2016 Honda NSX Review : Quick drive

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When we boarded the bus on Monday morning to Honda’s research and development headquarters in Tochigi, Japan, we had no idea the 2016 Honda NSX was waiting for us at the other end.

The feeling that followed, upon learning this en route, could be likened to the nervous excitement felt as a schoolboy when your high school crush sat next to you on the school bus - mixed with the mischievous thrill of stealing some other kid’s bag and dangling it out the window as the bus hurtles the highway.

Standing face-to-face with the new-generation NSX in the infield of Honda’s proving ground, it’s impossible not to admire the car’s striking exterior: sharp and sleek, muscular and menacing. It’s undeniably distinctive, and unashamedly Asian in its character and design.

It will be 12 months until we get to see the Honda NSX on local roads – and even then only in very limited numbers – so pausing to admire is tempting, though we’re soon interrupted in the most pardonable way when a Honda R&D employee ushers us towards the car for the first drive of the session.

Climbing into the driver’s seat isn’t much a mission as it is in some rivals, despite sitting with your bum inches from the tarmac.

The NSX’s project leader would later apologise to us about the ‘rough edges’ inside our early pre-production test car, though we detected little worthy of such a description, speaking to the high levels of material quality and attention to detail we can look forward to from the real deal.

Leather and Alcantara line almost every panel your body is likely to come into contact with. The seats hug your legs and torso, yet feel plush like those in a Legend. The visibility (out the front at least) is good, with the car’s prominent front haunches seen clearly through the broad windscreen.

No sooner do we begin to take in the transmission cluster that snakes its way down the middle of the centre tunnel than we are instructed to hit the red glowing button that sits at its head.

The NSX race-revs to life, though minus the ear-piercing screams and belching exhausts common to many in the show pony class.

What exactly have we just roused? For the first time, we now know definitively.

The Honda NSX’s powertrain applies a similar methodology to that of the Porsche 918 Spyder, though with its own unique elements. Behind the passenger compartment sits a longitudinally mounted twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine producing 373kW and 550Nm.

Packaged alongside it is a Honda-developed nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, as well as 148Nm electric motor that’s intended to remove lag by delivering power immediately to the rear wheels.

Each front wheel is powered by a 73Nm electric motor of its own, allowing low-speed pure-electric operation (thanks to the lithium-ion battery pack nestled in the chassis), and providing for all-wheel drive and torque vectoring at the other end of the dynamic spectrum.

All up, Honda claims a total system output of 427kW and 646Nm, but its engineers tell us the NSX is about much more than numbers on a spec sheet.

As we roll out of pit lane, we’re told we’ll get just two laps of Tochigi’s high-speed bowl, and are asked politely to keep it under 180km/h – a refreshingly generous restriction from the typically hyper-cautious Japanese engineers who notoriously, in situations such as this, confine you to more painfully slow ‘speeds’.

This also means, however, that we’re largely numb to the NSX’s ride and handling prowess, as the runway-smooth banked lanes of the NASCAR-style ring ask little from the steering and chassis.

Ride and handling assessment is the furthest thing from our mind, however, as we nail the throttle pedal and instantly have the back of our head pinned to the seat.

Our speed climbs quicker than the car’s digital speedometer can follow, flashing in seemingly no time to triple figures and beyond.

There’s little let-up as we fly past 150km/h, and the NSX feels like it isn’t even breaking a sweat as we sneakily tick up to 186km/h before backing off. Even at these speeds, close to double Japan’s national limit, the NSX is settled and subdued, cruising comfortably in ninth gear.

More impressive than its performance on the flats is the way Honda’s hybrid hero catapults out of the bowl’s steep banks, with the front motors providing a noticeable pull and intoxicating tractability.

With the transmission still in regular drive mode, we flick the paddles in a naive attempt to extract even greater acceleration from the powertrain, though are swiftly put in our place as the transmission takes back control and files seamlessly through the tightly packed ratios that Honda likens to those of a sports bike. While a manual setting is available, we’re happy bowing to the NSX’s technical superiority, and let it keep doing its thing.

We haven’t talked much about the sound yet, and that’s because it’s the area in which the new NSX is at its most understated. Don’t get us wrong, it sounds good, but it’s much more like a wolf howling at the moon in the distance rather than snarling in your face.

It was the one consistent criticism from fellow reporters as they emerged from the cockpit at the conclusion of their teaser drives.

But the overwhelming sense among the mob – who just hours earlier thought they were here to sample Honda’s latest hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain among myriad other futuristic technologies – was that Honda has created something quite special in the reborn NSX.

Just how special? We’ll have to wait for a more extensive drive to know for sure, and to determine if it lives up to its $200,000-plus anticipated price tag and the famous NSX badge.