Anyone who knows Honda knows the legendary “Type R” badge.
From the original Civic Type R:
Through to the current variant, Honda’s Type R badge has denoted performance pedigree and prowess (read our article here on what Type R means if you are interested in exploring this further).
Even the mighty NSX – read our buyer’s guide here – got its own Type R version.
While the Type R badge is universally seen as the pinnacle of Honda’s technology, development, and manufacturing, there is an impressive array of great Hondas that get overlooked by many because they don’t wear that badge:
In this article we decided to put together a list of ten of the best Hondas that aren’t Type Rs.
We wanted to remind the motoring public that Honda’s lineup of legends goes far deeper than the Civic/Integra/NSX Type R.
“Best” is a subjective measure, but as Garage Dreams is a website that focuses primarily on classic performance cars, we have tried to look at Hondas that have solid performance characteristics (apart from a couple of exceptions, which we think are worthy of inclusion for other reasons – read on to find out more).
Because it would be too easy to “stack the deck” with the NSX (considering that there were two distinct generations and various special models that weren’t Type Rs, as per our NSX buyer’s guide) we have also chosen to exempt Honda’s supercar from the list.
NB: These cars are not listed in any particular order of speed/handling prowess. We just wanted to put together a list of exciting or interesting Honda cars that don’t carry the Type R badge.
Why Look For Non Type-R Honda?
Before we begin the list, we feel it’s important to tackle this question.
With so many great Type R Hondas out there, why would you bother looking at a non-Type R Honda?
There are a few key reasons:
- Price – Type R Hondas tend to be the most expensive Hondas you can buy. They cost the most new, and generally retain their value well (and prices have been climbing fast for good condition examples of “classics” like the DC2 Integra Type R). Whatever model you pick, you WILL pay a “Type R Premium”. If you want a fast, fun Honda that is more affordable and you are willing to compromise, then you can save substantial money.
- Insurance – The Type R badge is associated with speed (insurers hate this) and a greater likelihood of theft (insurers also hate this). Not only can you save on the purchase price with one of the “sleeper” Hondas in this list, but you may be able to save on insurance as well.
- Availability – With the classic car market going absolutely gangbusters at the moment, not only are prices rising fast for classic Type R Hondas, but availability is becoming an issue too. It is harder and harder to find good examples of these Japanese performance powerhouses. However, because non-Type R Hondas are considered less desirable by enthusiast and investor buyers, it can be easier to find a good example for a fair price.
While we are the first to admit that Type R Hondas will always be the most desirable, we also reckon that far too many people sleep on the superb range of Hondas that you can buy that offer speed, handling prowess, and excitement … without the badge and the associated costs.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the list.
10 Of The Best Hondas Ever – That DON’T Wear The Type R Badge
Honda CRX Del Sol
When you think “Honda” and also “two seat convertible” you automatically think S2000 (which is included in this list).
However, before the S2000 there was another great – and these days overlooked – two seat sports car, the CRX Del Sol.
While not strictly a convertible (the Del Sol is actually a targa top) the CRX is one of the best ways to enjoy the wind in your hair AND a great driving experience on a budget.
Various models and trim levels were available – with different engine options as well – but the most desirable Del Sol must surely be the “SiR” model (which was bizarrely enough called the Honda Civic del Sol SiR in some markets).
The Del Sol SiR came fitted with the legendary B16A DOHC VTEC engine, and there was even an optional LSD available to improve handling. This particular engine
While the Del Sol was only a “lowly” front engine, front-wheel drive car (sharing some similarities with the Civic of the same era) it was an interesting concept and superb to drive in SiR trim, with precise handling and the intoxicating thrill of a high-revving DOHC VTEC engine.
With almost 170hp, the Del Sol SiR was no slouch – capable of 0-60mph in 7 seconds which was vastly quicker than many of its contemporaries such as the Mazda Miata/MX-5.
Popular Japanese car show “Best MOTORing” declared the Del Sol SiR to be the most important Japanese sports car for a decade at the time of its launch, and it was one of the first naturally aspirated production cars to exceed 100bhp per liter.
Furthermore, the electronic targa roof (known as the “Transtop”) is the first of its kind. Just how cool is this?
The Del Sol SiR was even good enough for the legendary Jeremy Clarkson, who has raved about it in some of his books/written publications.
In many respects, the Del Sol SiR was a Type R in everything but name.
