Buying guide: the original Honda NSX

  • History

    A car designed to rival not just the all-conquering Porsche 911, but contemporary Ferraris too, the NSX was the most exciting vehicle to leave the Honda factory in years. A manufacturer best known for its reliable-but-dull family cars, Honda set the tongues in the motoring world wagging when it unveiled the world’s first mass-produced, all-aluminium car at the 1989 Tokyo motor show. The NSX was launched to the public the following year and went on sale in the UK in January 1991. However, despite general acclaim, high pricing and a production rate of just 25 per day meant few were seen on British roads.

    Honda did little to the NSX over the next few years, grudgingly adding a driver’s airbag in 1992, then after two more years putting one in for the passenger too. The alloys were changed in ’94 when the wheels gained an inch (16s up front, 17s at the rear) the suspension was honed, and manual cars gained PAS (autos had it from day one). All of which made the NSX less forgiving handling-wise than before, and a tad snappy. 1994 was also the year F-Matic replaced the original auto ’box.

  • Those who waited until 1995 to buy their new NSX had the choice of the original or the NSX-T, a 40kg heavier Targa version. Honda made more than 50 modifications to keep the body stiff and rigid, and ligtened other components like the starter motor to keep weight down. Despite all this, we’d still stick with the NSX proper.

    Three years later and a 3.2-litre engine joined the launch 3.0. The 3.2 was available with a six-speed manual — previously only a five-speeder had been available — and the 3.0 was demoted to F-Matic auto only. Also available in the 3.2, the underwhelming F-Matic button-shift ’box was expensive, slow and offered little extra but pose value. Good as they are, 3.2s are rare in the UK. Just 70 of the 450 or so sold here, which is a shame because although the power increase was marginal (20bhp), the extra slog of low-down torque was well worth having (as was the six-speeder). 

    The biggest changes to the NSX came in 2002. The pop-up headlights disappeared (blame saftey regs) and the wheels got bigger, with both the fronts and rears now running on 17-inchers. In 2003, the stripped-out NSX Type-R was launched… but in Japan only, so good luck finding one here. Not to mention the £250k NSX-GT R, of which only five were built.

  • Value

    The high prices originally meant high depreciation, but this has been offset by the relative rarity. A car which would have set you back £55,000 new in 1991 now costs from a little under £30,000. A ’95 car? Probably around £40,000. We could only find one from the late Nineties for sale, and it was up for £85,000. A post-2002? There simply aren’t any out there for sale.   

    New NSXs took a huge price drop in 2002, and I mean huge; £10,000 was knocked off the list price to try to raise sales. It worked, with NSX sales going from 11 in 2000 to 23 in 2002.

    Sensible money buys the lowest mileage car with the biggest history file (this is especially true if you’re buying an import). The most sought after NSXs are predictably the rarest – like the Type R (483 made, with the original 3.0-litre), NSX-R (like the Type R, only with the later 3.2 – 140 made), and ‘Last 12’ cars. 

    *Prices correct as of March 2016, thanks to Plans Performance

  • Costs

    Worry not — though the NSX is a bona fide supercar, it doesn’t require a supersize chequebook to keep it going. It is fabulously reliable and, wait for it, very good value to service. NSX specialist Plans Performance tells us that an annual/6000 mile service is just £240, including parts, labour and VAT.

    The cambelt & water pump-changing extravaganza that is the seven-year/70K mile service is £2,400. 

    *Prices correct as of March 2016, thanks to Plans Performance

  • Engine and transmission

    Two quad-cam, 24-valve, V6s are available for the NSX, the original three-litre with 252bhp and 209lb ft, and the 3.2-litre with 276bhp and 224lb ft that joined team NSX in 1998. A technical tour de force at its launch, the NSX was the recipient of a steady trickle of F1 technology. Titanium conrods, individual coils and platinum sparkplugs saw their production debut in the NSX, and even Ayrton Senna was cajoled into helping with its development. Transmission-wise there were few changes, except those already mentioned, but, like the rest of the car, the transmission is very reliable and should give you no problems.

  • Suspension

    The NSX’s aluminium double wishbone, coil over shock absorber, alloy subframe chassis set-up was designed for speed and handling. And that’s exactly what you want from a supercar. But Honda just couldn’t resist tinkering with it and 2002 saw the suspension fine-tuned – the front spring rates and rear anti roll bar were stiffened, and the rear track was widened by 10mm – but the effect on everyday driving is negligible. While suspension can get damaged, it’s a rare occurence — after all, you certainly know you’re in a low car when you’re driving one.

  • Handling and ride

    From the start, a low, wide stance greatly helped the NSX’s handling, and also meant that, while its suspension was fairly firm, it was still pretty comfortable. Ergonomically it was a hit too, with all controls less than a stretch away. More of a concern to Honda was early cars’ propensity to oversteer when on the limit. Engineers were soon on the case to change the geometry and make the NSX give an initial warning shot of understeer. All well and good, but the pay-off was that NSXs started to go through tyres quite quickly. Damn that toe-in.

  • Exterior

    The NSX was essentially handbuilt in its own special factory, so panel fit should be perfect. Accident damage, therefore, is hard to hide — if there’s anything suspect about the panel fit, check and check again. Mending poorly repaired accident damage is expensive, particularly on an all-aluminium car. And try to avoid red cars, they’re just so common.

  • Interior

    The cabin didn’t really change from its inception. So it looks dated regardless of year. A Bose stereo cassette was standard  (dig out that Now that’s what I call Music 2 tape) until ’02 when a CD at last appeared. As with all used cars, check the upholstery carefully, especially the driver’s seat. Oddment storage is limited to a packet of chewing gum and a pair of shades, but the boot is surprisingly commodious.

  • Verdict

    The NSX has it all — real supercar verve, back road frolicking and calm city behaviour. Never before or since has a car of this class offered such a combination of entertainment, reliability and accessible running costs.

     

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