2009 Tokyo Show: Hondas Performance Future

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The 2009 Tokyo show was something of a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty affair for American Honda enthusiasts. On the one hand, there was the unveiling of the near-production CR-Z, easily the most exciting new Honda in several years. But Honda also used the show to dampen any hopes for other sports cars.

“We have no other plans for the time being,” Honda president Takanobu Ito told a group of journalists Thursday.

Ito was perfectly frank in explaining why we will not see replacements for S2000 and NSX.

“The economy is so, so bad, we are struggling to create profit,” he said. What resources Honda has are being poured into green car research, he added. That also explains Honda’s departure from Formula 1, a decision which Ito said he has “no regrets” about making.

“Billions of yen were used for F1 – this has been converted to developing green technology.”

Along those lines, Ito also made clear that even when Honda has the money to start building sports cars again, they won’t be V-10 powerhouses like the shelved NSX replacement; but rather, extremely efficient performance cars that showcase the company’s best alternative fuel technologies, including hydrogen.

“It won’t be something like Toyota announced [with the LFA],” he added.

Less clear is why the U.S. market isn’t receiving affordable, reasonably efficient sporty cars such as he Civic Type R Euro, which Honda just unveiled for the Japanese market. The two-door hatchback features a 2.0-liter engine tuned for a broader power band than the current Civic Si, as well as a lighter body and some of the best looking white wheels we’ve ever seen. It would seem to us this hatch -- for the right price -- would be an easy way to freshen the Civic's performance image and give the brand a strong alternative to the redesigned Mazdaspeed 3 and Volkswagen GTI.

All this leaves just the CR-Z for U.S. buyers looking for Honda’s unique take on performance. Featuring a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder paired to Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist and a six-speed manual transmission, it promises to be the most engaging green vehicle on the market this side of a Tesla Roadster. We’ve been warned the car won’t be a straightline rocket, but nevertheless have every reason to believe it will offer all the cheap thrills of the original CRX.

Still, we hope that by the time the car makes production in 2011, the economic reality will have changed enough that it will be the first -- rather than the only -- new performance car from Honda.

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