What Car? says...
The first-generation Honda NSX was pioneering. Contrasting with the exquisite but temperamental high-performance metal coming out of Italy in the early 1990s, here was a model that blended high performance and good looks with legendary Japanese reliability. It showed performance car buyers you could have your cake and eat it too, and in effect changed the face of the supercar market overnight.
It was, as you’d expect, a tough act to follow, but this second-generation NSX – launched back in 2016 – did its best to rewrite the supercar rule book for a second time.
Honda aimed to offer buyers the same reliability and everyday usability as the original car, but added efficiency through the use of a comparatively small turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 engine and a trio of electric motors. One of those motors helps the engine drive the rear wheels, while the other two each drive a front wheel.
As a piece of engineering, it was a rather astonishing bit of kit; the four-wheel drive system helping to make the combined 574bhp manageable, with the electric motors allowing you to drive for short stints on battery power alone. However, as a driver’s car, it never quite reached the lofty heights of its predecessor – those heavy batteries and a ‘safe’ neutral set-up blunting the NSX’s responses.
Which brings us to the current model. For 2019, Honda treated the NSX to an in-depth update that focused on its steering, suspension and complex hybrid system, all in a quest to create a car that could finally stand toe-to-toe with rivals such as the Audi R8 Performance and McLaren 570S.
But has it succeeded? Read on to find out. And don’t forget, even if you’re not in the market for an NSX, there is a good chance we can save you a few quid on your next new car if you check out our New Car Deals pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The NSX is relatively heavy for a performance car – at around 1800kg –compared with 1500kg for an Audi R8 Performance or 1300kg for a McLaren 570S – but with 574bhp to motivate it, don’t worry: it’s still quick. On a private test track we’ve timed one at 3.3sec, and cracked off 0-100mph in 7.6sec. Impressive, but the R8 can blitz that.
However, it’s not all about racing flat-out through the gears; put your foot down in a high gear without bothering to change down, and with the extra torque supplied by its electric motors and turbochargers, the NSX gathers speed at a quite extraordinary lick.
You can dial this ferocity up or down using four different drive modes controlled by a large rotary switch on the dashboard: Quiet, Sport, Sport+ and Track. Quiet mode prioritises electric-only driving when pottering in town – providing the battery is charged. This makes the NSX unusually tranquil for a menacing supercar and is perfect for those early morning starts when you desperately don’t want to wake up the neighbours. And, while the nine-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox was a little clunky in early cars when the engine finally kicked in, updates to the gearbox and hybrid system in 2019 successfully rectified this – the NSX is now one of the most refined cars in the class to drive at slow speeds.
Sport mode is essentially an everyday driving mode that sharpens the engine’s response when you put your foot down, and it also allows a bit more engine noise into the car. However, that noise isn’t particularly pleasant, the engine sounding more mechanical than musical in tone, while the nine-speed gearbox is all too keen to shuffle up through the gears when left to its own devices in an effort to maximise fuel economy.
Thankfully, in Sport+ mode the engine finally produces a tune worthy of a supercar; the whooshing and whistling of the turbocharger is accompanied by a sonorous induction roar when you’re hard on the accelerator. Now of course, a turbocharged V6 engine is never going to get your pulse racing in quite the same way as the intoxicating thunder produced by the R8’s V10 might, but it gets closer than you might think.
Track Mode, meanwhile, gives you access to launch control (activated by holding the brake and pressing the accelerator at the same time), reduces the effect of the traction control for more playful handling, and puts the gearbox into its punchiest setting – and we mean punchy. In manual mode the nine-speed DCT gearbox is lightning quick at swapping ratios, and, unlike the seven-speed S tronic gearbox in the Audi R8, it doesn’t deny you a downshift when braking hard into a low-speed corner.
