NSX-R’s 3.0 V6 makes at least 276bhp
How far has Honda’s revered Type R sub-brand come in 25 years? To find out, we grab the keys to a 1992 NSX-R and 2017 Civic Type R
You’ll have seen the video. The brown leather loafers; the unfortunate, bright white socks.
When Ayrton Senna tested the Honda NSX-R at Suzuka in the early 1990s, it was, to him, just a day of promotional activity.
He could never have known anoraks like me would still be wittering on about that day a quarter of a century later. But it’s just too good to forget, isn’t it? One of the great Formula 1 drivers at the height of his powers, whipping chunks out of a very special supercar – on one of the few truly iconic motor racing circuits, no less – as though a championship was on the line. Then there are the surgical heel-and-toe downchanges, the kerb-hopping four-wheel drifts…
Not even the questionable footwear could dull the occasion.
Fast-forward 25 years to the middle of July 2017, around the time of the British Grand Prix, and the moment is being recreated with modern-day participants. The stand-in Formula 1 great is Fernando Alonso – who else? – and the car is the spanking new Civic Type R. After posing for photographs – sober trainers, dark socks – the two-time world champion drives the Type R to another of motor racing’s most famous venues, Silverstone. Rather than hammer the thing through Maggots and Becketts as though there’s a spot in Q3 to be had, however, Alonso merely shoves it in the car park labelled ‘F1 Personnel’.
Oh, well. Maybe that Suzuka moment will never be bettered. With a new Civic Type R and a stunning first-generation NSX-R (this one Pearl Yellow rather than the Championship White of Senna’s car) sat before me, their keys stuffed into my pocket, I reckon this might just be a moment that’ll be worth retelling 25 years hence.
Between them, the fifth-generation Civic Type R and the hardcore NSX-R, which sits so low you could trip over it, bookend the Type R story. I suppose it’s fitting that Honda’s fastest hot hatch yet should arrive in the same year that its performance brand reaches the quarter century. The Type R dynasty began with the pop-up headlight NSX-R in 1992, the first car to wear the now famous red ‘H’ badge. Honda would have you believe the NSX-R’s normally aspirated 3.0-litre V6 develops 276bhp, but if that high-revving, motorsport- derived unit isn’t actually churning out more than 100bhp per litre, I’ll be amazed. Nonetheless, it’s unlikely to develop more power than the Civic’s turbocharged four-pot, which is rated at 316bhp. Such is progress.
Talking of progress, the new Type R is such a big improvement on the previous model that it’s hard to believe they were separated by just two short years. It has independent rear suspension now, of course, and a Comfort mode that allows the car to ride with remarkable fluidity and control across a bumpy road. It also has very direct steering, a brilliantly effective limited-slip differential, excellent brakes and a playful, adjustable chassis. The engine is mightily strong too, if somewhat laggy, and the seating position is close to being perfect.
It is frustrating that you can’t couple the slack dampers with a more aggressive powertrain setting and the showy, try-hard styling does take some of the shine off (the NSX-R’s uncluttered, authentic treatment makes the Civic look a bit daft, I reckon), but overall this is truly one of today’s hot hatch greats. Honda’s Type R brand is in a very good place indeed. But what a spectacular place it was back in 1992, before any of us really knew what Type R stood for. The mid-engined NSX had been around for a couple of years already, its engineers having worked extremely hard to make it both more rewarding to drive than the equivalent Ferrari – the unloved 348 – and more usable every day, Porsche 911 style.
There was, therefore, an awful lot of motorsport precision and agility to be dialled back in. Honda’s engineers started by stripping out as much weight as they could get away with, tearing out sound deadening and the spare wheel, and replacing the standard chairs with carbon-kevlar Recaro buckets. Lightweight Enkei wheels, meanwhile, helped to reduce unsprung mass. The total weight loss was more than 100kg so the NSX-R sat at the kerb at a flyweight 1230kg.
The chassis was stiffened with a couple of additional braces and the spring and damper rates went up. Not just by a bit: the front springs were more than twice as stiff as the standard car’s, the rears almost half as firm again. (Contemporary reviewers reckoned the NSX-R was actually too stiff, which, you might imagine, says more about the era than the car itself.)
The VTEC V6 was blueprinted, ensuring the finest tolerances possible, and the gear ratios were shortened. Between November 1992 and September 1995, just 483 NSX-Rs were built. The model never officially came to the UK and, even today, there are just a handful of them on our shores. This particular car is an immaculate example, despite its 60,000 miles.
It looks sensational out in the wild too, that long rear section reaching backwards like the deck of an aircraft carrier, the contrasting black roof mimicking the canopy of a fighter jet. This is a car with a military sense of purpose. The cabin is more single-minded still, the dashboard wrapped in suede and the steering wheel a gorgeous, non-airbag, thin-rimmed Momo item. You look beyond the rim to see the instrument binnacle, which houses the clearest dials I have encountered: black faces, crisp white markings, bright yellow needles.
It’s a wonderful cabin, made all the more inviting by incredible visibility. Arrow-thin A-pillars, an impossibly low scuttle and clear over-the- shoulder vision mean you see …read more