Honda boss Takanobu Ito announced at the Shanghai Show that Honda is developing a successor to the NSX. Again.
We’ll see how long Honda’s enthusiasm for a new NSX lasts this time. Company insiders have been debating a replacement for the mid-engine, all-aluminum supercar that sent Ferrari back to the drawing board in the early 1990s for at least a decade now. A new NSX has been on and off more times than Sharon Stone’s underwear, so I wouldn’t bet the 401k we’ll be seeing Ito-san’s version – which he hints will be some kind of hybrid – anytime soon.
The original NSX was a stunning piece of work; a car that was demonstrably better in every respect – better built, better handling, better to drive – than a Ferrari 348. Well, almost every respect. Though Honda’s 3.0-liter VTEC V-6 was smooth and powerful, it lacked the delicious cammy yowl of the Ferrari’s little V-8. But I could live with that. I couldn’t live with the Ferrari’s Neanderthal driving position, the fact it simply refused to allow you to select 2nd gear when the transmission was cold, and that it was an evil-handling bitch when driven fast.
The NSX caused uproar in Maranello, and in a good way. That Honda is the reason today’s Ferraris are admirably durable and driveable supercars you can use every day if you choose instead of having to tease out of the garage and pamper like pop diva. But what I liked most about the NSX was what it said about Honda: This was a company run by people who were truly passionate about cars.
I remember being deeply impressed when in the early 1990s Honda CEO Nobuhiko Kawamoto cancelled a meeting at Honda HQ, and instead drove himself across Tokyo to my hotel in his own flame-red NSX. There are industry CEOs who like to be considered “car guys”, but Kawamoto was 1 of the few I’ve met who really walked the talk.
He helped design the Honda V-12 that powered John Surtees to a thrilling last-lap victory in the 1967 Italian GP, and oversaw the engine programs that delivered 5 world championships for Honda-powered Williams and McLaren F1 racers 20 years later. While many other car company bosses’ idea of a great drive was something that happened on the back nine of the local golf club, Kawamoto’s was hot-lapping Nelson Piquet’s turbo-powered Williams FW11 grand prix car at nearly 200mph on the giant banked oval at Honda’s Tochigi proving ground. He counted Ayrton Senna, who helped tune the NSX’s chassis at the Nurburgring, as a personal friend, and had a pristine Triumph TR3 and pre-war Lagonda Rapide in his garage at home when I interviewed him.
When I look at today’s Honda lineup, I wonder where all that passion went. With a few exceptions – notably, the hopelessly confused CRZ and the hideously deformed Acura TL – Honda makes generally decent products; efficient, reliable, well-built cars and trucks that as an automotive journalist I’d have no trouble recommending to a lot of people. But there isn’t a single Honda in the current range that gets my pulse racing like that old NSX.
And maybe that’s why I’m skeptical about a new NSX: It seems too big a philosophical stretch for today’s buttoned-down, middle-of-the-road Honda Motor Company. That’s not to say Honda isn’t working on a new NSX, and that we might even see one in an Acura showroom a few years from now. But I suspect it won’t be a car Nobuhiko Kawamoto would choose to drive across Tokyo just for the hell of it.