From Crosstour to Civic Type R: How Honda Stays Strong – The Lohdown


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“My wife would pay a million bucks for this!” proclaimed senior features editor Jonny Lieberman. “All she wants to know is whether Veal Chop is breathing!” referencing his newborn son and Cabin Watch, the latest bit of techno wizardry that appears in the redesigned 2018 Honda Odyssey.

Cabin Watch is a camera system positioned above the second-row seats to send a wide-angle, top-down view of the rear passengers to the infotainment screen in the center console. The camera works day or night (via infrared), and the image it sends is pinch-zoomable, à la an iPad. The camera comically distorts taller passengers in the second row, but the angle allows for viewing of child seats, including the rear-facing ones for infants. Cool, yes? Jonny and I think so, but international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie? Not so much: “Mate, we managed to get through childhood without this kinda thing; I’d prefer the driver’s eyes on the road!”

That’s a fair point, and I will admit to a certain fondness for the Odyssey because my family still has a vintage 1995 model with more than 250,000 on the odometer. It’s been driven across the country and back and currently resides in park-by-touch San Francisco, where it has only been broken into twice. And stolen once.

Although I might be sentimental about certain Honda vehicles, the company certainly isn’t. And this is a good thing. If you want to evaluate the strength of any company, look at the way it handles new products. That it even has the resources and foresight to innovate and seek white space in crowded markets is a fundamental indicator of success—even if the products are not exactly what the market wants.

I was on the launch of the second-generation Insight, Honda’s proposed Prius-beater. I spent a lot of time with the 2010 Honda Crosstour we had in our long-term fleet, and I looked forward to the arrival of the CR-Z hybrid sports coupe. That all three of those vehicles are no longer with us might appear as failure to some, but I see it as a sign of strength. Real progress is not just about taking risks. It’s also about admitting mistakes, learning from them, and quickly moving on. This isn’t new, but the speed of the tech-driven world we live in only highlights the mantra: launch, innovate, iterate, or abandon.

A couple of Honda’s latest launches provide some real cause for excitement. I recently spent time in the wraparound racing seat embrace of the Civic Type R, and cheese-n-biscuits, what a performance car! Don’t let all the wings, fins, NACA ducts, and vents fool you. I also sneered a bit when I first saw it—as my too-fast, too-furious years before Motor Trend were spent chasing many a Type R, real and imagined. But this one is the real deal. I won’t go into detail here, but expect to see it at Best Driver’s Car 2018.

The Urban EV concept from the 2017 International Motor Show in Frankfurt is another visually arresting Honda that I’d love to see make it not just to production but also here to our shores to rival the Tesla Model 3. Traditional car manufacturers such as Chevrolet and Nissan have challenged Tesla in performance, technology, and value, but we’ve yet to see a rival with gotta-have-it style. Honda’s cute electric runabout could be it, and we already have a name for it, thanks to the influential Mr. Lieberman: “All Honda has to do is A) build it B) call it ‘EVCC,’ and C) start printing cash.”

It appears Honda’s credo is, “If you build it, they will come. And if they don’t—well, take notes and move forward.”

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