Spent a remarkable day at Honda’s R&D facility in Tochigi yesterday, trying new NSX, the latest FCV fuel cell vehicle, a new plug-in hybrid Accord and the company’s new 10-speed automatic transmission.
It was an interesting session on a number of levels - not just because we also got to try a few curveballs, such as the CR-Z prototype that’s tipped to spawn a new all-electric sports car, but also because it reaffirmed my belief that Honda can still innovate.
The company’s name has been founded upon breaking new ground in engineering, but recently that reputation has been tarnished by a disturbing trend for showcasing technologies and then never quite bringing them to market. Heck, we’re still waiting for the NSX concept to finally be transformed into a car that’s out there, in public hands; small wonder that a number of the initial reviews of the car said that the looks already feel too familiar.
It has been too easy to allow frustration like that to spill over into cynicism that Honda has lost its bottle - or, indeed, the capacity or will to really kick out new models. But late in the afternoon, a single moment brought me new clarity. New cars driven, I’d jumped into an S660, the little kei-car roadster that someone ought to start grey-importing to the UK. We were out on Tochigi’s high-speed bowl and I was frankly misbehaving, braking and accelerating to enjoy the super-slick, super-fast and short gearshift.
Suddenly the young engineer beside me started giggling and pointing at the rear-view mirror, where the headlights of a fast-approaching NSX were clearly visible. Then this guy did the best impression of a twin-turbo V6 I’ve ever heard, and burst into schoolboy hysterics as the hybrid supercar blasted past. Mental note to self: don’t ever doubt that the people at Honda are in love with cars and engineering. They could prove you wrong at any moment.