Of course, Sebastian and I see the world through very different eyes. So, while he was busy getting details about the FCV Clarity successor, and asking tough questions about electrification (in other words, the important stuff), I was fixating on a tiny, two-seat sports car that will never come to America. Oh, there was an NSX, too.
Honda's pre-Tokyo Motor Show meeting really did have plenty to offer for all kinds of auto enthusiasts, be they focused on fast driving or environmentally friendly powertrains. Seb's attendance let me focus on the stuff that's great for the former, while he wrote up high points of the latter.
I joke about salivating over the S660, but honestly I was at least as excited to take a few laps in Honda's Beat encore, as I was to sample the Acura supercar. Conditions for the test drive weren't ideal, however. Two laps of a four-kilometer banked oval is not exactly nirvana for a 1,800-pound, 63-horsepower roadster. Still, I folded all six feet and five inches of my body behind the tiny wheel determined to wring it out.
I shifted up just before redline in first gear with the last quarter of the pit lane rollout lane still in front of me. The 658cc inline-three buzzed like a mad thing behind my ear, vastly more stirring than you'd expect while traveling about 30 miles per hour. The S660 is limited to just around 87 mph, but the immersion of the driving experience (note: I was over the windscreen from the forehead up) was enough to make it feel fast, at least.
The immersion of the driving experience was enough to make it feel fast, at least.
Even after just a few laps, and precious little steering, I could tell that everything I grew up loving about Honda was in play here. The six-speed manual offered tight, quick throws, the engine seemed happiest over 5,000 rpm, and the car moved over the earth with direct action and a feeling of lightness. Sure proof that you don't need high performance – the S600 runs to 60 mph in about 13 seconds – to build a driver's car. I could have used 200 miles more, and some mountain roads, to really enjoy the roadster (though I would have wanted a hat).
The S660 was on my radar for this event (circled, underlined, and notated as "good reason to go" on my calendar) but an all-electric CR-Z was not. In fact, when Sebastian and I both started looking through the actual itinerary for the day, even his eyebrows raised at the notion of a four-electric-motor Honda coupe.
The car in question turned out to be a de-tuned version of the racecar Honda brought to conquer Pike's Peak this year. Powered by four electric motors delivering juice to each wheel, and fitted with rear-wheel steering for enhanced maneuverability, the EV was nothing short of spectacular.
The Model S doesn't have a patch on the way the CR-Z can dissect a corner.
I drove it, again for a pitifully short one lap, on a very tight handling track. Initial acceleration is blistering; not quite recreating the body-tingling magic of Tesla's Ludicrous Mode, but coming damn near. But the Model S doesn't have a patch on the way the CR-Z can dissect a corner. Push the accelerator to the floor as you apex, and the EV-powered SH-AWD system delivers blinding exit speed. The few corners I rounded felt impeccably neat, presumably because the three-degrees of rear steer (max) were tightening up the short-wheelbase CR-Z's already considerably direction-changing prowess.
The 4-Motor car was created as a project to help develop young engineering talent at Honda, and the racer the truest execution of the formula. (The PP car also had more wing at once than I've ever seen in person.) But there's more tantalizing about the thing than a mere demonstrator of technology. Honda engineers say that the CR-Z EV and associated racecar are, essentially, the second in a three-stage program. Everyone was predictably cagey about what Stage Three would entail, but it seems reasonable that a fully electric version of SH-AWD is in play.
Logic suggests that such a system would make sense on a future version of the NSX. In fact, the presentation made note of an "ultimate sports car" as a long-term goal, with the BMW i8, Tesla Model S, and Porsche 918 shown on the same slide. (Sorry, no pictures were allowed or we'd show you the deck.) It doesn't take Georg Kacher to speculate about the game Honda is playing at.
NSX! By now you've read Austin's full write up of the long, long, long anticipated Acura supercar. If you haven't, do it now. I drove my first NSX (a 1991 car that I remember down to the smell, still) ten years ago, and I've spent the better part of the intervening decade gloomily assuming I'd never drive a new version. So even though my experience was limited to two laps of the same oval I drove the S660 on, just getting behind the wheel of the thing felt good.
Honda limited the not-quite-production-ready car I drove to about 115 mph, but I can attest that the thing wizzes to that velocity with no hesitation. Acceleration from a standstill is predictably strong, and the hard-edged engine note you hear behind your head while doing so is surprisingly rowdy.
I've spent the better part of the last decade gloomily assuming I'd never drive a new NSX.
Read the First Drive if you need more in the way of actual driving impressions, but I will add that even though I'm about a head taller than Mike, I had no problems fitting in the car. Honda didn't require one, but I think I could've even made it work with a helmet on. Knee and legroom are a little shy for someone of my size, and I wouldn't go so far as to call this a big man's car, but Honda's claim that NSX fits the 95th percentile male seems right on.
Other Cool Stuff, Too Little Time
I tested way more than the three cars listed here. Unfortunately, most of the tests were exceedingly brief; too short to generate any meaningful impressions. For instance: I drove an Accord fitted with Honda's new 10-speed automatic transmission for a few laps of the oval. The unit seems very promising; on the face of it it'll be a boon for fuel economy, and in a few slow-down, speed-up maneuvers the thing seemed to run through its many gears smoothly. But it's hard to know how a multi-gear transmission will work in the real world from that limited experience. In fact, after commenting that I experienced little to no shift-shock between gears, another journalist chimed in that he found the trans to be rough while shifting up or down. More data will be required, but expect to see this unit attached to Honda V6 engines before too long.
Honda also showed some very promising technology that is chewing away at the problem of a fully autonomous vehicle. A Traffic Jam Assist – basically adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and active steering to hold your lane – seems very close to marketability. But a demonstration about a mile long with someone else behind the wheel doesn't equate to a real test, to my mind. Similarly, riding in an Accord that's driving itself, at speed, around a handling course is cool. But Honda's Line Trace Assist was only showed as a canned program for that particular track, and is far from a reality.
Still, it was a very long, very interesting day of Honda-ness. That this is a company of engineers – including the CEO – became very obvious in Tochigi. Sebastian and I might have experienced the testing very differently, but we both left pretty excited about what we'd seen. Now, to see about gray-market S660 imports.