Honda NSX (2017) review: Pure hybrid insanity
For a long time, the BMW i8 was the fastest, most exciting car I’d ever driven. Featuring a hybrid powertrain, cracking design and those butterfly doors, the BMW i8 felt like the ultimate supercar. Then I experienced the McLaren 720S, and that was another step up. With a racing car-like throttle, handling and braking, the McLaren felt like a race car for the road, and one I thought would be unmatched. And then I drove the Honda NSX.
Easily one of the most striking supercars you can buy today, the Honda NSX is an absolute beast. With its outrageous V6 hybrid power plant, carbon fibre infused body and razor-sharp handling, it’s easily in the same league as the 720S, and might be even more fun. To find out what it’s like to drive a hybrid hypercar, I drove Honda’s most powerful car to the New Forest.
Supercars are always designed to look outrageous, but the NSX takes things a step further. Where the McLaren 720S looks a little like a spaceship, the Honda has echoes of Transformer, motorbike and insect. Yes, all the supercar mainstays are here – an engine gallery, flying buttresses, air intakes and a ludicrous exhaust – but the outrageous design of the Honda sets it far apart from the competition.
Everywhere you look, there’s added detail on the car and one of the most satisfying things about the Honda is the way you can see a gaping air intake in each wing mirror. Just one more detail that reminds you you’re in a hypercar.
Supercars like the McLaren 720S may not have the best infotainment systems but at least their cabins are thoughtful and stylishly designed. In contrast, cabins in supercars like the BMW i8 feel a bit like a Frankenstein mix up of other model parts – and that’s what the Honda is like. While the i8 feels like a generic BMW inside, the NSX feels a little like a Honda Clarity or a Civic Type R – not ideal when you’ve spent the better part of 200 grand on a car.
The infotainment isn’t great either, and uses a rather plasticky touchscreen display, with capacitive buttons on the side for the main shortcuts and volume controls. What’s more, the satnav appears to have been be lifted straight from Garmin. That means it’s dependable, but looks a little less bespoke and polished than you’d like.
Most things are controlled via the touchscreen, but the Honda offers a series of controls on the steering wheel, too, and they’re actually very good. Music is controlled by a weird ball-shaped scrolling device on the left hand side of the wheel and, in practice, this is easy to use. Flick it to the left or right to change tracks, scroll it up or down to change the volume, and press it to mute.
As for the sound system? That’s a tricky one because there’s a carbon-fibre-wrapped V6 engine behind you and, unless you’re stopped in traffic or in EV-only mode, you’ll never hear exactly what it can do. When I did shut down the V6, I found the sound to be good on the whole. Bass was present but not exactly full-bodied, but the NSX does a good job of representing punchy kicks and glassy cymbals. It’s okay, but nothing more.
You buy the NSX for driving, though, not the audio system and in this area it’s now become my benchmark for performance cars. Just like the i8, the NSX pairs a combustion engine with a hybrid KERS system, but Honda starts with a much more punchy powerplant to underpin the hybrid part.
Honda lets you dial in just how crazy you want the NSX to be, and the flavours range from Quiet Mode – which sees the Honda use EV mode as much as possible, to Sport+ That last one gives you all the power the Honda can muster, bypasses a silencer and also channels more real engine noise into the car. Track Mode adds to the madness by removing traction control completely.
In Sport Mode, the car’s default, you’ll find the ridiculous torque spinning up the rear wheels in a straight line and, when Sport+ is engaged, it’s very easy to drift the car around corners. It’s not something I wanted to do, but because of the sheer power of the Honda it just sort of happens anyway. And because of the low, low seating position, you feel every moment of the car in your hips instantaneously, so you can actually do something about it.
There were several times I ended up correcting the NSX over some heavy handed acceleration and each time I felt the car losing grip in my body first, before I saw it with my eyes. It seems odd to say, but the driving position of the NSX makes the handling feel particularly instinctive and receptive.
And, despite the insane amount of power, the temptation to floor it never quite goes away, because every application of the accelerator brings the whine of hybrid power, the roar of a V6 just behind your head, and the hiss of the turbo wastegate. Combined with a suspension so stiff your hands feel numb after motorway driving, the NSX really does feel like a racecar on the road.
That sounds exciting, but this is not the car to drive around the streets of Bromley and South London, as you’ll find yourself in a constant state of stress. I found myself constantly look ahead for the next bump or pothole, and as you approach each speed bump, you’ll find yourself hoping not to hear a scrape. Even in Quiet, my prefered mode when rolling around town, you always feel as if you’re tiptoeing around the NSX, transporting it unscathed from one set of lights to another – rather than driving it.
The McLaren 720S might be sharper, and the BMW i8 maybe more iconic, but the Honda NSX is probably the most impressive hybrid car I’ve driven.
It’s impractical enough to feel special, and with speed that’ll pin you back to your seat and completely bonkers styling, it ticks all the supercar boxes.