Opinion

Does Honda Still Make Aspirational Cars?

On the following evidence: absolutely.

‘The Power of Dreams.’ Honda’s tag line evokes images of revolutionary performance machines and amazing concept cars that promise an automotive future filled with ground-breaking technologies. Its aspirational Acura sub-brand has given us cars like the original NSX and the manic S2000 was an amazing feat of engineering. But how does Honda’s current lineup stack up today? At first glance, most Hondas on our roads today seem like transportation appliances rather than forward-thinking designs.

Sure, they are well-built and pleasant to drive but has the blue sky thinking that made Honda such a force to be reckoned with in the past been lost along the way? Well, its mainstream range may be a bit too anodyne to evoke excitement, but there are some models in the range that may still bring out that futuristic flair, so in an attempt to find the best ones we take a look at some of the models in the current range that still get us excited.

Hatchback Heroes

The reign of the naturally aspirated Honda V-Tec powerplant ended with the rise of turbocharging. With the massive performance that could be coaxed out of small capacity motors, the high-revving fizziness of the V-Tec valve gear was replaced with a torquey low-down power delivery and enhanced fuel consumption. What was missing was an explosive top end and the manic exhaust note that had defined cars like the previous generation Honda Civic Type-R. Not one to be left behind when it comes to technology, Honda went back to the drawing board to refine its new Type-R into a world-beating competitor.

The last non-turbo Civic Type-R went out of production in 2011 and we had to wait until the end of 2015 before a totally redesigned turbocharged Civic Type-R went on sale. Here was a car that immediately challenged the class leaders while still retaining the character of the older models. More was to come though as the latest generation Civic was introduced merely one year later and then, in 2017, the revised Type-R debuted. A revised fully-independent rear suspension and lighter bodyshell made it even more capable than before and purists loved the 6-speed manual only transmission option.

This 310-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter hot hatch offers a level of performance that elevates it once again to the top of this very competitive segment and to underline its dynamic abilities it lapped the demanding Nurburgring in a front-wheel drive record-breaking time of 7-minutes and 43-seconds. The compact sports category crown is once again with Honda and at $34,000 it is great value too.

Supercar Game-Changers

The original 1991 Acura NSX (badged a Honda in some countries so it makes it on our list) introduced reliability and accessible performance into the supercar sector and revolutionized the segment in the process. The 270-hp 3.0-liter V6 V-Tec powerplant performed like a thoroughbred without the usual ‘characterful’ issues that rival manufacturers’ offerings exhibited at the time, the controls were light and easy to use and it started every time regardless of the weather, just like any other Honda or Acura of the time.

It may have been left in production for a bit too long (the final car rolled off the line in 2005) but there is no denying that this was a watershed car and any replacement would have to not only be a superb driver’s car but a game-changer too. So, it is not too surprising that the weight of expectation that pressed down on its replacement was immense. The replacement arrived in 2016, not the pure no-frills modern iteration of the original, but a daring and complex sports car designed to pave the way forward in its segment. This ideology it shares with the ‘90s original, but the new NSX employs a range of cutting-edge technological solutions to achieve its performance objectives.

Mounted behind the driver is a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 which is aided by twin electric motors in the front and one in the rear. A four-wheel drive system is standard and the combined 573 hp is transmitted to the wheels through a bespoke 9-speed dual-clutch transmission. So quite a bit more complex than the original but all of these systems function together so seamlessly that from behind the wheel you would be hard-pressed to notice as the various systems come in and out of play.

Negatives? Well, this new NSX ain’t cheap, at just under $160,000 there are a lot of talented competitors out there, although perhaps none offer its level of technical complexity and forward-looking design ethos. The McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 may offer comparable hybrid supercar drivetrains but their limited production numbers and ludicrous price tags make the Acura NSX seem like a fantastic deal by comparison.

Minivan Magic

While a minivan may not be anyone’s dream car, the latest Odyssey is about as good as this segment gets. Not every motorist is looking for ultimate grip and handling from their daily driver and the massive interior space and high levels of convenience and safety features found in the Odyssey make it the perfect family vehicle. The 3.5-liter V6 punches out 280-hp and gets you to 60 mph in a little over 6.5 seconds, so you will never be late for football practice and the available 10-speed transmission ensures you are never in the wrong gear either.

Some stand-out available features include wireless phone charging, rear seat monitoring feature with a PA system (fun for parents, not so much for the moody teenagers in the back) and a whole host of safety devices like adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist systems. As an overall package it is more practical than the ever-popular crossover (it even comes with a built-in vacuum-cleaner) and in the reality of a traffic-clogged morning commute is a comfortable and luxurious place to spend your time in. With prices ranging from $30,000 to $47,000, there is an Odyssey to fit most budgets too.

Dreaming Of The Future

Rocketship hot hatches and tech-laden minivans are all great, the hybrid NSX is impressive too but for real dream powered vehicles we need to take a look at a car that possesses a drivetrain that may well be the way of the future. This car is the Honda Clarity. Now don’t scoff just yet, we know it looks challenging from most angles but it is truly a technological masterpiece under the skin. No, not the plug-in hybrid or the electric versions, there are plenty of similar vehicles like those about, we are referring to the Clarity Fuel Cell. This car converts hydrogen into electricity with only water vapor as a by-product.

The handful of hydrogen refueling stations that are currently available are dotted solely around California and this is the only state which you can actually drive one. Ownership is out of the question too as a 36-month lease plan is the only option on offer, but being an early adopter means that you get to experience a vehicle that can travel up to 366 miles on a refuel that takes less than 5 minutes and you will be an integral part in the development process and potential mass rolling-out of what could be the future of motoring.

Only the Toyota Mirai is a direct competitor and it falls short in a number of key areas compared to the Clarity, so if you are one of the lucky few to meet the requirements to lease one, then seize the opportunity and become part of Honda’s dream for the future. At $369 per month, the cost of entry is surprisingly accessible too.

Power Of Dreams Still A Reality

A Honda Fit subcompact or Pilot SUV may be nothing more than competent tools for the mundane daily driving tasks but digging a bit deeper reveals that Honda is still an innovative company that produces some inspiring cars both to take on the best contemporary offerings out there as well as to pave the way for the next step in automotive technology.

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