The new Honda NSX has been a long time coming, but finally it’s on sale in Britain. And as if to make up for this, Honda has equipped it with some genuinely space-age technology. The 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo has high-tech electric motor assist, and there are two more electric motors driving the front wheels. Result of this computer-controlled masterclass? 573bhp.
Mind you, even this is topped by the rather more old-school approach of the Audi R8, whose 5.2-litre V10 produces a wild 602bhp. It doesn’t have a single turbo, never mind electric motor wizardry. As they meet for the first time in Britain, we finally have our chance to decide: which is best?
Right away, it’s clear these are two mid-engined supercars that you need to familiarise yourself with. Even the more traditional Audi has several different driving modes that turn it from GT cruiser into wild track-day monster. The NSX takes things further still, with modes that even see it run as a full EV.
Finally figure out which setting to run them in and you can unleash their full performance. And what pace they have, particularly the Audi, which clocks the 0-62mph run in an astonishing 2.9 seconds. The NSX is still rapid, but is almost half a second behind the monster R8. The rush continues to 100mph too, where the Audi clocks 6.6sec, a full second up on the NSX.
Both cars have launch control, so it’s almost child’s play to post such stupendous acceleration times. As for the noise they make, well, it goes without saying that both are thoroughbreds. The Audi’s V10 makes one of the most wonderful noises of any new car on sale today, while the raspier, sweet-sounding NSX is a bit less enveloping but is perhaps the more dignified overall. Take your pick.
Indeed, the NSX is surprisingly easy to live with, with a good ride, fine control from standard adaptive dampers and a snappy dual-clutch automatic all enhancing everyday usability. The Audi is straightforward too, even if it’s not quite as cosseting as the Honda.
The Audi’s advantage comes through the corners. It’s a quarter-tonne lighter than the NSX, which makes it quick-witted and responsive on the track. It delivers lots of pure feel to the driver and simply seems that bit more natural than the high-tech Honda. The NSX is still impressive, mind, and is probably more stable than the fearsome Audi at speed, but it isn’t quite as sharp as the R8.
Both cars have fancy but compromise-free interiors, offering surprising everyday practicality and comfort. Seats are supportive in the Honda and extremely tightly-gripping in the Audi, while headroom, legroom and adjustability are spot-on for both. You get electronics-packed displays in them, of which we prefer the crisper and clearer screens of the Audi.
Indeed, the Audi has better interior quality overall. The NSX is a bit of a let-down in places, with a few too many cheap details and plasticky finishes. The R8 is very rich and upmarket by comparison. And while both have similar-sized boots, the deeper space of the Audi’s nose-mounted boot is preferable to the shallower (albeit wider) NSX load bay.
And so to prices. Which, because of demand, will both be totally discount-free (indeed, the NSX has crazy waiting list of four to five years!). The Audi is the cheaper of the two, by £9500, and it’s better-equipped than the Honda, with supercar-envying features such as carbon ceramic brakes as standard. On the flip side, the NSX will be more fuel-efficient and produces much less CO2, and it also comes with three years’ free servicing. Audi gives you a free track training course instead.
Which, let’s face it, is likely to be much more relevant to supercar buyers. As, indeed, will a lot of the Audi’s strengths. It’s faster, more charming, more thrilling and simply more of an event car than the NSX. We like the futuristic approach of the new Honda, but the R8 is the rocketship that fires up our enthusiasm more strongly.
Need to justify it? Well, it’s more practical, a bit more comfortable, has a nicer interior and is cheaper to buy. But the real reasons it wins here are its sharpness, speed and simple thrills it serves up in abundance. It’s nice to have the NSX here in Britain, but we’ll still be taking the R8 home with us.
Audi R8 Coupé 5.2 FSI V10 Plus quattro (5 stars)
Engine size 5.2-litre, V10
List price £134,520
Target price £134,520
Torque 413lb ft
Top speed 205mph
Official fuel consumption 23.0mpg
CO2 emissions 287g/km
Honda NSX 3.5 V6 Hybrid (3 stars)
Engine size 3.5.-litre, V6 turbo plus three electric motors
List price £143,950
Target price £143,950
Torque 476lb ft
Top speed 191mph
Official fuel consumption 28.2mpg
CO2 emissions 228g/km
Rob Adams is a writer for WhatCar.
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