Honda is preparing a dramatic return to sports cars with a small mid-engined, rear-drive successor to the Honda S2000 - and it's likely to be a hybrid. The car is believed to be a cross between the S2000 roadster, phased out last year, and the original Honda Beat mini-car of 1991. Engineers are said to be working on the car at Honda's R&D centre at Tochigi, north of Tokyo.
Honda's design chief, Nobuki Ebisawa, hinted to Autocar late last year that, despite the decision to axe its F1 team and cancel the next-generation NSX, there was a long-term plan to develop a hybrid with greater performance than Honda's only remaining sporty model, the CR-Z.
"That car is only one shape of Honda's hybrid sports cars in the current age," he said.
Proof that the project has since been picked up has emerged in Japanese patent applications. They outline plans for a roadster using a subframe and parts from current cars but adding technology, reducing the kerb weight and cutting production costs. This points to the use of aluminium, a material that Ebisawa has admitted is a likely feature of future models.
The car is expected to be based on a modified version of the Jazz platform.
The patent refers to "an engine being fitted to a centre frame", which means mid-engined and rear-wheel drive. The patent does not outline what type of powerplant would be used, but Honda's current policy rules out a pure combustion engine solution and a hybrid remains the most likely option.
Using a larger petrol engine than the CR-Z's unit - and gearing the electric motor more towards performance than economy - could give the car the sprinting ability to match the S2000's 0-62mph time of 6.0sec, particularly if aluminium is used to reduce the kerb weight.
Mounting the two motors amidships would help to match the weight distribution of the S2000, which, despite having its engine in the front, offered a 50/50 balance. Honda already has the ability to fit a manual transmission alongside a hybrid powertrain, too; the CR-Z uses such a set-up.
Honda's creation is unlikely to appear before 2014, so it will be beaten to market by the next phase of Toyota's sports cars, which includes a small coupe that is due in early 2013.
Known in Japan as "mini-FT-86", the two-door Toyota is based on the rear-drive hot hatchback concept that was shown by GRMN (Gazoo Racing Meister of Nurburgring) at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January. It's unlikely to match the Honda's green credentials, though, because its powerplant is almost certain to be a regular 1.5-litre petrol unit.
The full story of the car is in Autocar magazine, on sale tomorrow (Wednesday).