The Top Ten Hondas of All Time

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Honda haven't given car enthusiasts a lot to cheer about lately, so to make up for this and to remind ourselves of what Honda are capable of, Drive Cult presents our top 10 greatest Hondas of all time.

Honda has not given car enthusiasts a lot to cheer about lately. The screaming V10 NSX replacement we saw hot lapping the Nurburgring in camouflage last year that looked so promising was canceled at the eleventh hour. They pulled out of F1, which in hindsight turned out to be a huge mistake, because had they not, it's likely last year's championship winning car would have had a red 'H' on the nose. Most recently you could almost hear the collective grumbling of car enthusiasts across the world when the paltry horsepower figure of 125 was announced for the supposedly sporty hybrid CR-Z

It's time we had a reminder (Honda included) as to what this fantastically innovative, imaginative car company is capable of. Let's go back to the beginning. Company founder Soichiro Honda was one of us, or more accurately we are many of him. A gearhead in the most extreme sense. Legend has it, that when he saw his first automobile as child, he ran to the middle of the road over which it had just passed and started smelling the oil and fuel deposits left behind. As president of Honda he was every bit the eccentric figure that Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford, Ferdinand Porsche and Colin Chapman were.

Innovation

Honda arguably made two of the biggest engine breakthroughs in the second half of the last century. CVCC stood for compound vortex controlled combustion and by enabling a more complete combustion of fuel it improved power, emissions and mileage. Then came VTEC or variable valve timing and electronic lift control. It's been written about many times over so I'll spare you the in depth technical explanation, but it essentially enables the inlet valves to stay open long in the upper reaches of the rev range. Additional air in the combustion chamber means additional power. What you end up with is a frugal gas sipper at low revs and a screaming race engine at high revs. This meant VTEC motors often came in for criticism for their relative lack of low end torque, but many relished the challenge of keeping them on boil in the "VTEC zone".

Honda has also been extraordinarily prolific and often times successful in racing. They hold championships in F1, Indy Car, CART, IRL, MotoGP, AMA, ALMS, BTCC and JGTC to name but a few. That's a spread that no other manufacturer can come close to matching.

So, Honda is capable of great things. They've long been among the giants when it comes to sales success, but when they put their minds to it Honda is capable of giving the likes of Ferrari night terrors on more than one front. Continue below to see our ten greatest Hondas of all time, and as always if you disagree or think we missed one, let us know.

10. 1975 Civic CVCC

Before Honda launched the Civic in 1974, the company was actually considering pulling out of car building all together. Luckily, the Civic was an immediate sales success. Honda had unveiled its revolutionary, ultra frugal CVCC engine a few years in advance to the applause of the malaise era auto buying public, which meant the first Civic was able to hit the ground running.

9. S800

The S800 was produced from 1966 to 1970 and was the replacement for Honda's S600. Like the S600, and the S500 before it, the S800 used an engine from Honda's motorcycle division. The '800′ in the name represented the displacement of the 70 hp 791 cc straight four motor that powered the rear wheels, and like a motorcycle, the S800 used a chain rather than a driveshaft to send power to the rear. Honda offered coupe and convertible versions and the S800 even enjoyed a brief racing career in Japan.

8. 99-00 Civic Si

When the 1999 Civic was introduced, car tuners saw it as a blank canvas and immediately went to work. The fourth generation Si was the tuning platform of choice for the early 2000s. Unfortunately, as a result unmolested cars are a rare sight, but if you're able look past the aftermarket euro-style taillights, you'll find a very good car. The 1.6 liter VTEC was a real screamer and produced 160bhp. Honda significantly upgraded the suspension too. Stiffer springs and bigger anti-roll bars ensured roadkill-flat handling, while a short ratio transmission improved in-gear acceleration. Two subsequent Civic Sis have been released since, but neither has enjoyed the aftermarket support of the Gen four.

7. Civic 1500DX

The second generation Civic was by all accounts the single greatest car ever to grace the world's roads. In 1500DX guise and combined the optional 5-speed transmission it was an especially effective driving tool. The 1.5 liter 15 valve CVCC engine produced a staggering 67 hp. Color options for 1982 included beige, brown and silver.

(Full disclosure: the author of this feature is the former owner of a 1982 Civic 1500DX identical to the one you see above)

6. 1300 Coupe

Four cylinders ... fair enough. Air-cooled? Well, it's been done. Transversely-mounted engine? That's been done, too. Forced-induction air-cooling? Not all that new. Front-wheel drive? Not new. Four carbs on a four-banger? Standard procedure, for Honda. Dry-sump? Been popular in performance cars for donkey's years. Cross-over swing axles? Extremely rare! But combine all these features in one super-sporty little coupe, and you've got what looks on paper to be the weirdest little motor car ever!" That's how Sports Car World described the awesomely quirky Honda 1300 Coupe. Honda launched the 1300 in 1970 as a rival to the Toyota Corona and Nissan Bluebird. Two engine options were offered, but the four carb 115 hp Coupe9 (the Coupe7 had two carbs) was the one to have. It's rumored that styling was inspired by Soichiro Honda's own Pontiac Firebird.

