Does The Honda NSX Really Deserve Its Heroic Reputation?

With the all-new NSX looming, I took a drive in the first generation car to see if all the hype was justified...

I’ve only been in this low-slung, very orange car a few minutes, and I’m getting worried. I’ve driven cars worth much more than this pristine, low-mileage 2005 Honda NSX, and I’ve driven cars with more than twice the power, but panic is starting to set in. Why? Because NSXs are incredibly rare and therefore very precious, and we’re the first people to be trusted with this example - Honda’s own - since it returned from many months of repair after some poor fool crashed it last year at a driving event.

I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that if it comes back with any damage, actual physical harm will be inflicted upon my manhood. Oh, and I’m about to tackle the fearsome Hanger Lane Gyratory System, which is a giant roundabout in London where 90 per cent of drivers seem to be incapable of driving courteously. No pressure, then.

Honda - Does The Honda NSX Really Deserve Its Heroic Reputation?  - Features

A few minutes before, I’d made myself comfortable in the car’s vast leather driver’s seat with the aim of finding out why people constantly gush over the old NSX. To start with, all I could do was marvel at the interior. Not because it’s anything particularly special, more because it’s a bit of a time warp - it may be one of the very last 2005 cars, but it’s all very early 90s in there, with the slanted centre console’s chunky buttons and the clumsy steering wheel that looks like it’s from an old Accord. That’s mostly because the NSX’s cabin barely changed during the car’s 15-year production run, but I’ll forgive it for that - mostly because I rather like cars from the 90s.

Fast forward to the present, and my hopes of being first behind the traffic lights - enabling me to make a clean break onto the roundabout - are quickly dashed when I come to rest behind two other cars. But no matter, with a little concentration, I’m sure all will be fine. The NSX is under threat almost immediately, as a bus driver decides to start indicating to cross over to my lane, despite the fact I’m directly beside him. Fortunately, said driver decides he doesn’t want to broadside a bright orange Honda today, and slows down to tuck in behind me.

Honda - Does The Honda NSX Really Deserve Its Heroic Reputation?  - Features

Just when I think I’m home and free, some idiot with no understanding of lane discipline cuts me up, and my stomach tightens as he comes a little too close to slicing the Honda’s nose off. But no matter, I’ve indicated off this hellish corner of London’s road network and am heading out of the capital. I have some crawling Friday evening traffic to contend with first, giving me a good taste of the NSX’s reassuringly heavy but rather tiring pedal box.

Finally, the traffic starts to ease, and I have a little gap I can use to experience the NSX’s 3.2-litre V6. This requires a downshift on the hefty short-throw gear lever, and a hearty stab of the accelerator. And, good lord does the car deliver. That six-pot sounds good at pretty much any engine speed: it’s pleasingly burly and industrial at low revs, starts to howl at around 4000rpm and howls some more at 6000rpm, before going into a full-on scream as the needle hurtles up to a heady 8000rpm.

Honda - Does The Honda NSX Really Deserve Its Heroic Reputation?  - Features

It may have ‘VTEC’ slapped on the rocker cover, but there’s no discernible kick, although the moderate surge you get from 6000-8000rpm is a pleasing sensation. The car’s 276bhp is less than a lot of hot hatchbacks manage these days - including Honda’s own Civic Type R - but that pleasant high-range surge - combined with the theatrical noise - means the NSX never feels slow.

The engine absolutely dominates the experience, to the point at which you’d almost forgive the car if it was a dog’s dinner to drive. But it isn’t. With the motorway trudge over, I’m on some more rural roads, putting the NSX through its paces.

Honda - Does The Honda NSX Really Deserve Its Heroic Reputation?  - Features

The suspension is stiff, but not excessively so, giving you just the right amount of composure without each road imperfection threatening to turn your spine to dust. It’s planted too, with that very balanced chassis more than up to the task of handling the V6’s relatively modest 276bhp, and then some.

It’s not perfect, though: the steering is an unexpected disappointment. Sure, feedback is decent, but it’s surprisingly slow, to the point at which it almost catches me out on the first few tight corners. Pretty soon I get the hang of just how much you have to hack away at the wheel to get the right amount of lock, but the lack of immediacy is frustrating when the chassis is this good.

‘It’s the perfect weapon for back-road fun, and highlights the fact that modern sports cars might have become too powerful for their own good’

However, the more I drive, the more I’m getting used to it. In time, you easily slip into a delicious flow with the NSX, feeling much more a part of the driving experience than possible in most modern performance cars. And that sluggish steering isn’t enough to stop me falling for the NSX, and falling hard. “It’s fine…when I buy mine, I’ll learn to live with it,” I think as I’m nearing home, having spent just a few hours with the car. Yep, I’ve no way of affording one and prices are rising at an alarming rate, but I’ve decided I must have one of these one day.

Honda - Does The Honda NSX Really Deserve Its Heroic Reputation?  - Features

That’s because the NSX has a funny way of getting under your skin. It’s the perfect weapon for back-road fun, and highlights the fact that modern sports cars might have become too powerful for their own good. 276bhp? Screw the bragging rights, that’s more than enough in the real world. If the engine’s dramatic enough and is allied to a fine chassis that keeps you involved at all times, you have all you really need in a driver’s car.

Whether or not the incoming second-generation NSX - with its hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive - will be as captivating as this car, we’ll wait and see. For now, though, I’m satisfied that this car deserves its heroic reputation, and after spending two days with one, I’m determined to get behind the wheel of one again.

Mostly, though, I’m over the moon that I’ve gotten through all of this without once mentioning the rather hackneyed Ayrton Senna connection. Oh, damn…