FOR any driver it doesn’t get much better than this.
A bit of high-speed testing on a warm, sunny July morning, followed by a couple of 60 mile long road routes centred around the back roads of Lisbon prior to and immediately after a nice lunch.
Par for the course really, just part of the job, the only difference is that it could be taking place in any European city.
However, this outing was a little bit out of the ordinary, for it’s not too often a new car launch takes place on a famous international race circuit.
Welcome to Estoril, home to the Portuguese Grand Prix from 1984 until 1996, which saw drivers such as Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Nigel Mansell all stand on the top step of the podium. In fact, both Prost and Mansell won there three times.
Rookie Ayrton Senna won his very first Grand Prix at the track in 1985, as did Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, who broke his duck in the very last F1 Championship race to be run at the circuit in 1996, lowering the track record to 1min 22.873secs in his Williams-Renault in the process.
But we weren’t here for a motorsport history lesson. We were here to enjoy a first drive of the brand new Honda NSX supercar.
More than four years in the making with R&D teams in Japan and America working more or less round the clock to get it into showrooms.
The original NSX – or New Sportscar eXperimental – was launched in 1990 and enjoyed a 15-year production until it was phased out in 2005.
Featuring advanced aerodynamics and interior styling inspired by a F-16 fighter jet cockpit, it was the first supercar to feature an all-aluminium body.
It was powered by an all-alloy three-litre V6 VTEC engine, mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission and it was simple to drive, unlike the majority of its competition.
Now 11 years later and the latest NSX – or New Sportscar eXperience as it has become – will soon be hitting our streets.
Hand built in Ohio in the USA it sports a turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to a nine-speed double-clutch gearbox delivering a stonking 507bhp to the rear wheels.
Now the really clever bit. A 47bhp direct drive electric motor is attached directly to crankshaft, eliminating any hint of turbo lag, while another two smaller 36bhp motors also power the front wheels.
The rear motor also acts as a generator, keeping the batteries charged, while the front-mounted motors supply varying levels of torque on demand to the front wheels, thus enhancing agility, stability performance and response no matter what the car’s speed.
Put all this together and the overall end result is something in the order of 570bhp which blasts the Honda to a top speed in excess of 190mph and a zero to 60mph sprint time of less than three seconds when used in conjuction with the launch control system.
I must admit I was a bit apprehensive on getting behind the wheel of what is a stunningly-beautiful machine inside and out.
With its powerful engine and three electric motors, this was going to be a nightmare to get to grips with, especially when strapped in with little room for movement thanks to the grippy racing seats and with my head at an uncomfortable angle thanks to my crash helmet being pushed forward by the seat’s head restraint.
So into “Quiet” mode and accelerating gently out of the pit lane and on the the track. Quiet it was ... in fact absolutely silent with the NSX purring away using nothing by electricity. In fact, take it easy and it will keep going for around two miles before it runs out of oomph and the engine finally has to fire up.
Turn the dial to “Sport” mode and the Honda turns into more of what we expect from any road-going hybrid, the only difference is that you can sense the huge amount of power that is available to your right foot.
Select “Sport+” and the car immediately stiffens up and becomes a lot more responsive, fabulous for those twisting back roads and high-speed motorway sections, while finally “Track” mode sees the NSX turn into a full-blown race car.
However, never once did the Honda give any impression of being in any way out of control.
Out on the road in “Sport” it behaved like a pussy cat and in the hands of one of Honda’s development drivers for a couple of hot laps, it showed just how technologically advanced the machine really is with all systems working together in perfect harmony.
A waiting list is already open for prospective UK owners and with only around 2000 or so of the hand-built machines being made annually, demand for the £130,000 machine is set to outstrip supply throughout the world for many years to come.