Going faster is not going safer

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Honda seem to be looking through the telescope into the future with a different focus. Over the decades, the manufacturer has been building engines with very impressive performance using natural aspiration. The design team now seems to be recognizing it’s reaching the limits of the efficiency that can be achieved just using volume. This gives them a chance to make an informed decision. All the statistics collected over the decades from countries around the world tell the same story. Speed kills! The faster people are allowed to drive, the more likely it is they will lose control of the vehicle and get into an accident. Whenever countries have enforced a lower speed limit, e.g. to deal with a shortage in the supply of oil, the number of crashes has fallen. More importantly, the number of deaths has fallen. So it’s an interesting statement about future intent for Honda to launch three new powerplants with both variable cam timing (VTEC) and turbocharging.

The Honda Civic Type-R has been around for more than a decade in what we should call the enthusiast market. That’s the group of drivers who think they are safe enough to drive cars at moderately insane speeds on public roads. This came to an abrupt end in 2010 because the car, for all its performance efficiency, was finding difficulty in complying with the emissions legislation around the world. We now have a new model under testing at the Nürburgring. Now fitted with a direct-injection turbo, this 2.0-liter engine is set up to produce about 300 bhp — Honda is not being specific but claims the new hot hatch has been close to breaking the lap record for a front-wheel drive at the Nürburgring.

So here’s a manufacturer modifying the chassis of a conventional Civic because the existing frame is not strong enough to handle the extra power generated by this new generation of engine. There’s also talk of introducing a rear-wheel steering system. Those of you old enough may remember the 1987 Honda Prelude as an early experiment to prevent cars from shooting off the road when cornering too fast. The suspension is also being modified to make it safer.

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From a marketing point of view, this is about producing the world’s fastest hatchback at the most economical price (ignoring the cost of car insurance, of course). In competition terms, this means beating the Renaultsport Megane 265 Trophy which holds the Nürburgring lap record. But apart from appealing to a very limited number of buyers, Honda seems to be sending the wrong message to the wider community. At a time when we should all be focused on fuel efficiency, headlining with power output and improved delta-v on cornering is bad karma.

the news is not all bad. Honda has also announced 1.0-liter 3-cylinder and 1.5 liter 4-cylinder VTEC turbo engines to produce fuel efficiency and “environmental performance” (whatever that means). So the global market will see spin-off improvement as the technology migrates into the mass market. Interestingly, there are no plans to import the new model Type-R into America. This reflects the problem in car insurance for high-powered hot hatches. As it is, the annual premium rates are at deterrent highs for the under 25s. Even the secondhand market is struggling to sell these models because buyers are outfaced by the high rates for cover. Let’s hope they get driven off our American roads which have enough people going fast for comfort as it is.

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