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This review first appeared in Issue 108 of Top Gear magazine (2002)

It seems Honda has saved the best for last. It’s likely that this stripped-out R is the last version of the 12-year-old supercar we’ll see. A crying shame because this blood-spitting version hovers close to perfection.

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“The idea behind the R,” explains project leader Kyoji Tsukamoto, “was not to create a swan song rendition with a massive dose of additional power, but to go back to basics.”

Words: Ben Whitworth
Images: Michael Bailie

Let’s start at the weigh station. The front end gets a makeover with smaller kerb-kissing air intakes and a carbon-fibre bonnet. Out go the aircon, ’leccy leather seats and wads of sound insulation. A mesh engine cover replaces the solid metal unit, and the rear wing and Recaro buckets are carbon too. Even the battery is smaller, the glass in the rear ’screen is thinner and there’s no spare tyre.

All told, this diet loses 84kg, lowering the R’s mass to 1,274kg and boosting its power-to-weight ratio from 205 to 220bhp/tonne. The mechanical revisions are just as particular. The double wishbones get stiffer springs and dampers, the front anti-roll bar is thicker and the six-speed manual ’box gets a shorter final drive. Nose and tail get bespoke aerofoils and diffusers, and the underbody has been streamlined. Combined with the wing and bonnet, the diffusers cut down the R’s drag and reduce lift. At 100mph or so, there’s 36kg of downforce up front and 25kg at the rear.

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NSX Type-R interior

Track-style pads grip the giant ventilated discs lurking behind the white seven-spoke alloys, the anti-lock has been retuned for later lock-up and the master cylinder is bigger for better response. Oh, the power steering unit, stereo and airbags were lobbed in the bin too.

The NSX’s 3179cc bent six still pumps out 280bhp, but is now fitted with blueprinted pistons and con rods. The crankshaft is balanced by hand and the same engineer assembles and signs off the bespoke engine. Finally, the drive-by-wire throttle gets remapped for scalpel-sharp responses and the traction control box gets left on the shelf. 

All this turns the mild-mannered NSX into an edgy, aggressive racer. And driving it is wonderful. The steering’s weight is surprising after the lighter, powered standard set-up. It’s bicep-building at parking speeds, but once past walking pace the three-spoke Momo wheel needs only the lightest of touches.

The track-oriented suspension is truculent at low speed too, but dial up some speed and the R feels inspired and stable. The nose scythes into corners, the front wheels responding with the same kind of telepathic immediacy and clarity that Elise drivers are so familiar with.

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But it’s the engine that dominates the entire driving experience. Frapping it in second and shifting up as the change-up light glows red through third to fifth is an aural pleasure that verges on the erotic. Cheesy but true.

Smooth and seriously punchy, the V6 snaps and howls its way up to its 8,000rpm cut-out with venom. With fewer kilos to push, the R feels markedly quicker than the more urbane NSX – 0-60 down over half a second to five seconds, while top speed pushes at 175mph.

Though the steering chatters constantly, the taut suspension soaks up all but the worst intrusions and there’s not even the faintest whiff of understeer. Plus caressing the brake pedal is like driving the R into a brick wall.

The NSX-R’s many revisions come together with a wonderful coherence and integrity, making the car feel deliciously right. Sadly Honda only has plans for a limited run of 160. But don’t panic, call your local dealer. Honda UK will bring one in for you if you want and possibly at only a 10 per cent premium over the current model. Bargain.

Verdict: Honed, quick and rewarding to drive, the final NSX is the best yet.

3.2-litre V6
280bhp, RWD
0-60mph in 5.0secs, max speed 175mph
£65,995 (est)

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