Even in Track mode, though, it’s isn’t quite as nimble as its closest rivals. The updates Honda made in 2019 to the NSX’s adaptive suspension and power steering addressed the slightly numb, wallowy demeanour of early cars, with the facelifted car’s more progressive steering and tauter body control allowing you to be far more precise on tight and twisting country roads. However, once you start to push the NSX towards its limits, it still struggles to conceal its 1800kg bulk; the front end pushing wide if you’re too eager with the accelerator mid-bend. We also wish that its four-wheel drive system would allow for a little more slip on the exit of corners like that of the comparatively playful Audi R8 and animated Nissan GT-R. Put simply, if track days are your thing, you’ll want to go for a McLaren 570S or R8 Performance.
In terms of ride, in its softest setting, the updated NSX is noticeably more cosseting over urban surfaces than earlier cars, but it still thumps over large bumps and fidgets across motorway ridges – more so than either an R8 or 570S.
We’ve only tried an NSX with the costly option of carbon-ceramic brakes. Even these don’t provide the herculean stopping power of similarly equipped competitors, but despite recouping energy for the battery during braking, which can often create an odd pedal feel, the NSX’s brakes prove easy to modulate.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Compared with the Audi R8 and McLaren 570S, you sit surprisingly high behind the wheel of the NSX, limiting knee and head room for taller drivers. There's plenty of height and reach adjustment to the steering wheel, though, so your feet will meet the pedals without the need to contort your legs at odd angles. While it takes some time to acclimatise to this relatively lofty driving position, its height means you can clearly see the front flanks of the car, so it’s easy enough to judge its size on tight roads.
In fact, visibility is good in general. Sure, it’s not comparable to that of a family hatchback, but good-sized door mirrors make spotting traffic to the side easy, while a large rear window helps you to see what’s following behind. For reverse parking you will be thankful of the standard rear-view camera, although you’ll lament the lack of standard front or rear parking sensors.
Things are less commendable when you cast an eye around the dashboard. The fussy button layout requires plenty of familiarisation, and at this price range the infotainment system is downright poor. It looks and feels like an aftermarket add-on rather than a manufacturer installation; the 7.0in touchscreen’s confusing menus and small icons are tricky to hit while driving. The system is slow to respond to inputs and the graphics look old-fashioned, too. And if you were expecting sat-nav to be included, sorry, that’s an expensive option. Thankfully, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay were introduced as standard equipment in 2019.
For the NSX’s exalted list price the perceived quality is also a let down. The standard leather seats have a cheap-looking sheen, the buttons feel ordinary instead of well damped, and the trim highlights around the dashboard are distinguished only by their cut-price feel. Compared to any rival of equivalent money, particularly the Audi R8, the NSX has a decidedly cut-price look and feel inside.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
If you’re north of six feet tall, you might struggle a little for head and knee room. And because the NSX is a strict two-seater, unlike a Porsche 911 Turbo S, there’s no room to squeeze a couple of young kids in the back.
In fact, beyond you and your passenger, there’s not much room for anything else. There’s a small glovebox, but no door bins and only a tiny central tray in which to put your mobile phone and loose change.
Popping the hatchback-style rear window gains you access to the boot. It’s wide and similar in overall volume to those of the 911 and the Audi R8, but is quite shallow, with a pronounced hump in the middle of the floor, so you’ll struggle to get even a travel case inside. Certainly those key rivals will allow you the luxury of a more extensive wardrobe on a weekend away.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Despite the second-generation NSX being decent value when it first came to market, a weakened pound has seen the car’s list price increase beyond thoat of rival supercars, such as the McLaren 570S and Audi R8 Performance. And that’s before you even get to the options; sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors, electrically adjustable seats and metallic paint, not to mention carbon ceramic brakes, are all expensive extras.
For context, that lot’s all standard on the R8 Performance. However, keyless entry, climate control, a switchable sports exhaust, heated seats and LED headlights are included, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity thrown in, along with a premium sound system. Honda also provides a complimentary three-year service plan.
With the aid of those electric motors, the NSX should make a ‘greener’ supercar choice; it emits lower emissions and returns better average fuel consumption than most rivals. We’ve managed more than 30mpg at a cruise.