Honda has earned the right to make this. The ﬁrm has shaken up supercars once before, after all. The ﬁrst NSX was light, clever, and drivable, a high- precision knife launched at a time when the rival Ferrari was an axe. And, in making a completely new NSX, Honda didn’t just do the ﬁrst thing that came to mind. First, it started work on a replacement called the HSC, shown as a concept in 2003. That wasn’t progress, so it built a thing codenamed the Advanced Sports Car, a front-engined V10 like the Lexus LF-A. It showed a concept in 2007 and pretty well ﬁnished development by 2009. But, in the teeth of the economic crisis, the boss pulled the plug. Then in came a new boss, Takanobu Ito, brandishing a clean sheet.
This is the result. It’s called the NSX Concept, but the new car will take just those hallowed three initials, and we’ll be driving it by the end of next year. And, as with the ﬁrst NSX, there’s a revolution going on. Last time, it was a lightweight aluminum body – since adopted by Ferrari and Porsche – to improve efficiency and agility. This time, it’s hybrid-electric 4WD, with the same two aims in mind.
Honda is still obsessed with lightness. The BMW i8 and Porsche 918 will both be mid-engined with additional electric front drive – they have big, expensive batteries so they can run in all-electric mode for several miles. Good for economy hype, not so good for weight. The NSX doesn’t do the plug-in bit, so its battery is smaller and lighter. But can an additional e-drive really integrate with the joys of response and sound that come with a high-revving petrol engine? Well, think on this: Porsche, BMW and Honda are among the world’s best engine makers. None of these three will be willing to let their sports hybrids wreck their reputations. And Ito is aware he must avoid the danger, saying at the NSX Concept launch in Detroit: “The N SX will make the driver one with the car to enhance dynamic driving abilities without getting in the way.” The system has three electric motors. At the back, there’s one in the DSG transmission, to boost the engine power when needed, and regenerate energy when not.
At the front, there’s no mechanical drive, only electric, via a separate motor for each wheel. So the outer wheel can add torque to kill understeer in a corner, and, while that’s happening, the inner wheel can brake regeneratively to add to the effect. Or, conversely, to control a spin. You might wonder why I’m being so detailed about the AWD system when I haven’t even talked about the engine.
Well, that’s because I can’t, annoyingly. Honda isn’t saying much there, beyond that, yes, there will be one, that it’ll be a V5 and mid-mounted. If I’ve read the straws in the wind, ‘ it’s a 3.5-litre direct-injection unit that revs beyond 8,000, makes about 400bhp, and so gives a total power of 500- 3 plus when the e-motors put their shoulders to the wheels.
But I’ve been wrong before. What I do know is that it’ll look very much like this. Jon Ikeda, head of the Acura Design Studio in California, told us. He was responsible for this car, as well as the Advanced Sports Car Concept. He says that they didn’t plaster it with old-NSX cues, but, because of its similar 3 lay-out and proportions, it just is an NSX.
Oh, and remember how the original NSX had an E uninterrupted bubble of glass for its cockpit? So does this, but, at the rear three-quarters, the metal pillars hover above it. It’s like the Ferrari 599: air channels between the cockpit and those pillars, to give stability and downforce. Mind you, Ikeda admits they haven’t done the serious wind-tunnel work yet, grins and says: “So it’s got stylists’ aerodynamics, and that usually, doesn’t work.” The concept car doesn’t have an interior, either, but Ikeda is aware of the pressure. “It has to be I exciting. But simple, not complicated.” There’s pressure on all fronts, actually. In 1990, when the ﬁrst NSX launched, Ferraris were dramatic but ﬂaky – unreliable, heavy to drive and a bit evil-handling. The NSX shocked the Italians into pulling their immaculate silk socks up. So, by a roundabout route, the old NSX, though long dead, has made life very hard for the new one.