Audi R8 - Honda NSX


If you see this from the driving seat you could be in for an exciting time. It is the instrument panel of an Audi R8, one of the best and most accessible supercars I have driven for years. You would be required to fasten your seat belt and raise the engine revs to more than idling speed to find the most notable feature of the R8 is how easy it is to drive fast. Generations of sports car drivers, especially in America, believed that you weren’t getting your money’s worth from a sports car unless it was a) difficult to drive b) frightened you to death and c) was noisy uncomfortable and draughty. Cars that changed all that were the BMW 328 in 1936, the E-type Jaguar in 1961 and the Honda NSX. Here is what I said about it in The Sunday Times on 17 March 1991.

Honda now has a car to confront Ferrari and Porsche. The NSX challenges their ideology and refutes the assertion that fast cars should be exacting to drive. Thirty years ago the E-Type Jaguar did much the same and showed that racing-car handling was not incompatible with smoothness and refinement. Drivers who pined for stiff springing and a noisy engine in 1961, were as out of tune with current practice, as their successors who disparage the NSX for lacking character or failing some quaint test of machismo.
The NSX rides smoothly, handles as lightly as a small hatchback, yet it has the speed and power of a sports car. Like that other high-speed paragon, the Mercedes-Benz SL, it is quiet and refined and exquisitely balanced, and anyone who suggests it has no character is probably not driving it fast enough.
Above 150mph all cars have character.
The NSX has been a sell-out. At £52,000 (£55,000 with automatic transmission) it is in such short supply that at least one of the twenty or so cars that have come on the UK market has been advertised in the classified columns at a handsome premium.
Honda's Tochigi plant makes only twenty-five of the 3ft 10in tall mid-engined NSX coupes every day. Of these only 150 will come to the UK this year making it as exclusive as a Ferrari and rarer than a Porsche. It has all the elegance of both without the highly-strung nature of either.
The Honda's critics may regard it as a usurper, but anybody who enjoys driving fast on the road without feeling constantly on the threshold of disaster, will welcome it. Unlike many Ferraris, it does not demand deftness at the wheel, although with 270 horse power available from the 3 litre V-6 it does demand concentration.
This is the Audi R8 V8

Honda has drawn on its racing experience for some of the engine's radical features such as the lightweight (and expensive) titanium connecting rods. VTEC or variable valve timing is an ingenious feature, which engages a different cam profile to retune the engine for extra power at high speeds. The result is a substantial improvement in efficiency and commendable fuel consumption of more than 20mpg. The greatest asset of the NSX is its predictable behaviour. Other so-called supercars can snap quickly and violently out of control, but the NSX has cornering power to spare for emergencies, sudden swerves, uneven surfaces, or bends that tighten up unexpectedly. It is safe because it will not betray the semi-skilled driver yet its fine poise and good balance will amply reward the proficient.
It inspires confidence. The mid-engined layout places the bulk of the weight in the middle, where it will not make the front or back swing wide. The balance is perfect, provoking no tail slides, no front wheel skids, and while it may have less grip of a racetrack than a Porsche Carrera 4, it can be cornered faster on the road because the driver always knows where he is with it.
The NSX accelerates to 60mph in less than 6 seconds, reaches 100mph in under 14 seconds, and its powerful brakes can produce stopping power of over 1g, with the fat specially developed Yokohama tyres gripping the road with great might. It is as tolerant in the wet as it is in the dry; the driver gets plenty of warning through the steering of the limits of prudence.
The interior is hardly grandiloquent. It has an instrument display that would not look out of place in a Honda Accord and agreeable stitched leather seats. There is nothing fancy here, nor is there much to be said for a luggage boot that does not take a full-sized suitcase. It is a basin-shaped bin right at the tail behind the high-revving masterpiece of an engine.
The NSX can crawl along in traffic making no more noise than a small Rover, then accelerate to 160mph, reaching over 8,000rpm in the gears and sounding every bit the thoroughbred. Honda felt no obligation to compete with Ferrari and Porsche for the apprehensions of the
sports car buyer. Tradition runs deeper here than even in the luxury market.
This is the V10 engine of an R8's well finished (and illuminated) engine compartment. No modesty here.
Instead Honda made it their business to win grand prix races; it was the only way to convince the fastidious buyer that is more than a match for Ferrari or Cosworth or anybody else. Honda won the world championship more convincingly than anybody has since the days of Mercedes-Benz.
The NSX may never attract the traditional Ferrari or Porsche customer who will not regard it in the same designer-label style. No matter, the NSX is perfectly capable of creating its own new market among people who would never buy a fractious Ferrari or a too-precious Porsche in any case.

Audi also makes practical cars.