Honda NSX TMS-1

Two and a half decades is a long time to wait for a replacement, and as such the anticipation that awaits the successor is definitely going to be is high. So too are the expectations. The new 2017 Honda NSX (or Acura NSX, from a North American perspective) certainly has big boots to fill.

The original was very much grew into a legend, an everyday-use sports car that was a quintessential all-rounder. The new one has certainly taken its time to appear – after endless false starts in different forms, the real deal has arrived, and by mid-2016, the right-hand drive iteration of the new NSX is set to roll off the lines from the automaker’s new Performance Manufacturing Centre (PMC) facility in Marysville, Ohio.

The new car undeniably has plenty of physical presence, wearing a very sharp suit and bearing plenty of tech, but is it destined to be a legend, like the old one? Competition has toughened in times since, and so have the demands of the day. A very brief sampling of the car at Honda’s R&D facility in Tochigi, Japan, provides an intimation of where this one is heading.

Honda NSX TMS-4

The car, which made its debut in Detroit earlier this year, was again centre-staged in Tokyo, and just ahead of the TMS a complete rundown of the car’s technical details were released.

To recap, the 4,470 mm long, 1,940 mm wide and 1,215 mm tall offering features a “Multi-Material Body” structure, where a mix of material is employed – there’s aluminium and ultra high-strength steel for the space frame, the application utilising extruded and cast parts for improved rigidity and lower weight. Carbon-fibre is also found in the mix, the front floor panels of the assembly being made of CF.

The NSX’s Sport Hybrid Power Unit system – which describes the engine, electric motors and drivetrain combination collectively – is led by a mid-mounted 3.5 litre DOHC twin-turbocharged petrol V6 engine with dry sump lubrication, which drives the rear wheels. Output figures for the lump are 500 hp at 7,500 rpm and 550 Nm of torque from 2,000-6,000 rpm.

Honda NSX TMS-40

There’s also a rear Direct Drive Motor – situated between the engine and transmission – that offers 47 hp and 148 Nm. Two more motors are to be found, driving the front wheels – the front-mounted Twin Motor Unit (TMU) puts out 72 hp (36 hp at each wheel) and 146 Nm.

The electric motors get their juice from an Intelligent Power Unit-Power Drive Unit (IPU-PDU) setup which integrates the lithium-ion battery and the high-voltage distribution bus bar. In total, the entire setup offers a combined power output of 573 hp and 645 Nm.

The transmission, meanwhile, is a nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox with ratios spread out for “optimal gear selection in all driving conditions,” with second to eight matched to make the most of the power unit’s power band and the final ninth gear optimised for fuel efficiency. Also on call, Honda’s Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system.

The NSX features a fully independent front and rear suspension, with active magnetorheological (MR) dampers. The front units are double wishbones, with double ball joint lower arms being incorporated to help eliminate feedback from the TMU system. The rear suspension is of the multi-link variety.

As standard, the NSX rides on Y-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels in front with 20-inch units at the rear, wrapped with 245/35 and 305/30 Continental ContiSport Contact 5 rubbers. Eagle-eyed observers will note that the test mules at Tochigi wear a different double five-spoke wheel design – the turbine-styled alloys look snazzier to the eye, at least for me.

The design of the interior features what the automaker calls a “Human Support Cockpit” philosophy, where a human-centric, ergonomically-enhanced design theme for both the driver and passenger has been employed for the cabin and its workings.

Plenty of attention has been placed to help shape various aspects of the cabin for usability – the centre console, dubbed as the “Simple Sports Interface,” has been specifically designed to minimise the potential for distractions. Selection of Parking/Drive/Reverse/Neutral is accomplished via button selection. Also, the design of the steering wheel itself features a more ergonomic shape, with increased surface contact for a driver’s hands.

The NSX can be operated in four drive modes, these being Quiet, Sport, Sport+ and Track, all carried out via the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) and selectable via the only rotary knob on the centre console. Quiet mode allows for full-electric operation at low speed, with only the TMU system being engaged from standstill – the combustion engine can be brought into play, but is limited to 4,000 rpm.

