late afternoon is giving way to early dusk. The temperature fades with the day. Paper-thin sheets of rain drop through the light, wetting the windshield and the road before us, a Richter line of perfectly vacant tarmac scratching from Vichy Springs to Hennessey Lake. The air is heavy with the summer smell of rain and eucalyptus. I’m hammering through it all in a 2017 NSX, punching a hole in the quiet countryside with a wailing twin-turbo V6. For the first time in two days behind the wheel, I’m enjoying myself.
This is not a modern interpretation of the light and lithe machine that stole our hearts in 1990. If you’re looking for mechanical purity, or that magical synergy of man and machine that Honda once did so well, I’m sorry, neither is here. You can count the similarities between this car and its namesake on one hand. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Vastly complex, the new NSX is a machine that handily answers the question, “can we?” while leaving the more important, “should we?” to whither.
Honda says it didn’t build the car to performance targets. If the 0-60 mph or top speed specs happened to be competitive with the other sharks in the water as a consequence of the engineering, so be it, but engineers weren’t tasked with building a sub three second car. They did anyhow. There are no official performance numbers just yet, and we won’t be able to pull data on the car for a good while, but I’m told the machine can pants a 911 Turbo in the sixty sprint. I believe it. Launch Control is a wonder. There’s zero wheel spin and exactly no hesitation, just a relentless press for the speedometer’s upper octaves.
There’s a twin-turbo, dry-sump, 3.5-liter V-6 behind the passenger cell good for 500 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. It raps to an impressive 7500 rpm, pulling to redline like a good Honda mill. It’s fed by both direct and port injection. It’s splayed to 75 degrees. It is not the star of the show. There are a total of three electric motors onboard: one direct drive unit bolted straight to the crank and snugged between the engine and the car’s nine-speed dual-clutch transmission. The motor can contribute up to 47 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque to the party. There are two more motors up front, one powering each front wheel, good for 36 horsepower and up to 54 pound-feet each.
The system uses the electric motors with their instant, brilliant torque, to fill in the powerband while the turbos wake up. There’s no lag. None. You’d never know they were back there if it weren’t for the whistle of forced induction at your ear and the off-throttle chatter. If electrification really is coming for us all, I hope and pray it looks just like this.
The hybrid components are the backbone of Super Handling All Wheel Drive system, and the NSX can use the front motors to mitigate torque steer and induce or reduce oversteer as needed.
The brakes are monstrous carbon ceramic numbers, and they work in conjunction with the regenerative electric motors to slow the party. The system is entirely capable of dispensing with big speed, but doesn’t suffer from the hellish grabbiness of most regens. The reason? The NSX uses a Brake Operation Simulator. You press on the pedal, the car reads your foot pressure, then calculates the correct amount of hydraulic and regenerative brake force to yield the desired result. A small electric motor pushes back on the brake pedal to give you the illusion of “feel.” It sounds terrifying, but it works. The brakes are linear.
And the transmission? Porsche sets the pace with its PDK when it comes to dual-clutch gearboxes. Honda readily admits it developed everything in this system, from the hardware to the software, in just 18 months – an eye blink for a manufacturer. It’s a strong effort, but still falls short of the German system. Where the 911 can be eerily anticipatory, choosing the correct gear half a second before you knew you wanted it, the NSX manages to be underfoot in anything less than a full, deep-throttle bashing. Manual mode is better, offering very fast, very smooth shifts both up and down the pattern, but I still saw occasions where requesting a gear did not yield a shift.
But the transmission is a soft complaint. There are other ghosts to contend with. Stumbling out of San Francisco and into the varicose pavement along the coast, I expect the NSX to come alive, to shine like the new penny wonder its ancestor was.