Having completed the High Speed Oval session without incident, it was now time for us to pile into the motorcoach and move on to the "Winding Road Course", where we were to sample Honda's sportiest offerings. As we rounded the corner, there on the tarmac sat the opening scene of TOV Dream Garage 2004. Parked neatly side by side were a brand new Civic Type R, Integra Type R, Accord Euro R, S2000, NSX, and NSX Type R. My heart was fluttering.
Keep in mind that the following impressions are based upon my experience within the confines of a small and tight circuit. Obviously, to develop more conclusive impressions we'd need to drive these cars in more varied circumstances.
I wasted no time, practically shoving people out of my way as we filed off the bus. I ran over to the keeper of the keys and went straight for the jugular. "NSX-R, please". He handed the key to me and I scurried across the tarmac to meet my Championship White fantasy. I jumped into the driver's seat and fired it up. The motor caught immediately and pulsed urgently behind the firewall. There was no chance of overlooking the fact that the NSX-R lacks much of the soundproofing found in the standard NSX model. I've always loved the sounds of the NSX's V6 - this one has definitely been taken up a few notches. BAM!! Along with the enhanced engine note, the motor's firing pulses are telegraphed into the cabin with more clarity - there are more vibrations imparted than experienced in a regular NSX, but it never feels unrefined or rough - it's just more direct.
After getting the thumbs up from the guys supervising the tarmac, I pulled out towards the winding road circuit. The flagman waved me out on to the course, and I suppose I stabbed the throttle with a bit more vigor than would normally be prudent. When you combine too much throttle in a lightweight, high-powered, mid-engined supercar with a slightly offcamber right hand turn, you know what comes next. Yes folks, I traveled some 15000 miles for this moment, and proceeded all of 100 feet in the NSX-R before I managed to pitch it sideways. YEEEEE HAWWW!!! Anyhow, as the whole sideways situation caught me a little bit by surprise, it wasn't executed very cleanly and for a fleeting moment I was a little disappointed in myself. I quickly resolved those concerns but then I had to figure out why it felt like I was shifting with somebody else's arm. Newsflash: left-handed shifting is not intuitive. The 1-2 shift wasn't much of a problem, but 2-3 and 3-2 (I didn't really need to go into 4th, not intentionally at least) shifts were frustratingly difficult to execute with precision. As I fumbled around the track trying to execute smooth AND reasonably quick shifts, I still managed to get a good sense of the NSX-R's staggering performance potential. The car responds to your commands RIGHT NOW, and except for that initial sideways episode, driving the NSX-R is very intuitive and confidence inspiring (and of course, THRILLING!). The winding road course certainly lived up to its name, and there was really not much of anything resembling a straightaway. As such, the NSX-R proved to be too powerful for the track's turns, which were generally of a smallish radius and unbanked. It was still a load of fun, but I would have loved to try out the car on an even quicker course. On the backside of the course, there was enough room to warrant a shift into third, where acceleration remained fierce. Unfortunately, the time in third gear was somewhat abbreviated - inevitably your survival instincts take over and you're forced to lift in preparation for the slower curves ahead. I found that I could avoid the shifting difficulties by just leaving it in 3rd, and the NSX-R's 3.2L had plenty of grunt to haul ass out of even the tightest corners. It was just awesome letting the 3.2L rip through the lower gears though.
Next I tried a standard NSX. It's hard to imagine an NSX feeling soft, but compared to the NSX-R, it was plush. The sounds of the motor seemed almost muted, the acceleration wasn't nearly as urgent (though it still felt like it was too powerful for the course), and
through the turns it exhibited a surprising amount of body roll. As you might expect, the base car also liked to understeer a bit sooner than the NSX-R. It was still great fun to drive the car, but much like the NSX-R it would have been much more at home on a larger circuit.
To round out my sampling of the rear-wheel-drive Hondas in the group, I jumped into a beautiful yellow 2004 S2000. The Japanese-spec S2000 received the same cosmetic improvements that the 2004 US-spec S2000 received, but the Japanese-spec S2000 soldiers on with the original 250ps 2.0L motor. During my first session in the S2000, a passenger was in the car, adding roughly 200lbs to the equation. Out on the course I was soon disappointed with this S2000, to be frank. The suspension felt extremely soft, particularly in the rear where it never seemed to settle out before, during, or after a turn. It was continually shifting about laterally as well as vertically, making smooth driving at the limits all the more difficult. To make matters worse, my inability to execute left-handed shifts seemed to further unsettle the car. Later on I lapped the course a few more times without the added weight of a passenger and it was a noticeable improvement, but it still felt too soft for that track. I was unable to determine whether the Japanese-market S2000 gets a softer suspension setup than the US model, but since then I've driven two US-market 2004 S2000s, and fortunately this was not an issue with either of them.
Next we sample the front-wheel-drive offerings.
NOTE: All photography displayed in this article was taken by official Honda photographers and provided to us later. Photography and videography was not allowed otherwise.