Honda Titillating And Triumphant Returns

Honda brushes the dust off its Type R series—and not a moment too soon!
After the major earthquake in Eastern Japan, Honda has been strongly committed to resuming full operations. Unfortunately, the vehicle component plant has been hit hardest by the disaster, as has the Tochigi Research Centre—this has caused delays in the development of new cars. However, development is expected to speed up as Honda continues restoration.

Despite the inevitable delays, the schedule is not anticipated to change much—in fact, the new Freed, Freed Hybrid and CR-V’s release dates have been only slightly shifted to the end of the year. Also, Honda is likely to release several new cars from late this year until early 2012.

The combined effects of the recent disaster and the depressed global economy have forced automakers to re-evaluate their original plans. In Honda’s case, it is likely to continue producing mid-sized and large cars such as Accord Hybrid for the North American market. However, it might make some changes to its current compact car scheme.

A factor in Honda’s renewed sense of urgency is the state of the European automotive market. Despite Fit’s exceptional utility, appearance is not the only factor in retail success. Rather, Honda must think twice about improving its performance. Until today, Fit has been unable to beat the prolific Volkswagen Polo. Last year, the new Polo was launched with 1.2ℓ, turbocharged 1.2ℓ, 1.4ℓ and turbocharged 1.4ℓ GTI variants. On the other hand, the fuel-efficient Fit currently has 1.5ℓ and 2ℓ conventional variants and a 1.3ℓ hybrid. Honda’s smaller engines draw attention to the performance difference—not only that, Polo has a turbocharged engine and a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), which also enhances its drivability.

In response, a Honda insider said that the automaker was hard at work on compact and fuel-efficient 1.3ℓ and 1.5ℓ engines. Like the 2~2.4ℓ K Series engines, Honda’s new projects will have excellent versatility—all that is left is for it to overcome the development hurdles.

The same source agreed that the proposed Fit will have many of the features that popularised the legendary Type R models. Not only will it have improved performance, but will also be more enjoyable to drive. Thus Honda’s goal is to penetrate the European market with sports variants of its compacts. Not only will these cars sport more powerful and fuel-efficient engines, but more importantly, they will proudly bear the Type R badge.

Fit’s next major revamp is scheduled for 2013, which may be concurrent with the Type R’s arrival. Also, depending on the reception, a 3-door GT Fit may also be included in the Type R line-up.

The Type R name can be traced back to 2002 with the lauded NSX, during a time when Honda only had Integra, Civic and the European Accord to boast of. The automaker had strictly limited the use of the moniker, only bestowing it onto cars that boasted exceptional driveability. Though the new Type R models are expected to uphold this tradition, their actual capabilities are still unclear.

The innovative Fit is expected to receive a Type R variant. Also, the North American and European Civics will be going for major revamps this year and next year, respectively—a coupe may also be in the pipeline. A new Accord may also hit the European market next year—however, this may not be a Type R since it will only be launched in Europe while the North American model is too large to bear the name.

CR-Z is also closely watched, especially since it is slated to transform into a hybrid with a supercharged engine. However, a Honda insider disclosed that Honda may still return to the beginning: regardless of whether CR-Z’s 1.5ℓ engine will indeed receive a supercharger, it may be the next Type R. Conversely, a turbocharged CR-Z would ascend to the top of the sports car class. So just as Volkswagen developed an R variant that is distinct from its Polo GTI, the next Type R may premiere as a separate grade.

Another alternative would arrive by 2014, when the NSX successor could receive a Type R variant and become a next generation sports model with a 2.5~3.5ℓ V6 engine. Like the original NSX Type R, its successor will surely be a hit—but it has to be properly manufactured. The insider even suggests that Honda scrap the V10 plan altogether and instead focus on its alleged Type R strategy.

As mentioned, the Type R badge has come to denote Honda’s most compulsively driveable vehicles. The time has finally come for the automaker to revisit this legendary series and to reclaim the affections of car aficionados the world over.