Driving an original 1991 Honda NSX – does it live up to expectations?

A car praised for its cutting-edge technology, mid-engined layout and its futuristic, supercar styling, the Honda NSX is held dearly in the hearts of driving enthusiasts.

Honda truly delivered its best with this car. An innovative VTEC V6 engine that roars to 8000rpm right behind the front seats, with the path in front illuminated by two magnificent pop-up headlights. Weirdly, none of this came to mind when I first saw the NSX up close.

1991 Honda NSX-front bumper bar

Of course, I was awestruck but also mesmerised by the sheer width and imposing stature of the car. At 1810mm wide, you have an incredible presence on the road. For reference, a 2023 Ford Ranger is 1918mm wide.

I was given the keys to this automatic 1991 example at around 8am one morning, as it slept in a disused aircraft hanger. I folded myself inside and quickly realised the drive home wasn’t going to be a comfortable one.

I adjusted the electric leather bucket seat all the way back, bent my left leg hard up against the front bulkhead and tilted my head to fit under the roof. I was about 5cm too tall to sit up straight and comfortably in the front seat – I’m about 195cm tall.

1991 Honda NSX-interior

This particular model is a Japanese import – Honda designed an NSX that included a removable roof panel to help cater for taller drivers in the west. To be honest, the interior doesn’t quite match the futuristic exterior styling.

The styling is contemporary and timeless, and you certainly aren’t bombarded with dials, buttons and switches, unlike what I assumed. Frankly, the interior is pretty stripped back.

This is, in my opinion, how a sports car should be. Tech and fit-out don’t matter in a performance car. In the NSX, the bare GT essentials are there; cruise control, climate control, electric windows, electric seats, and that is it.

1991 Honda NSX-rear

Turning out of the driveway and onto the main street, it was obvious why the NSX had such a profound impact when it debuted in 1990. Finally, there was a comfortable sports car at a reasonable price. Highway driving is surprisingly enjoyable. The ride isn’t too harsh on Australian roads, particularly for a car of this era. Fourth gear is perfect for any speed over 100km/h, too.

The road presence is intense… every second car is waving like mad, taking photos and begging for you to open the taps. At one point, a woman in the passenger seat of a ’90s Pajero held her phone out to record the car as they drove past. She had tears in her eyes… seriously.

When I pulled into a service station to fill up, I was surrounded by car enthusiasts eager to ask questions and politely look around the car. At no point did I fear that the car wouldn’t be received the right way. It doesn’t have any enemies or critics – enthusiasts simply love the weirdness and ambiguity of the NSX.

The design philosophy of the NSX was to create a reliable, affordable sports car that could meet (or exceed) the performance of a Ferrari 348. The handling is sublime and engaging, and the mid-mounted V6 layout provides a balanced and connected feel with no guesswork in the steering.

1991 Honda NSX-Sydney

The engine delivers power smoothly and rapidly, with a fantastic and consistent feel through the rev range. When it’s time to party, the VTEC delivers. It gives the NSX a kick in the backside to get things moving. At 188kW (down from 201kW in the manual), it’s not the fastest car I’ve driven, but it certainly had me grinning from ear to ear.

I found the brakes to be adequate; they don’t tear your face off like a modern car, and could be an area to upgrade if you are planning lots of track driving, while the transmission was truly the weak point of an otherwise perfect driver’s car.

Four gears do not do this car – nor its overzealous VTEC engine – justice, and the tall gearing, coupled with the huge rev range, makes you wonder when the next gear is going to show up. During spirited driving, I was constantly left disappointed, stuck in the purgatory of first gear having nothing left to give while second wasn’t quite ready for action.

1991 Honda NSX-engine

I found the best way to get enjoyment out of the gearbox was to let the automatic shift, well, automatically, and keep my hand off the gear knob. When you start trying to take control of the shifts, the car is easy to confuse.

Has the time to buy an NSX passed? I don’t think so. Even as prices for a decent manual example soar north of $100,000, I still think they are worthwhile not only as an investment, but a soft introduction into the world of classic sports cars. This particular example was daily-driven and never had any issues or broke down.

With 140,000km on the clock, it still performed and handled like a sports car should, and didn’t feel tired whatsoever. Compared to a modern $100,000 car, you won’t get nearly as many features for your money, nor as much power in the NSX.

1991 Honda NSX-popup headlights

In terms of road presence and collectability, however, the NSX car is unparalleled, in my mind. A good modern contender would be a Nissan Z or Toyota GR Supra. Still potential future classics which you can buy brand new for $10,000-20,000 less than a used NSX like this one. The value of a Supra or Z isn’t nearly as guaranteed, though, and the traditional front engine, rear-wheel drive layout cannot compete with a mid-engined car – even a 30 year old one.

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative from the same era, I would recommend an AW11 Toyota MR2. These cars are stylish, affordable, decently quick and if you’re looking to buy sooner rather than later, there’s a good chance you’ll see a return on your investment.

At $100,000, your options for a retro sports car are limited, and if you intend to drive it every day and expect it to be reliable, the Japanese engineering and subsequent reliability makes the NSX hard to beat. And it is jaw-droopingly beautiful every time you see it.

Lukas Foyle

A former service advisor, workshop manager, paint and panel labourer, and barista (don’t ask), Lukas could never break away from working with cars, and now shares his vehicular seance skills as an automotive journalist. Lukas is also an automotive necromancer who loves to bring back cars from the dead.
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