The biggest issues with the Del Sol?
Firstly, they are becoming hard to find as they seem to be one of those cars that has a tendency to fall into the wrong hands and not be sufficiently well maintained.
Secondly, while the mechanicals are fairly solid they were known to have issues with interior trim, electrics and particular problems with the Transtop roof leaking and breaking (unless you have a love for complex near-vintage electrical targa roofs, we recommend looking out for an SiR that came with the manually removable roof – these do exist as we have driven one before as a potential purchase).
Finally, the interior of these cars is just cheap and nasty, and lacking in many conceivable creature comforts and safety features. This is not a car for munching big amounts of motorway miles.
However, if you want a quirky, compact, fun-to-drive sports car that was a bit of a ground breaker in its time, then the Honda CRX Del Sol could be the right choice for you.
Honda Prelude Type S
The Honda CRX Del Sol isn’t the only “modern classic” Honda to get some love from the venerable Jeremy Clarkson.
The fifth generation Honda Prelude featured in Jeremy Clarkson’s Top 100 cars of all time, coming in at number 73 for being the best looking Japanese car ever.
We agree that the fifth generation Prelude is a looker, and it was a great driver as well (the fourth generation was also a stunner, and features in this article as well).
There were many different trim and engine options with the fifth generation prelude. However, we want to turn particular attention to the JDM “Type S” which was equipped with a 2.2l H22A DOCH VTEC engine, producing approximately 220bhp.
The Type S featured numerous engine, exhaust and suspension tweaks, as well as active control ABS and a more luxurious interior.
The Prelude Type S is a rare car and hard to find, so if you see a nice one for sale we definitely recommend considering it.
The great thing with the Prelude Type S is you get near-Type R performance at a much lower price point, and it is also a very subtle looking car that is less likely to attract attention from potential thieves and law enforcement.
As the Type S was as Japanese only variant, make sure you read our guide on what JDM means and also how to import a car from Japan as sourcing one of these may be a challenge.
No article on the best non-Type R Hondas could be complete without mentioning the S2000.
We will address the elephant in the room first, however.
Above we mentioned that one of the reasons to look for a Honda that isn’t a Type R is because you can save a lot of money this way (because classic Type R prices have been going gangbusters recently).
The Honda S2000 is an exception, as prices on these have been rising faster than the tachometer in this high-tech (for its time) sports car. For reference, you should also read our short article on how much the Honda S2000 cost new for more information.
However, it is undeniably one of the best, most beloved cars that Honda has ever produced, and as such deserves placement in this list.
The S2000 is popular and desirable for many reasons, particularly its high revving engine (which has one of the highest outputs per liter of any naturally aspirated engine in history) and excellent handling.
It even featured in one of the Fast & Furious movies, with Doug de Muro doing a video on the exact car:
If you haven’t had a chance yet, then make sure you check out our full Honda S2000 buyer’s guide and history.
The Honda Legend (sold in the United States as a series of Acura models, namely the Acura Legend, RL and RLX) is an executive sedan car – with coupe models available for a decade in the mid 80s-90s – that flies a little bit under the radar.
The Legend has been around in various guises since 1985, being the first car made by Honda to offer only a V6 engine as a choice.
We reckon the second generation Honda Legend, particularly the coupe model, looks like a fantastic “modern classic” and was the last Legend to come with a manual gearbox. How great does this car look (NB this is an Acura model)
However, it is the fourth generation Honda Legend that deserves specific mention and praise for being one of the greatest Hondas never to wear the Type R badge.
Launching in 2004, this updated legend immediately won Japan’s Car Of The Year.
The awards kept coming, including 2005 “Tech Car Of The Year” from Cnet.com and a Popular Science award for having one of the best automotive innovations of 2004:
The fourth gen Legend was equipped with what Honda called ‘Super Handling All Wheel Drive’ or SH:AWD for short; a sophisticated all-wheel drive and traction control system that enables the Legend to handle far better than a car of its type and weight normally could.
Contemporary reviews praised the excellent road holding and sure-footed feeling, regardless of weather conditions.
Another fun fact – this fourth generation Honda Legend was the first Japanese car to officially state a power output higher than the previous, industry-self-imposed 276hp limit (read our article here on why Japanese cars were limited to 276hp for more information on this particular topic). This power output came from the 3.5l V6 engine, with an official output of 296bhp. From 2008-20012, engine displacement increased to 3.7l and power bumped up to 305bhp.
