New Sports Experience – Lite: Honda builds an NSX-L
My long-awaited opportunity to drive Honda‘s all-new second-generation Acura NSX will finally come later this year. And what an opportunity it should be. Blending the exotic, low-slung looks of a mid-engine Audi R8, the power and all-wheel traction of a twin-turbo Nissan GT-R, and the hybrid electric assist of a seven-figure Porsche 918, the NSX reads like a technological tour de force that, in the footsteps of its predecessor, puts sports car makers from Europe and America on high alert. Without a doubt, the NSX promises the kind of silly stats we’ve come to expect from near-600-hp all-wheel-drive supercars: 0-60 mph in under 3.0 seconds, a quarter mile in the 11s, and a Nürburgring Nordschleife jaunt in the low 7-minute range. OMG impressive. But will it be LOL fun? Put a smile on your face, regardless of what stupid-fast number is lighting up the speedometer? Well, if it’s half as entertaining as Honda’s 63-horsepower JDM S660 kei roadster, we’re in for one helluva ride.
Currently no kei car is as coveted as the S660, a mid-engine rear-drive go-kart turn tanning machine. Fold the “roll-top” canvas toupee about six times over, stuff it in the “utility box” under the front hood (the only storage bin when the top’s affixed), and the sun and sky instantly join the party. The S660 is on the small side (133.7 x 58.1 x 46.5 inches) of Japan’s already small kei class of automobiles, which is limited to 660cc of engine displacement and 133.9 x 58.3 x 78.7 inches (LxWxH) of overall dimensions, and immensely popular because of low registration taxes and initial cost, high fuel economy, and tidy size. If Honda had wanted, the S660 could be almost three feet taller and still meet the size requirements. But what fun would that be? Nope, the S660 is a limbo-stick sensei with a center of gravity that, from behind the wheel, comes about even with your belly button. And with a floor that sits less than five inches above pavement, your bottom is not far from bottom. How low can you go? Low.
How fast can you go? In a straight line, not very. My best guesstimate for the S660’s 0-to-60 time is a little north of 10 seconds (add another second or so with the optional CVT). Meanwhile, top speed is limited to around 85 mph. Remember: It’s got only 63 horsepower (at 6000 rpm), making the S07A DOHC turbocharged 3-cylinder less powerful than many sport-bike engines. But also remember that the S660 weighs just 1,800 pounds, so with a healthy 77 lb-ft of torque at only 2,600 rpm, it feels energetic off the line and gutsy out of corners. The S660 has NACA ducts, positioned at the bottom-rear of the doors to ensure low-drag air flow at “high” speeds, as well as vents just aft the side windows for additional cooling. Further, the S07A’s redline, at 7,700 rpm, is lofty, leaving lots of smooth powerband to explore. (With the CVT, the redline drops to 7,000.) Even better, the turbo’s blow-off valve is amplified to delight the eardrums, and the standard six-speed stick (which, by the way, makes the S660 the first mid-engine kei to offer a manual, according to Honda) is typical Honda brilliance, offering the same flick-of-a-wrist action that made the S2000 so memorable. That’s what double-cone synchros for first and second gears and a carbon synchro for third can do. No cutting corners.
Speaking of corners, they’re where this humble Honda excels. The suspension is independent all around, rare for a kei car, and the brakes are discs (10.2 inches) at every corner, even rarer. About those brakes: They’re mounted toward the center of the car, similar to in a Ferrari 488, to keep mass aimed at the centerline. To that end, the battery sits just aft the front wheels, positioned next to the dash and low to the ground, while the 6.6-gallon fuel tank resides near the floor, right behind the seats. Sixty percent of the rigid body is made up of lightweight high-strength steel, so there’s no noticeably cowl shake or any hint of flex. Staggered Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R tires – 165/55R15 front, 195/45R16 rear – suction to the pavement, distributing the S660’s curb weight 45/55 front/rear and delivering maximum lateral grip of around 1.0 g.
Dial in the 13.8-inch leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel (the smallest diameter in any Honda), or heel-and-toe the optimally placed drilled pedals, or lean on the fade-free binders, and just like in a go-kart, the S660 puts you in the sensorial center of the action. The responses are immediate, the feel otherworldly, the grins never-ending. Sounds like a New Sports Experience to me.
|2016 Honda S660|
|BASE PRICE||$16,500 (Japan)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||0.7L/63-hp/77-lb-ft, turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3|
|TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual, CVT|
|CURB WEIGHT||1,800 lb (est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||133.7 x 58.1 x 46.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||10.5 sec (est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Sadly, never|