Acura, Honda’s upscale division, introduced the NSX Concept at the 2012 Detroit auto show, promising that it forecast a coming successor to the brilliant, dearly departed NSX sports car. Then, at the 2013 edition of the show, Acura showed a more detailed second version, with a fully realised interior.
When is this car going into production? That is something to which Honda has not quite committed. “In only about two short years from now”, Mike Accavitti, Acura’s vice president of national marketing operations, said at the Detroit show. But as anyone who follows the gestation of would-be supercars knows, “about” can have remarkable elasticity, and details about the next NSX remain scarce.
We all know, however, what the old NSX was. Upon its introduction in 1990, it revolutionised the sports car market. Here was a sleek, mid-engine, all-aluminium supercar at a time when Ferrari and Lamborghini were still building with heavy-gauge steel. The original NSX was quick, despite initially having only a 270-horsepower, 3-litre V6 engine aboard. It handled brilliantly, too, slashing through corners as if its tires were chemically bonded to the pavement. Despite all that, the NSX, which was marketed in the UK and Asia as a Honda model, could be comfortably driven every day because the cockpit was roomy and the ride was not punishing. And since it was a Honda, it introduced an X-factor into the old supercar calculus: reliability.
The NSX remained in production through the 2005 model year. There are those who still contend that it should have become a perennial model like the Porsche 911, being constantly updated instead of replaced. There are even more who believe it was a betrayal when Honda did not have a successor ready when the first car was finally killed off. This is, after all, the car that forced Ferrari to build better Ferraris.
All Honda will tells us about the next NSX is that it will look something like the concept car. That, and it will feature a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain that uses a direct-injection V6 and three electric motors to improve speed and cornering. Called the Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, it calls for an electric motor for each front wheel, with the third helping with the rear wheels. All this will be coordinated by lots of computers that help vector power for better cornering, as well as a new dual-clutch transmission.
“How much total power will the new NSX have?” Next question, please.
“How much will it cost?” Even Honda probably does not know that yet.
What is known is that most of the development work is being done in the United States by engineers recruited from around the planet. And we know that when the new NSX goes into production, it will be at a plant in Ohio, where Honda has long operated.
Given the propensity of “only about two short years” to stretch to three, if not four, a supercar buyer may require the thrill of a next-generation NSX right now.
Ferraris are too common and Lamborghinis too crass. For the millionaire with a sophisticated sensibility, the mid-engine supercar of the moment is the McLaren MP4-12C. It comes from Britain’s McLaren, which has a racing heritage only slightly less glorious than Ferrari’s, and is the follow-up to McLaren’s legendary, 618-horsepower, 240mph, road car of the 1990s, the F1. Consequently, unlike so many other exotic cars out there fighting for attention, this one has serious pedigree.
It backs up that heritage with astonishing performance and particularly well-applied high technology. In general specification, the MP4-12C competes with the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Gallardo: smaller than V12-powered monsters like Lamborghini’s Aventador, but better handling, more responsive and more fun on a racetrack or the right road.
The 12C is built around a lightweight carbon-fibre tub with aluminium structures fore and aft, to which the drivetrain and suspension are attached. The engine is McLaren’s own 3.8-litre, 32-valve V8 that has variable valve timing and a pair of turbochargers, but lacks some leading-edge technologies like direct fuel injection. Rated at 616 horsepower, it is not a rev-happy screamer like the 570-horsepower, 4.5-litre, non-turbocharged V8 in the 458 Italia. Rather, it pulls through its accompanying 7-speed, dual clutch transmission like a Pratt & Whitney fanjet. And as with the Ferrari, the 12C is rear-drive only.
Getting the most from that thrust is a computerised hydraulic double-wishbone suspension at each corner. There are three separate settings for the 12C’s suspension system – Normal, Sport and Track – featuring progressively higher hydraulic pressure. In daily use, the Normal setting provides a relatively cushy ride, while in Track mode there is almost no perceptible body roll. Dive into any corner, no matter how ridiculously off-cambre or bizarre in radius, and the 12C bites into the pavement like a cheetah into a gazelle’s femur.
Engage the 12C’s launch control system and the car lunges forward with what feels like a disdain for normal physics. With the computer doing the throttle and shifting work, the 12C is so quick you do not have time for your life to flash before you; a driver would be lucky to make out two years of pre-school. According to Edmunds.com, the McLaren moves from zero to 60mph in 3.2 seconds while obliterating the quarter-mile in 11 seconds flat with a trap speed of 131.5mph. It is simply one of the quickest cars ever built. That it is also incredibly civilised is brilliance defined.
Prices for the MP4-12C start at $229,000, and that, research reveals, is a lot. But it is slightly less expensive than the 458 Italia. For that money, however, the McLaren could stand to have more exciting looks and a less clumsy name. You might wait a few months, then, for the convertible, more concisely named 12C Spider, which happened to be James May of Top Gear’s car of the year.
And then, in only about two short years, you could trade it in for the eventual NSX.