McLaren 720S 2017 review
The 720S is the new Super Series McLaren, replacing the 650S, and the super-car maker claims it has no direct competitors. It has a twin-turbo V8, a carbon fibre tub and bristles with cleverness.
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It was the best part of 30 years ago, yet the conversation remains vivid. A fellow motoring hack was gushing about the Honda’s NSX, fresh from steering the new, everyday driveable supercar. “It’s like a Civic in traffic, but it’ll blow your mind once you get on it.”
And that’s pretty much how I read it, too. The difference being that some weeks prior I’d driven it back-to-back with a Ferrari Testarossa around the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit and the twisty public roads surrounding it.
Just starting that massive Italian wedge was a theatrical experience, with 4.9 litres of fierce 12-cylinder power whirring and growling immediately behind your ears.
Depressing the heavy clutch and manhandling it into first gear via the gated shifter (left and down… ) demanded substantial physical effort.
And once underway, pushing up to the near 7000rpm rev ceiling was like entering another dimension of scenery blurring sight and sound.
Which left the NSX. Dramatically different and simply amazing. A mid-engine V6, hand-built, aluminium-bodied, rear-wheel drive, two-seater showcasing Honda’s latest technology at a time when the Japanese maker was at the height of its engineering powers.
A massive game changer, it prioritised light weight over brute force, turning regular drivers into superheroes thanks to its amazing rigidity, perfect suspension set-up and telepathic steering response.
The 3.0-litre naturally aspirated engine featured ground-breaking tech like variable valve timing, revved to the stratosphere, and sounded like a screaming banshee at the top end.
The big, beautiful flat-12 Fazza had met the future and the entire automotive world tipped its hat to Honda.
Fast forward to 2019 and a glowing ‘Thermal Orange Pearl’ second-generation NSX is in the garage. First mooted in the late noughties, a combination of the GFC and ongoing boardroom ‘discussions’ drove a tortuous development process, the new model finally arriving in 2016.
Like its ancestor, this NSX is powered by a mid-mounted V6, but now it’s a twin-turbo hybrid featuring no less than three electric motors (two driving the front wheels).
Power is prodigious (373kW at 6500rpm) and torque substantial (550Nm at 2000rpm) with drive going to all four wheels.
The transmission is a nine-speed dual-clutch auto, and aside from our example’s radioactive paint finish the second-gen car carries the visual swagger to mix it with the current crop of 21st century supercars from the likes of McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari.
But, that’s the thing. To my eyes, the new NSX looks borderline generic. Eye-catching? Yes. Ground breaking? No. And it costs a packet, even in relative terms.
In 1991 a (five-speed) manual NSX listed at $159,900, which was 71 per cent of Ferrari’s mid-engine V8-powered 348tb ($224,315).
The current car will set you back $420,000, before on-road costs, which is 89 per cent the price of Maranello’s current (but not for long) mid-engine V8, the superb 488GTB at $469,888. McLaren’s stunning 570S looks like a bargain at $379,000.
But there’s no doubting the NSX is outrageously fast. Honda refuses to quote a 0-100km/h time, but independent testing has seen it hit the ton in around 3.0 seconds. Engage the launch control system, pin the throttle, and it feels every bit that quick.
At suburban speeds the 3.5-litre V6 sounds relatively coarse, and when the electric motors take over (EV-only range is 50km) the eerie silence feels flat-out weird.
Shifts from the dual-clutch auto are scientifically precise and rapid, and cornering grip is stupendous, but at more than 1.7 tonnes the car feels relatively hefty. And just to split hairs there’s bugger all cabin storage and the sunvisors are shit.
It might sound like an ‘in my day’ throwback, but I believe despite its remarkable capabilities the new NSX misses the mark.
It packs close to double the power and torque, Exocet-style acceleration and incredible dynamics, but lacks the original NSX’s lightness and purity of purpose. It simply doesn’t challenge the status quo or stand out from the crowd in the way its namesake did three decades ago.
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