Words and Photos: René Vermeer
There’s no hiding the fact that I am one of New Zealand’s biggest Honda enthusiasts. I would say I have owned around 20 Hondas now, mostly of the SiR vintage, being that I never had the money for the Type R offering until lately, with the recent acquisition of my 2021 Honda Civic Type R (FK8). Honda New Zealand kindly invited NZPC to the latest Jazz RS launch, and before I even checked the calendar, the deal was sweetened even further, with mention that not only would we get to drive one of its Honda Heritage cars to the venue, but we’d also get to drive the entire heritage fleet throughout the day. On offer besides the latest Jazz RS would be basically every Type R or sports variant that Honda owns here in New Zealand, including the latest Honda Civic Type R (FL5). What was most exciting though, was mention of a three-letter model from the Honda stable — no, not the CRX, but rather, the NSX. Yes — I will most certainly be there! Finally, I would fulfil a childhood dream of driving one of Honda and Japan’s most iconic ’90s sports cars.
There was some structure to the day thankfully, and, credit to Honda, it has been throwing everything it’s got at press events lately, with the recent Pukekohe bash in the FL5 ‘R’, much the same. The itinerary stated I had to jump into my allocated Civic Type R first thing in the morning, and with no mention as to what that Type R Civic might be, I initially thought I might be lucky enough to grab the keys to the EK9 to make my way to the venue, some 60km away. Then I remembered Honda owns an EK9 Type R, an FK2 Type R, an EP3 Type R, an FK8 Type R, and an FL5 Type R Civic in white here in New Zealand. Unfortunately, I was given the keys to the latest Honda has to offer: the FL5 Type R — sigh.
Thankfully, being that it was at peak hour, I enjoyed the luxuries that the FL5 provided. It linked to my Spotify seamlessly from the last time I drove it, and I made my way to the venue at a seriously comfortable yet rapid pace — the EK9 would have been back-breaking.
The venue in question was Kauri Bay Boomrock, located outside of Clevedon. I had actually been there for a wedding in the past, so I knew the area well.
“Do you want to get out on the road again in one of the Type Rs, seeing that you’re here early?” one of the Honda staffers asked, before throwing me the keys to an EK9 Civic Type R. With 30 minutes allocated per car, this was time in which you were able to make your way out of the venue, travel at a snail’s pace for around 1000m out of earshot of the Honda team, then throw it down three cogs to engage VTEC at whatever speed you were currently travelling at. With the EK9, I found a route near the venue that proved incredibly fun, with a combination of tight, twisting corners; fast-flowing bends; and straights just long enough to give third gear a good stretching in most of the screamers on the day.
After a brief presentation on the latest Jazz RS, an explanation of its Type R and sport heritage, some classic banter, and a delicious meal, the day continued, back-to-back pedalling each and every Type R or car on offer for 30 minutes at a time. I have never been able to experience so many ‘R’ and Honda sports models in one day before, and going from generation to generation really did give you a great insight into the company’s development and growth, with every Type R containing a very special and unique DNA.
After owning a few EKs over the years, I unfortunately was let down the most by the EK9. Maybe because I am so used to modern power trains, but boy, the B16B is gutless. At one point, I was rowing gears engaging VTEC to keep up with a late-model Nissan Navara towing a boat. The chassis felt fantastic though, but lacked steering and brake-pedal feel — possibly due to the mileage.
The S2000 — what an engine! With the top down, third gear nearing the limiter, and my balding forehead almost as red as the S2000’s paintwork, it was hard to not have a major smile on my face. So cool to see the digital gauge cluster displaying 9000rpm with relative ease.
The FK2 Civic Type R always shocks me with its sheer power. It feels quicker than any other Type R variant I have driven, and weirdly quicker than even the latest FL5. The interior leaves much to be desired, but for pure driving experience, it makes all the right noises and performs shockingly well.
I had never driven an EP3 Type R Civic before, so it was one I was looking forward to. How good is the K20? It’s an absolute screamer! However, I suspect this particular car needs some maintenance, with the steering wandering without any steering input — lower control arm bushes completely flogged potentially. The gearbox and engine combination are killer, but I gave the keys back after a short drive, as it felt a bit ropey.
Next on the list was the latest Jazz RS (don’t laugh, guys). I was actually very curious to see just where Honda had ended up with the latest Jazz offering. In Japan, track drivers modify previous generations all the time. I was not disappointed. Unfortunately for the EK9, I was actually able to hold more road speed through 90 per cent of the back roads that we were on thanks to a fantastic chassis, well-chosen tyres, and torquey power unit mated to a nifty transmission. If it was manual, it’d be even better again — not bad, Honda. No doubt we’ll see these K-swapped in years to come!
ext up, the New Zealand–new Phoenix yellow DC2 Integra Type R. The B18CR engine in the Integra is, dare I say it, twice as good as the B16B engine. That small bump in capacity makes a huge difference on the open road. The chassis felt stout too, the steering direct, and the brakes capable. Let’s not forget just how potent these now classic machines truly are — go and buy one, while you still can! Yep, we certainly tickled the 9000rpm limiter a couple of times in our 30-minute stint.
This section deserves its own title, because, let’s be honest, it’s the star of the show (sorry, Jazz). Nostalgia — the Honda NSX was the very last car I drove on the day, and weirdly, I am incredibly glad it worked out that way. I got to drive every single high-performance Honda the company owns — the best of the best, the peak of each generation. I got to see what performance meant to Honda and what obtainable performance in the ’90s looked like with the EK9 and the DC2 and soon, I was to drive the pinnacle of performance at the time: the NSX. Three thousand cubic centimetres of V6, VTEC goodness, backed by a slick-shifting five-speed manual in the rear of the vehicle
Climbing into the NSX cockpit was incredibly nostalgic for me. My first Honda when I was 15 years old was a 1991 Honda Prelude Si, in the very same red. The NSX not only had the same ’90s Honda smell, but the interior looked very similar too, including the design of the gauge cluster. I felt as though I were back in that Prelude immediately, as even the red bonnet in front of me was familiar. This was all until I pulled out of the venue, and started driving, of course.
Chassis feel in something of this vintage is not something I find myself commenting on much, unless to say that it feels like a canoe with a hinge in the middle. The NSX, though, felt direct, balanced, and very comfortable and stable at speed. And speed it did have — the very tall five-speed means that third gear at redline is well beyond losing-your-licence material here in New Zealand. This is no punchy, short-ratio box like in the EK9 or DC2. The performance is staggering for only 200kW, and when you realise it only has 205-wide tyres up front and 225 tyres down the back, it’s a bit scary really. Most commuter cars these days have wider tyres!
Driving the NSX was one of those moments I will never forget. It filled me with so much nostalgia and joy that it will forever be an experience I am grateful to have had. Thirty minutes of pure driving perfection, and enjoyment — I was literally laughing out loud, and smiling for the entirety of the drive. The NSX deserves every bit of praise that it has received over the years — it’s a proper classic, and in my opinion, the greatest Japanese ’90s supercar — GT-R fans come at me! Thanks for the invite, Honda, the Jazz RS was cool and so was everything else.
This article originally appeared in New Zealand Performance Car issue 302