At Honda’s recent shareholders’ meeting in Tokyo, a middle-aged man stood up during the Q&A session and asked whether the company was going to reinterpret a small, sporty car like the Beat for the 21st century. “While I am still young enough to enjoy sports driving, I’d like to drive something compact and sporty, something like an updated Beat. What are the chances of that?” he said poignantly.
Honda CEO Takanobu Ito took the microphone and replied without hesitation. “We are currently developing a successor to the Beat, a car that anyone can easily have fun with. Expect to see it in showrooms within the next few years.” The comment dominated the headlines the next day. Strangely, Ito’s subsequent utterance didn’t get nearly as much play, but potentially was much more significant to those pining away for a road-going Honda supercar: “In addition to the Beat successor, we are also making significant progress with plans for an exotic sports car.”
Just six months ago, Ito told a media gathering that Honda felt compelled to re-launch a high-performance sports car like the NSX, but he didn’t go so far as to say it was definitely happening. But it was the first time Ito had actually uttered the telling phrase “making significant progress with plans to…” build a successor.
To get a clearer idea of exactly what Honda has planned, a source close to Honda suggested we go back a decade and re-examine the Dualnote, a gasoline-hybrid, all-wheel-drive concept car first shown way back at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show. Powered by a midship-mounted (Japanese-speak for mid-engined) 3.5-liter V-6 with Honda’s IMA hybrid system, the four-door concept’s front wheels were propelled by in-wheel electric motors, while the rears were driven by the engine, a combination that reportedly generated more than 400 horsepower. The Dualnote was so advanced back then that all Honda did was adapt the drive system (minus the in-wheel electric motors) to the soon-to-be-launched Legend, thus creating the SH-AWD system.
Ten years down the track, Honda is still perfecting that original AWD hardware, which includes the large-capacity engine with hybrid combination, motors that propel the fronts, and V-6-driven rears. Another insider tells us the car’s target specifications have already been decided. “Honda wants to build a supercar that breaks the mold while creating a totally new technological package,” he said. So what we are going to see is a further development of that 2001 concept, but adapted for today’s fuel economy and emissions expectations.
It’s not a car that rests on its engine-generated power alone. The extra herbs produced by the front-mounted electric motors will make the next-generation NSX a very quick car. “It has to be fast to live up to the expectations of a future NSX, right!?” pleads our insider. He went onto say that a record Nurburgring lap time is not Honda’s target. “But be rest assured, this car will be the top in its class, and the powerful engine-motor combination will achieve that result.”
Our sources inform us that Honda is working on a VTEC V-6 engine displacing 3.5 to 3.7 liters that boasts a cylinder head with an integrated exhaust manifold and valveless throttle. Obviously it will be of the Atkinson cycle variety. The two-motor setup will be powered by lithium-ion batteries and employ a plug-in recharge system to minimize battery weight.
The original Dualnote system incorporated an engine that drove an on-board generator powering the motors, a system considered inherently inefficient. By fitting an all-new continuous current motor to the new concept, engineers have been able to minimize electricity consumption while at the same time creating a gutsy torque-generating, high-revving system. “This system will be the secret to the NSX successor’s incredible pace,” suggests our source.
One other critical aspect of the new car will be its weight-saving aluminum body, a process carried over from the first NSX. And the final part of the package is price. Our sources tell us that Honda wants to bring the car to the U.S. as an Acura by 2014 for under $100,000 — a sticker price designed to rival that of the Nissan GT-R.
October 05, 2011
By Peter Lyon