Honda Planning V8 -- but Not Until 2015By Bill Visnic November 26, 2008
By Peter Nunn
Maybe dreams do come true, after all. Americans who have long yearned for Honda to develop a production-car V8 engine may finally be getting their wish -- if recent comments made by Honda president Takeo Fukui are any guide.
In a recent media interview, Fukui was quoted as saying that Honda was now planning to strengthen the Acura brand with a production V8.
Why? Because the 3.7-liter V6 currently installed in the newly face-lifted RL, the range-topper for Honda's upscale Acura sales channel -- wasn't "sufficient" to compete with other premium brands, he said.
Just don't take it to mean a Honda V8 is around the corner.
Fukui seemed to be acknowledging what owners, media and dealers have been saying for years: that in a premium-market shoot-out with Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and others, Acura has long been hampered by sticking resolutely to a V6 for its flagship RL -- when eight-cylinder engines have long been deemed the minimum price of admission.
Well-placed Honda insiders, though, recommend a note of caution: There is no V8 in the immediate product-development pipeline, they insist, contradicting excited reports that Acura's first V8 would bow "within 18 months."
President Fukui, they say, was talking generally, more into the future with the V8, rather than about the near term. Indeed, the next redesign for the Acura RL, due around 2010 or 2011 will stick with a V6, according to a source familiar with the program, so it's the generation after that -- scheduled for around 2015 -- that will get the V8.
And something more.
History of Contrarianism
When it comes to engines, Honda may well be one of the world's leading-edge developers, but the company often has had a unique take on what it decides to serve up.
On one hand, American Honda was not intellectually opposed to developing a full-blooded, 3.5-liter V8, generating more than 650 horsepower, for the Indy Racing League (an engine so dominant it now powers every car in the series).
And next year, Acura also will pull covers on what's sure to be a superlative, clean-sheet V10 with rumored 5-liter capacity for the long-awaited replacement for Acura's NSX supercar.
With all this experience, Honda could easily design and build a world-beating V8, but many of the company's key engineers are ideologically against it, believing a V8 for production models to be too big, too heavy, and too wasteful -- simply unnecessary alongside their lighter, power-dense and more-economical V6s.
Americans have seen this purist ideology in action before. Remember the first four-cylinder Odyssey minivan from the mid-'90s? Honda's logic was that four cylinders were "enough." The market thought otherwise -- and eventually Honda caved in. The same logic applies to the V8 that's yet to appear in the Ridgeline truck.
As Honda engineers see it, four cylinders are lighter, simpler, more efficient, more technologically ideal and better for economy. Never mind what the customer wants.
And given the frenetic surge in gas prices this year and economic turmoil, Honda would seem to have got that particular call about right.
A V8 -- If It Must Be
Toyota and Nissan have the market positioning and history to do V8s, but for Honda/Acura, it's a much tougher call. Honda, it is known, quietly developed a one-off, rear-wheel-drive Legend/RL with a V8 sometime back in the early 2000s, but the program ended up being axed.
First, because the V8 didn't offer that much of an advantage over Honda's existing
V6, or so word has it.
Second, Honda reputedly looked at the sales numbers for Acura's main rivals, Lexus and Infiniti, and pondered if its car could do better in the same dogfight.
And third, emulating the others and being last to the party is not the Honda way.
So the company reconfigured the Legend/RL to be more of a European Audi-type competitor with strong technical emphasis on all-wheel drive. On paper, the Legend/Acura RL has plenty going for it but without the cachet of a V8 for the American market (and diesel in Europe), the car has always been a slow burn.
Still, engineers at Honda R&D stubbornly refused to countenance the V8 option. But now, recent comments by CEO Fukui finally indicate a change of tack.
The new V8, he said, would be completely different from conventional practice and have excellent fuel economy. Given Honda's stellar track record when it does commit to a new engine, the market surely would not expect anything less.
Equally Big News -- A New Rear-Drive Acura Lineup
The V8 is being readied for an all-new Acura flagship, an insider source says, adding that behind the scenes, Honda has secretly laid down the plans for a completely fresh range of cars -- using all-new, rear-drive architecture -- specifically to target the BMW 3, 5 and 7 Series.
The program reportedly still is at the basic planning stage. But following Honda's current new-model development schedule, the V8 would debut in an Acura flagship sedan targeted at the 7 Series and debuting in 2015.
One hurdle for Honda would seem to be the European Union, where carbon-dioxide regulations are rapidly reshaping demand for big luxury sedans.
As of today, Honda Europe has no interest in a V8. "Absolutely no plans to bring a V8 to Europe," a spokesman commented. "There would be no market for such a power unit in the current climate."
Still, Honda's Fukui, no stranger to bold pronouncements, nonetheless has set the V8 ball in motion. It's surely the engine Acura needs to cut it at the head table.
PHOTOS (courtesy Honda Motor Co. Ltd.):
1. Current Acura flagship, the RL, is a technical showcase but only a mild presence in the market, some believe, because it lacks V8 power.
2. Honda long was philosophically against diesel combustion, but eventually relented, tasking one of its most diesel-averse engineers with development of the company's first-ever diesel.