NSX S-Zero – Lightweight NSX?

A Deserted mountain road, a crisp, sunny morning and Honda’s new lightweight NSX, the S.Zero. Are we having fun yet? We most certainly are. The S.Zero, a lightened and stiffenef variant of the latest 3.2-liter, six speed is the new hero among NSXs in Japan.

Around the fast sweeping curves of a mountain course, several things strike you about the Nurburgring-developed S.Zero.

One: It is fabulously, endearingly noisy (in cutting weight, Honda has pulled out much of the sound deadening material). The V6 behind your head (now up to 290hp) simply howls as the revs soar. A lighter, single-mass flywheel allows for even sharper throttle response, making the car feel more urgent than the  standard NSX.

Two: The S.Zero is seriously rapid. At 2800 pounds, the S.Zero is lighter by 212 pounds, than the stock coupe, and it can lap Honda’s Suzuka F1 circuit 1.5 seconds faster than the NSX-R, the original, legendary NSX lightweight, born in Japan in 1992. On the road, we’re talking about 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and 13 seconds flat for the quater mile. Top speed? Reputable independent tests put it at 170 mph.

Three: The S.Zero is very firmly sprung. Like the NSX-R, it was developed primarily for the track. (Honda sees it as kind of a weekend racer.) But it’s not as extrerme as the R so, yes, you could even use it for commuting. And it would be fun. Once you’re used to the solid chassis feel, raucous V6, brilliant six-speed shifter and muscle-bound steering of the S.Zero, a standard NSX feels pretty tame.

Still no pain, no gain, and ownership of an S.Zero does bring certain sacrifices, such as bidding farewell to creature comforts like cruise control, music and power door locks. Airbags, air conditioning, traction control, power steering, fog lights and the navigation system also disappear. Honda has come up with a new lightweight battery and halved the thickness of the partition glass between the engine bay and cabin (so no wonder the V6 is so vociferous).

On the outside, though the S.Zero remains stuck with styling that is becomming dated. Despite its lightweight trunk spoiler and smart BBS alloys, the S.Zero look pretty much like any other NSX. The S.Zero goes for 9,857 million yen (about $81,000). The snag is that you can’t spec any options, not even air conditioning– a definite must have to combat the awesome heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. The cabin, however, is pretty tasty. inside, the S.Zero gets a pair of new shape Carbon-Fiber Recaros. Those lightweight buckets finished in orange and black look and feel superb. A Momo sports wheel and polished titanium shifter are also part of the package.

The engineers inside Honda’s R&D department who gleefully built up this car knew what they were doing. In your Recaro, you’re sitting low down, tilted back, in front of that vast panoramic windshield just as in a real racing NSX. The shifter to your left working the new close ratio, six speed gearbox is simply terrific: solid, precise, light, and very fast. Even an F355 cannot compare. The best part of the new NSX 3179cc V6 is its stronger pulling power, especially mid-range, over the original 3.0 liter. The new 3.2 pushes out 224lb ft at 5300 rpm: on paper not much different from the 3.0 liter. But in traffic and especially in the curb-weight freindly S.Zero, the torque effect is forceful indeed. The track figures confirm what you soon discover when you hit the open road: For in gear acceleration or sprinting, the NSX S.Zero is one of the fastest road cars Japan has ever made. Period.

And it has a double wishbone chassis to match. Front Spring rates are more than double those of a new 3.2 liter, and the rears are up two-thirds. Shock rates also have been uprated in a similar fashion. The last time Honda tried this with the NSX-R it created a car happy on the track, but much too stiff for the street, thanks to it’s chronic bump-steer. Remmember the NSX? Honda would like you to, but you have to wonder at the marketing wisdom that keeps the best NSX ever to date locked up in Japan. The NSX S.Zero deserves, and demands a wider audience.

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