After a few years of offering boring lineups, Honda seems to be waking up and getting back to business. The refreshed-for-2016 Accord is suddenly an exciting alternative to the Toyota Camry, the all-new Pilot is a people-mover that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in, and even the long-awaited NSX supercar is finally on its way.
After being linked with the Takata airbag scandal, and seeing its sales slip while competitors Nissan and Toyota have surged, Honda shook things up by naming long time R&D man Takahiro Hachigo as the company’s next CEO. In only a few months at the helm, he’s already pledged to “create a new Honda,” which to us, sounds a lot like the old Honda. And that’s a good thing – because the old Honda was the company that could make a midsize sedan like the Accord feel like a premium model, and an entry-level hatch like the CRX feel like a true sports car. With that in mind, we’ll be getting the aforementioned NSX in 2016, and the Civic Type-R, the fastest front-wheel drive car to ever lap the Nürburgring, in 2017.
But if there’s one thing that we miss most from Honda’s lineup, it’s an entry-level sports car. The CRX has become a modern-day legend, and the Del Sol, while polarizing at best, was at least cheap, cheerful, and fun to drive. Since the S2000 left in 2009, the Japanese automaker hasn’t really done sporty – at least not here, that is. The Type-R is already on sale in Europe, but at roughly $46,000, it’s nobody’s definition of a budget sports car. With the Toyobaru twins and the all-new Miata proving that there is still a small but loyal market for sports cars over here, Edmunds reports that Honda is considering bringing its Kei-sized S660 roadster over to the U.S., and for us, that’s very exciting.
At just over 11 feet long, the S660 is dwarfed by a Mazda Miata, and with just 63 horsepower coming from its three-cylinder powerplant, it makes the 200 horsepower FR-S/BRZ cars look like McLarens. But don’t let the S660’s diminutive size and power output fool you; what we have here is a mid-engined, targa-topped roadster that handles like a dream, tips the scales at under 1,900 pounds, and costs roughly $15,300 in Japan. If that isn’t enough to make sports car fans excited, we don’t know what is.
Speaking with Edmunds, John Mendel, American Honda’s executive vice president, echoed Hachigo’s sentiment by saying, “We’re looking at it intently for North America. We want some spice in the lineup.” According to an earlier Motor Trend report, the company is already considering substituting the S660’s 0.66 liter three for a 1.0 liter turbocharged unit good for 126 horsepower for export vehicles, and dubbing it the S1000. While U.S. safety and emissions equipment would likely push the roadster past the one ton mark, that 100-plus percent horsepower boost could go a long way to making the S600 into a major contender stateside, and if it could keep the price low enough to undercut Scion/Subaru, and Mazda, Honda could have an entire segment to itself.
But don’t go looking to put money down on an S660/S1000 just yet. While the company is giving the car a long look, Mendel says: “It’s got to be commercially viable. It’s got to serve a purpose from a brand standpoint,” adding, “What does it do for the brand?” Outside of an enthusiast’s standpoint, the case could be a tough one. Like Scion and Subaru realized with the FR-S/BRZ twins, the market for enthusiast’s cars can bottom out after an initial rush, no matter how affordable they may be. But as the Miata has proven for 25 years, roadsters can be successful if they hit the right notes. The S660 has been one of the most lusted after Hondas in years, and it’s never reached our shores. We think that’s an argument that speaks for itself.
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