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The next Honda flagship will be a big V8. Plans for a powerhouse Legend in 2010 with an eight-pot engine and all-wheel drive are well advanced at HQ in Japan, but the driving force for the newcomer is actually in the US.
More US drivers are pushing for V8 engines, a shift Hyundai has also identified, and answered, with its Genesis sedan and coupe.
Now Honda is looking for more go in a move that could have implications for Australia . . . only if the maker decides to bring its second-string brand, Acura.
An Acura plan is being developed at Honda Australia's headquarters and it could easily include the V8-powered Acura RL that is now an open secret around the world.
“We understand that a V8 engine will be launched in the new flagship Acura model in America. That is the car called the RL,” Honda Australia managing director Yasuhide Mizuno says.
“We believe the V8 is being introduced to create a bigger differential between the RL and the Accord. Whether it comes to Australia depends on our strategy for introducing Acura."
“It won't be until the next decade, at the earliest, before we decide on whether we launch that brand. That depends on us reaching a number of other targets with the Honda brand,” he says.
Mizuno confirms the V8 will have the same eco-focused cylinder de-activation system already seen on the latest V6 Accord — which can run as a six, four or three-cylinder motor — but is giving away nothing else.
Honda gave the first hint on its V8 plan with the ugly Acura Advanced Sports Concept it displayed at the 2006 Los Angeles motor show.
There is no prize for guessing it was a design study for the coming RL, though Japanese artists believe Honda has listened to criticisms of the original design and made significant changes as it works towards production.
Honda of America has been listening carefully to the word on the street, as it wants the V8 RL to go up against BMW, Audi and Lexus.
One source says Honda plans to extract 315kW from the V8, but — thanks to the cylinder de-activation system — also believes it can generate class-leading fuel economy figures.
The other big change for the RL and Legend, which currently share a front-wheel-drive mechanical package, is the switch to on-demand rear-wheel drive with four-wheel steering.
Honda of America believes rear-drive is essential for the RL, but the company is developing a revised version of the SH-AWD system used now to provide rear-drive balance at all times with an on-demand power feed to the front wheels when rear traction is compromised.
So it's good news on the technology and design fronts, but there will be bad news on price. The RL is aimed at a $70,000 bottom line in the US and that would probably put it close to $100,000 in Australia.