1997 Honda NSXT

  • Driver

Introduced in 1991 to universal critical acclaim, the NSX was

Honda's unabashed attempt to rival Ferrari.

It brimmed with racecar technology. Stuff like an

all-aluminum structure, exterior panels and suspension, and a

high-output multi-valve engine.

Finally, it moved, cornered and stopped brilliantly.

Still, many car enthusiasts refused to accept the NSX as a

genuine exotic. Even when the price was $80,000, you could drive

off in one for around $60,000.

The price is now $135,000. Maybe Honda figures if it can't

sell the sports car for $80,000, it might as well not sell it

for $135,000.

The fact is, the NSXT was, and is, a fantastic car, and has

been made more fantastic over the years.

The "T" suffix added to the NSX designation in 1995 stands for

targa, a standard removable roof panel.

This year, the 3.0litre V6 block has been bored out to 3.2

litres. Power is up substantially, from 270 to 290 h.p. The

torque peak is now 224 lb.ft. at 5,500 r.p.m.

Automatic-equipped NSXTs stay with a 252-horse 3.0 litre V6.

The 3.2-litre engine also gets new block casting technology.

Molten aluminum is poured around cores made of an alumina

(aluminum oxide) carbon fiber material.

After machining of the bores, a thin later of this material

remains, for a strong, wear-resistant surface that is also

lighter than castiron cylinder liners. This technique also

allows thinner block walls.

A new six-speed manual transmission, with dual-cone

synchronizers on the lower four gears, shorter shift throws and

a dual-mass flywheel-clutch system, provides even better

shifting than before — and the old box was pretty good. For 1997

the NSXT gets bigger rotors, from 282 mm diameter front and

rear to 298 mm front, 303 mm rear. Yes, it does seem odd that

the rear brakes are bigger than the fronts.

The only significant chassis change involves claimed

improvements in steering oncentre feel and stability.

Minor visual mods — a reshaped front spoiler,

machinefinished alloy wheels — were overwhelmed on my test car by

the new available paint color — a stunning Spa Yellow.

With the NSXT, your driveway is a Walter Mitty baby step

fantasy from a pit lane. Sitting low in the car, all you see

outside is a slight swell of the fenders and the road.

Visibility is wonderful and very racecarlike.

The engine fires in an instant and emits one of the great

snarls of cardom. The added displacement and torque improve

flexibility markedly — you could slog around all day in fifth or

even sixth gear.

The handling remains firstrate — quick yet eminently stable.

Braking likewise, although I didn't get any track time with the


The interior is a slight disappointment. Yes, it's beautifully

finished and largely functional. But it doesn't feel all that

special — you could be in an Accord.

And if you drive the car gently, you also might think you're

in an Accord, making the NSXT the most accessible of exotics.

That's both the car's greatest strength that it is capable

of mind-bending performance yet is as easy to drive as a family

sedan — and perhaps its greatest weakness.

I know of several highspeed crashes in NSXs, and am

speculating that contributing factor may have been the drivers'

lack of awareness as to how fast they were going at the time.

This ease-of-driving may also play a role in the NSX's

struggle to achieve star status among exotic car owners. A

purveyor of high-image sports cars in Toronto noted, "If you

asked me to get you the perfect shirt, I'd get you one made of

polyester; it never wrinkles, never wears out and costs nothing

to buy. Instead, you'd rather have Egyptian cotton, which

wrinkles if you look sideways at it, wears out in weeks and

costs a ton. Why? Because it makes you feel special when you

wear it."

Could that be the NSX's problem? Is it too good?

Objective comparisons are difficult with cars like this. As

spectacular as the Acura NSXT is, so's the new Chevrolet

Corvette, and it costs under $50,000. Then again, purists be

damned, it's not a great stretch to compare the NSXT to a

Ferrari 355, at $180,000.

Both Honda and Ferrari are almost exactly the same age: 50

years old.It's impossible to contemplate Ferrari building a car

like the Civic, yet Honda has built a car to compare with a


Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on

driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.

You can catch Kenzie each Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at 4 p.m.

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