5. S2000

When Honda launched the S2000 in 1999 it was able to lay claim to two impressive stats. Its two liter VTEC revved to a stratospheric 9000rpm, which over ten years on, most cars still can't touch without grenading. The engine also produced more power per liter than any other normally aspirated engine at 237 hp or about 118 hp per liter. Reviews described the chassis as snappy, but not necessarily in a good way. A second version introduced in 2004, designated AP2, introduced more user-friendly handling characteristics and a new 2.2 liter engine. While the new engine's redline was lowered to a mere 8000rpm, power was unchanged and torque was improved.

4. CR-X SiR

Honda's mission statement for the CR-X was simple: build a compact lightweight sports coupe that's both efficient and fun to drive. Based on the Civic platform, the CR-X had a pretty good production run from 1983-1991. Through these eight years several variants were produced, and our interests lie in the fastest of those variants. The most efficient of those deserves special mention too, but we'll get to that shortly. The '89-'91 Japanese domestic market CR-X SiR was a feisty little car. Weight was kept to a minimum at little over 2100 lbs, and it was powered by the 1.6 liter B16A VTEC producing 150bhp. Slightly less potent yet no less impressive versions were sold throughout the rest of the world. On the other end of the spectrum we have the CR-X HF (high fuel mileage) which was able to deliver up to 50 mpg. Fifteen years on Honda is about begin shipping the CR-X-inspired CR-Z Hybrid to dealerships which gets a combined 33 mpg. So, it's heavier, likely slower, less efficient and it's a hybrid. Where's the progress?

3. Civic Type-R 3rd-gen JDM Version

In 2007 Honda released it's greatest Civic Type-R and kept it all to itself at home in Japan. Sure, they released the three-door hatch-based Civic Type-R in Europe, but it simply wasn't the car the Japanese domestic version was. Honda's K20A four cylinder provided 222bhp to the front wheels, which was over 20bhp up on the Euro Type-R. This was also the first sedan-based Civic Type-R, which ensured better high speed stability due to the longer wheelbase. This also allowed the Japanese version to use independent rear suspension, rather than the inferior torsion beam setup on the Euro Type-R. Brembo rotors where fitted to the front and extensive use of aluminum kept weight to a minimum. A barely contained street legal touring car racer.

2. Honda/Acura Integra Type-R

Despite what the kid down the street with the "Type-R" badge he bought on eBay and slapped on the back of his green Civic DX would have you believe, the Acura Integra Type-R was the only Type-R ever officially sold in the United States. It was powered by Honda's 1.8 liter B18C5 VTEC and produced 197bhp. This car was all about the details. Gear ratios were lowered. The chassis was reinforced. The suspension was stiffened and the interior was stripped of unnecessary equipment. All this resulted in what Evo Magazine dubbed the greatest front wheel drive car ever.

1. NSX Type-R

Is there really any other way this list could have ended? When the NSX went on sale in 1990, as an Acura in the US and a Honda in the rest of the world, it gave the supercar establishment a swift wake-up smack across the face. Here was a very fast, attractive mid-engined supercar constructed from aluminum (unheard of at the time) that was just as drivable and reliable as an Accord of the same vintage. It wasn't lacking for pedigree either; the chassis tuning was done with the assistance of none other than Ayrton Senna. Twelve years in to its life in 2002, the NSX was given a facelift, and though there was also a first-generation NSX Type-R, the post-facelift second generation is the one to have. Released in 2005, the second generation NSX Type-R was powered by a balanced and blueprinted version of the regular NSX's 3.2 liter V6. It was rated at 290bhp, but this is widely believed to be a conservative figure. Weight was kept to a minimum at about 2800 lbs. through the use of aluminum and carbon fiber.

Of course by 2005, general perception was that the NSX was underpowered and obsolete in any guise, but that's missing the point. The Type-R was about finesse and feel rather than absolute speed, and as a result it received rave reviews from the automotive press. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to help sales recover. Production numbers were microscopic, but this only adds to its mystique. It's a true unicorn of a car and it's also Drive Cult's greatest Honda ever.

Sources

[The Honda Beat]
[Honda Type R]
[Honda]
[Honda 1300 Coupe]
[Wikipedia]

About James Wolfcale

As the lone American on the Drive Cult team, Jamie has a soft spot for big displacement Detroit power. He drives a Mini Cooper S on which he's been known to undertake massive repairs, only to realize midway through that he's in way over his head.

More articles by James Wolfcale

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