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Honda NSX (1996) Review - When It Was New

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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

Honda NSX : Monte-Carlo and Back!

by Nicholas Frankl
Europe Bureau
The Auto Channel

GAP, Grenoble and Digne le Bains may not be the most familiar names in your vocabulary, but trust me when I say that if you're looking for one of the best motoring experiences in Europe, then these names will need to feature as strongly as MPH and RPM.

It was obvious from the outset that this was going to be a memorable trip (as I sit writing these words at 100MPH - no I'm not driving with the cruise control on, someone else is driving and what's more we're 300 feet below the English Channel in Le Shuttle!), I'm still trying to recall all the fun we have experienced in the last seven days. The company was a sure thing. My father and his new fiance' in his "old" Ferrari 328 - surely one of the great - (and certainly one of the most beautiful) cars of all time, combined in convoy with myself, one platinum silver NSX, courtesy of those nice people at Honda UK and a great car crazy mate to assist with the general eating, partying and the chore of driving.

The trip down was bright, hot and sunny. Roof off at a steady 110, this car is so sublime and comfortable that to be honest it's too good to be called a sports car, in the traditional sense anyway. Remember warming up the leg to avoid cramps, running in the brakes and not using second till you were almost home? Forget it. This thing you just get in, drive and smile. The Ferrari may be ultimately more involving, a V8 is always going to be more pronounced, resting just behind your ear, but it seemed almost tiresome after the tranquillity of the V6, which gives nothing away in atmosphere or action, but just seems to handle it all in a more subdued fashion. But, it's 10 years older I hear the tifosi cry! Undeniably the 355 is a notch above both the baby 328 and the later 348, but having driven all three, I can honestly - and thankfully - say that the ingredients have never changed down the years, which is what makes them so desirable. But for overall long distance touring the NSX is just such a competent companion. Not in the 928 ilk, mind. No, this is a sports tourer with attitude. The seats are the most comfortable I've experienced, in any car ( including Rolls, Mercs et all), the burgundy leather encasing you, snugly, so as not to slip and slide, the steering (power assisted) providing good feedback as to what's happening up front and with full reach and rack adjustment a limitless amount of leg and arm positions from old granny haunch to Italian stallion pseudo racer. The cannibalising may have altered the stiffness, yes of course it flexes, but for non track work and overall enjoyment , nothing beats a quick tanning.

Back at Gap. Where else you might ask? Second runs out at about 70mph (7900 revs) which is excellent for sprinting past the plethora or should I say bloody cavalcade, of Dutch and Belgium caravans. My goodness what is it with these people? Surely if god had intended us to tow caravans he/she (PC) would have affixed towing brackets to our bottoms. What a delight though. Once above 5,000 the VTEC starts waking up, the pitch of the engine changes from V6 purr to Beatles mania scream. Up hill no problem, that's really the glorious thing about having 300 odd horses, any fool can drive fast down hill with a trailing wind, but when climbing, you leave them all for dead, and with our own prancing stallion running just behind the sight, not to mention the noise, was just fabulous!

DOWN HILL. Ah!. Well, it was to be fair a very hot afternoon - the tarmac was going that funny runny black - and beautifully twisty and steep, but I had expected the brakes to last a little bit longer before the pedal went soft and the fun stalled. The tyres - 215/45ZR 16 front, 245/40 ZR 17 rear, all Dunlop SP Sports, gripped nicely with good (but not the best) feel, losing their fight for lateral hold only once, on a long right hander at about 70, application of opposite lock doing the business, the chassis politely obliging. Peculiarly, and here both cars "suffer", it is very difficult indeed to get the back-end out round slow, (say, second gear) hair- pins, the revs and consequent torque not enough to dislodge the rears. Care must therefore be taken not to dive into the afore mentioned corners to fast, because - as Gerhard Berger said - understeer, - in whatever you drive, - is shit. I wish the same caution to the wind attitude could be taken in the wet, but just as I reached home territory, only a mile and a half from my doorstep, after more than 1500 miles, the car got seriously sideways out of a slow left. It served as a timely reminder that no matter how capable you think you are, nor how good the car is, disrespecting a super car will cost you dearly.

The NSX may not be the fastest. Nor the best handling super car in the world. But for a week it provided two of us with an unforgettable drive through sunshine, rain and hail, motorways, mountain passes and the streets of Monaco and never once did either one of us wish to be in anything else. At an indicated 164 mph this car made one feel like the king of the castle, so good that for 40 minutes, at 11.30 pm in northern France we covered 120 miles, and consumed a total of 880 miles from Monaco to Calais in 8 hours, 20 minutes. Now that's not bad going when you include the obligatory Peage, the 5 fuel stops (av 21 mpg) and the traffic jam in Lyon.

Now if they could only introduce the name Acura to Europe....