Next is the car’s default setting, Sport mode. Here, the 4,000 rpm limit is removed while the Intake Sound Control and the Active Exhaust Valve systems are activated – the latter allows for a more raucous exhaust note. Idle stop function (start-stop) is still present.

The third mode is Sport+, which offers quicker upshifts and downshifts of the nine-speed gearbox while the throttle map switches over to its most aggressive setting. In this mode, the NSX’s onboard electronics (the EPS, electric motors and Direct Yaw Control) are all tuned for maximum performance.

Lastly, Track mode, which as its moniker suggests is meant for circuit work. With this one, the NSX is zeroed in on performance and nothing else, with the most aggressive settings and parameters to deliver the fastest and most consistent lap times possible. In this mode, the lithium-ion battery is prompted to maintain a consistent level of torque output to ensure that there is no let-up in power.

The sampling of the NSX was brief – two rounds on the high-speed oval at Tochigi meant that total distance covered was around eight kilometres, all accomplished pretty much in straight and direct fashion, with maximum speed capped at 180 km/h. As such, there’s very little to report in terms of outright handling and such items such as response to steering input and placement/trackability.

Ingress and egress is a relatively painless affair (you’d have more trouble getting in and out of a S660, truth be told), and once in, the cabin ensconces in good fashion. Two things jumped out during the short drive which had very little to do with the car’s performance, and I’ll mention these because they were strikingly noticeable.

First, the steering itself, or rather the physical feel of the wheel – the attention paid to the ergonomics must be praised. The unit feels exemplary to the hands in terms of grip and rest aspects, especially in its nine-and-three primary position. As the main contact point in a car, many steerings don’t do this initial handshake well. The one in the NSX does, and sets the tone right for things further afield.

The other concerns the seating. There’s much to like in this regard, and it is more than a match for another Japanese outing in recent times which impressed with its fit, that seen in the Toyota 86. The one in the NSX is equally winsome, snug but easy to settle into, requiring very little fiddling to get right.

Honda NSX TMS-3

The start off at Tochigi was done in silent fashion, the RHD car (there was a LHD Acura example present as well) whispering as it trundled off the approach to the track proper in Quiet mode. Entering the track, Sport got the NSX to the 180 km/h enforced limit rapidly, but it’s quite civil about it rather than brutal

In many ways the sensation here (as intimated by this mode at least) is that it feels very much like an Audi R8, one of the cars the NSX was benchmarked against (other vehicles in a diverse evaluation field include the Porsche 911 Turbo and the Ferrari 458 Italia, as well as the Nissan GT-R).

The short of it is that the NSX feels like it could drive itself, and though the short stint didn’t offer too much, the suggestion is very strong that it will pander to the less experienced driver without overwhelming (and over awe-ing), and naturally reward the better one.

Honda NSX Tochigi 2

Which is where Sport+ and Track obviously come in – at the end of the first lap, the Honda engineer sitting in the passenger seat told me to slow down to 60 km/h, engaged Sport+ and proceeded to ask me to floor the pedal. The jump from Sport to Sport+ is quite noticeable, as are the accelerative qualities of the car, the response from the gearbox being particularly appealing.

Still, it never felt unruly or unmanageable, at least not noticeably on the straight run at Tochigi. A brief switch to Track before coming in to the pits hinted at the possibility of ebullience for the ham-fisted; sadly, we may never find out just how good it really is, unshackled. A quick note about the EPS steering – it feels nicely weighted, and is sharp and clean, based on the two rapid lane change switchbacks carried out on level terrain.

The limited time provided only a partial glimpse of the NSX’s nature and character, but the hint of drivability and more importantly, practicality, is very strong. It doesn’t feel cumbersome at low speeds, and despite the low height, visibility out the front is good. An everyday sports car? By all suggestions, this is looking very much the case, like its predecessor.

The wait for those wanting one through official channels may prove elusive though, here at least. Honda Malaysia says there are no immediate plans to bring the NSX in – there’s a need for a dedicated sales and service infrastructure to support it, and that’s something that has yet to be resolved. In all likelihood, it probably won’t, and the only new-gen NSXs you’ll see on the road here will be grey imports.

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