Tokyo 2011: Is Honda following Toyota’s lead toward sports-car redemption?

Following the introduction of several poorly received new models, CEO Takanobu Ito and the whole of Honda appear to have gotten sports-car religion much like Toyota has since Akio Toyoda took over the company in 2009. Admitting that the Honda has made missteps and let its reputation slip, Ito espoused the company’s need for fun-to-drive, sporty cars in an interview with North American media at the 2011 Toyko auto show. Without committing to production, he spoke of an entry-level car inspired by the rear-wheel-drive EV-STER concept, an Acura supercar, and a sports car to slot between the two both in price and size.

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Translating that talk into products is an entirely different matter, though. Both Ito (pictured at right) and Yoshinori Asahi, designer of the EV-STER, repeatedly paired mention of sporty cars with electrification, as if the two ideas couldn’t be separated. When asked if a mid-engine production car like the EV-STER could accommodate a gas engine, Asahi confirmed that it could, but then suggested that the discussion wasn't one of pure electric or pure gasoline propulsion, but one of  electric or hybrid powertrain. As the cool reception to the CR-Z has shown, Honda’s desire to develop interesting, fun-to-drive cars will need to be reconciled with its love for hybrids. In that same vein, the specs of the EV-STER don’t read like those of the cars we’re hoping for. The 10-kWh lithium-ion battery pack has a maximum output of just 78 hp and Honda cites an acceleration time of 5.0 seconds…to 36 mph.

While Toyota still faces plenty of challenges with its product lineup, the Japanese giant is earning the attention and respect of enthusiasts with its technology-laden Lexus LFA and the forthcoming Scion FR-S rear-wheel-drive coupe. Toyota is also aiming to strengthen the Lexus brand by infusing all of its luxury cars with more engaging driving attributes, a goal Honda's Ito would like to mimic.

Just how closely is Honda aping Toyota's revolution? And will Honda's sports cars have the right hardware to satisfy enthusiasts? If the rumors are true, we'll have a much better idea when the Acura supercar makes an appearance at the 2012 Detroit auto show in January.

For the complete story on the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, be sure to click over to Automobile’s Tokyo Motor Show home page, with all the latest photos, information, and much more on all things Tokyo.

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