Few cars’ legends precede them like the original Honda NSX. The mid-engined supercar developed with help from Ayrton Senna, but built by the same people who built your mum’s Civic; as fast as a contemporary Ferrari, but as reliable, user-friendly and beautifully put together as… well, your mum’s Civic. The NSX was a revelation; at a time when supercars were, by definition, tricky to drive, it came along and proved they didn’t have to be.
Somewhat unbelievably, the NSX is now 30 years old. And yet you wouldn’t think it to look at it. Oh, sure, the pop-up headlights date it, but the fighter canopy-esque bubble roof, integrated rear spoiler and wide rear lamp clusters still look remarkably contemporary; futuristic, even.
But have those 30 years aged the NSX’s driving experience? Does it still feel as extraordinary as it once did? Or have today’s more powerful, more usable supercars taken the shine off what once made it so special? We’ve got an afternoon in Northern France with Honda’s own heritage fleet example to find out.
Last of the Line
This car, we should point out, is not entirely representative of the NSX as it was 30 years ago. You see, it was built in 2005, which makes it one of the last, rather than the first, NSXs. Correspondingly, it also has the more powerful 3.2-litre V6 engine – rated at 286bhp – rather than the 266bhp 3.0-litre V6 that came fitted to the original cars.
That’s that dealt with. So, what’s it like? Surprisingly petite from within, actually. You sit low, but the scuttle is even lower; what’s remarkable is the way the windscreen dives down between those two rounded front wheel arches, the shallow-canted dashboard feeling almost level with your hips. The facia is as solid and easy to find your way around as any other Honda’s, even if it’s overtly and unremittingly a sea of black plastic, which feels rather less than glamorous.
You soon forget about that, though. Trickling through town, the NSX still feels a doddle to drive; the clutch is heavy, but its dimensions are manageable. But it’s out of town where the magic really happens. Find a low gear, hit the gas, and the NSX hooks up with little to no fuss. The noise is the first thing that grabs you; a terrific, ululating induction wail inches away from your left ear, not as hard-edged or as metallic as some of Honda’s other performance cars’, but instead warmer, more rounded and more resonant.
Honda’s Dance Class
Find yourself a set of bends, and the NSX dances. The weighting of the steering is a joy; light and delicate but with just enough heft that it doesn’t feel remote. It doesn’t give you a lot of information about what’s going on at the nose, but the way the NSX’s chassis moves on its suspension makes up for the holes in the steering’s feedback, telegraphing lightness at the front end or slip at the rear well before either breaks away.
It shrinks around you, too, the incredible visibility and sensible width making the NSX blissfully easy to place on the road. So many of today’s supercars – and indeed, those of 30 years ago – are intimidating to drive, but the NSX feels friendly, as though it’s working with you rather than trying to catch you out.
And then, once you’ve had your fun and you actually need to get somewhere, you can set the NSX up on the motorway, hit the cruise control and settle back into the comfortable leather seats to let it whisk you along in remarkable comfort. Sure, the ride is firm enough that you’ll never imagine you’re in a limo, but the NSX is a surprisingly adept grand tourer, plenty comfortable enough to crush big distance in one hit.
The Classic Do-It-All
Perhaps more than ever before, then, this is a car that literally can do it all. Need to nip to the shops for some milk? No problem. Want to go out for a blast? It’ll thrill your pants off. Got a continental schlep in mind? The NSX won’t even flinch.
We arrive in Reims more in love with the NSX than ever before. It’s every bit as usable, not to mention every bit as enjoyable to spend time with, as any modern supercar. In fact, we’d go one better than that. It’s so analogue, so exciting, and so refreshingly free of artifice that there are times when it’s even better. It might well be 30 years old, then – but the NSX has never felt finer.
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