A quarter of a century separates these two cars, both Hondas, both with that R suffix that indicates they’re really going to be very fast. One started the whole R sub-brand, and one is the fifth-generation of the hyper sporty Civic derivative. Let’s remove that 25 years that separates them, and put them together.
The first indicator of what 25 years does is in the power outputs. Honda always said the NSX-R had 276bhp but everyone reckoned it probably broke the 300bhp barrier. But even that isn’t enough for the latest Civic Type R, which has 316bhp. In a four-seater hatchback that is eminently practical on a daily basis, as opposed to so low to the ground you’re in danger of tripping over it, like the NSX-R.
The Civic Type R even has a Comfort mode which lives up to its name as well. The chassis is terrific, there’s a limited-slip diff in the front and both steering and brakes are truly tremendous. The four-cylinder turbo engine may not have the charisma of the 3.0-litre V6 in the NSX-R but it’s still got serious clout.
While the Civic Type R started from a family hatchback and worked up, the NSX-R started with the mid-engined NSX and then worked up from there – a very different place to start. But Honda stripped out over 100kg of redundant stuff like sound-deadening, while adding Recaro carbon-kevlar bucket seats. At 1230kg this is ready to fly.
The Honda engineers stiffened the chassis, upped the suspension rates considerably, blueprinted the engine, lowered the gearing and then sent it off for limited production. They only made 483 cars with just a few making it to the UK.
Sit in the driving seat and you’re rewarded with the sort of view that would make many drivers salivate. There’s a suede-wrapped dashboard, a thin Momo steering wheel with no airbag, and ahead black faced dials with white markings and yellow needles. You feel an overwhelming urge to make those yellow needles flicker.
Visibility is astonishingly good. You’re low to the ground with great vision, particularly ahead, reminding you that most supercars box you in and need those cameras just to see where you’re going or have been.
On the move and, boy, is this thing stiffly sprung. It’s just this side of uncomfortable – just – but the payoff is brilliantly flat cornering and total body control. There’s no assistance in the steering and the result needs a touch of muscle but the payoff is a sense of connection with the wheels and the road that is sublime. You won’t find this tactile sensation in a modern supercar.
Below 6000rpm stuff happens alright, but it’s really over that magic figure that it all takes off in a big way. The valvetrain gnashes away, the exhaust wails and the performance punches harder and harder as the gears keep it all boiling.
The gearbox is sublime, unbelievably good. While the modern Civc Type R has a sweet shift, it’s not in this league. Not much is. Where the latest Type R looks like it wants to be noticed the NSX-R looks like it wants to go very fast indeed. Both cars are wickedly fast but driving this quarter-century car is so thrilling that it’s almost mournful.
Mournful because, in our rush to answers from technology, it shows what we’ve lost. Even if you drive a modern supercar, you’ll not really know what you’re missing unless you are lucky enough to drive the NSX-R. The gearbox and the steering are probably the truly stand-out elements, although it’s all incredible. This is what it means to be plugged in to the car, to really feel there’s dialogue between car and driver. Now we mostly get monologues, and it’s our loss.