When the Big H Got Funky: 5 Obscure but Cool Hondas from the '90s
When people talk about the “golden years” of Honda and Acura, they are typically referring to the period from the late ‘80s through late ‘90s during during which the brand established a reputation for building great handling, affordable and reliable cars that punched far above their weight.
The Civic, Integra, Prelude and NSX are some the widely popular models that helped put Honda and Acura in the map here in the U.S., and in the home market of Japan there were other cars like the mid-engined Honda Beat that also became enthusiast favorites.
But in addition to those, there were other lesser known cars that Honda sold in the Japanese market that haven’t been totally forgotten, but are usually overlooked when you glance back at Honda’s so-called golden era. With that in mind we gathered up five of the most interesting and unusual vehicles from this period that give us a unique perspective on Honda’s modern history. Let’s have a look.
1. Honda Orthia
Despite its funky-sounding name, the Honda Orthia is a car that should look familiar to most people. That’s because it’s essentially a sixth generation Honda Civic station wagon that never made it to the North American market.
While there was sadly never a an Orthia Type R with a screaming VTEC motor under the hood, the car was available with a double overhead cam B20 engine and a five-speed manual transmission.
It was even available with an all-wheel-drive system and an SUV-inspired exterior treatment that makes it look more like something out of Subaru’s lineup than anything else. Given the popularity of crossover-style wagons today, you could even say it was ahead of its time.
2. Honda HR-V
Speaking of models ahead of their time, the, HR-V is a Honda nameplate we are familiar with thanks to the popular subcompact SUV that’s been on sale in America since 2016, but the current model isn’t the first Honda to use the name.
It was back in 1999 when Honda launched the original HR-V for the Japanese and European markets. Aimed towards younger car buyers, the first gen HR-V featured distinct, upright styling and was available with both FWD and AWD drivetrains.
Coolest of all, it could be had in both three-door and five-door bodystyles, and once again it’s an example of a vehicle that was likely ahead of its time when you consider the way small “active” crossovers have come to dominate today’s automotive market.
3. Honda S-MX
There was a time when many Japanese market vehicles were known for their small footprints, fashionably boxy profiles and spacious lounge-like interiors. The Honda S-MX is very much a symbol of that period.
Based on a shortened minivan platform, the S-MX debuted in 1996 and features a rear door only on the passenger side, which helps give the van/hatchback mix a particularly unique look. It came powered by a non-VTEC B-series engine and was also available with AWD.
Naturally, its interior was extremely spacious for its size, and the ability to make all of the seats fold flat into what’s basically a giant bed allowed it to become a great vehicle for camping or other “activities."
4. Honda Ascot Innova
Is that an Accord? Nope. Maybe it’s a Prelude? Nope. It’s basically a combination of both with bit of Rover 600 thrown in for good measure, as Honda had partnership with the British automaker at the time. It was called the Honda Ascot Innova and was introduced in 1992.
Along with its styling, the Ascot Innova also borrowed other bits from the Prelude including an optional 2.3L H23 engine that made 165hp and four-wheel steering system.
Despite its handsome “hardtop,” Ascot Innova was never sold in large numbers, and a nice example is an even rarer sight today. If you’ve always dreamed of having a four-door Prelude though, this is the car for you.
5. Honda Ascot Five-Cylinder
The Ascot was also available in a more traditional four-door sedan body style, and the second generation Ascot sedan was an especially interesting machine.
Despite being a compact Honda sedan, the car has proportions of a rear-drive machine with a long hood and a shorter rear deck. Sadly it’s still front-wheel drive though, but it’s powered by longitudinally mounted five cylinder engine like the one in the Acura Vigor.
So while it may not be enthusiast material in the traditional sense, the Ascot’s unique engine and drivetrain layout and unusual styling make it another great example of an interesting car from a very exciting period of Honda’s history.