While the Legend isn’t exactly the fastest executive car in the world, with 0-60mph times around 6.5-7 seconds depending on the test, that is still plenty fast enough for most and you’ll never struggle to keep up with traffic or complete passing maneuver.
If you fancy an executive car with excellent practicality, understated looks and lots of mid-noughties tech (this car was a true tech powerhouse when released) then you will love the Legend or the Acura equivalent.
Reliability is generally good from what we can gather, and owners typically report an enjoyable and trouble-free experience beyond routine maintenance.
Because the Legend is such an “under-the-radar” car, it’s possible to pick up great examples for low prices. For example, how good does this 2010 facelifted example look for around $7000 USD:
Honda Accord V6 Coupe
While we tend to associated Honda with its high-revving four cylinder VTEC engines, they have also made some excellent six cylinder engines.
The Honda Accord coupe was produced up until 2017, with Road And Track Magazine declaring the six-speed manual V6 Honda Accord Coupe to be the “last true American muscle car” (a slightly contentious statement, but their reasoning is interesting).
The ninth generation Accord was the last to feature a V6 and it is a true sleeper. While power output is officially 270hp, many owners claim that their cars push around 300hp from the factory – making this understated coupe a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Although it isn’t as desirable as some of the other Hondas on this list, it is an excellent option if you are after a “quiet achiever” sports coupe that comes with a naturally aspired engine and a manual gearbox. This is about as old school as modern cars can be.
Prelude SiR VTEC
The fourth generation Honda Prelude launched in 1991, and featured a raft of engine options.
While we don’t think that the fourth gen is quite as good looking as the fifth gen (at the very least it shows its age a lot more) it is still an attractive and interesting sports coupe.
Look out for the Prelude SiR VTEC (called the VTEC in the United States) which came with a nearly 200hp VTEC engine and electronic four wheel steering.
The SiR/VTEC Prelude has plenty of get up and go and sharp handling, and oozes early 1990s cool.
In particular, the dashboard still looks fantastic all these years later, with retro charm:
If you are after a “modern enough” Japanese classic car that can still be used as a daily driver, then this is a solid option although (like with all classic cars at the moment) prices are rising.
While the focus of this article has been on sporty Hondas, one of the most innovative and quirky cars they ever built (which has already attained cult status) is the Honda Insight.
This futuristically-designed two door car still ranks as one of the most economical petrol-engine cars ever tested by the US EPA, with a highway economy rating of 61 miles per US gallon, partly due to its innovative hybrid system and partly due to its incredibly low weight; as low as 1847lb/838kg for a manual variant with no AC.
The Insight was popular with pioneering hyper milers, some of whom managed to achieve as much as 121mpg – admittedly in a test that eliminated drag by having the Insight drive behind a large box.
The Insight was the first hybrid to be sold in North America, narrowly beating out the Toyota Prius.
It was even available with a five speed manual gearbox, although don’t go expecting much in the way of performance.
Despite hybrids sometimes getting a bad reputation for reliability due to battery failures, the first generation Insight has been relatively trouble-free, with under 500 battery failures reported out of over 100,000 cars sold.
If your idea of a potential future classic is more about technology and innovation than pure performance, the first generation insight could be a great buy … not to mention it will save you a fortune at the pump.
The Insight isn’t the only interesting hybrid from Honda.
In fact, Honda were pioneers in the development of the hybrid sports car, with the Honda CR-Z that was produced from 2010-2016.
This was a compact coupe that featured a 2 + 2 seating arrangement (in some markets it was a two seater only).
While the CR-Z isn’t the most powerful or best handling sports car in the world, we like it for a few key reasons.
Firstly, the CR-Z was a genuine attempt to develop a bona fide hybrid sports car that people who like driving might actually want to drive. While the Toyota Prius is almost certainly the most famous and successful hybrid – at least from this era – it is fair to say that it is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
We commend Honda for having the drive to try and make hybrid technology – which at the time was really just about fuel economy and C02 reductions – into something interesting and sporty. It was a genuinely innovative vehicle, and doesn’t really have any direct competitors.
Secondly, the CR-Z is actually meant to be rather good to drive. Contemporaneous reviews are largely positive, with Australia’s Car Advice praising the “superb steering, ride and handling” and “brilliant driveability” (source) and Evo magazine stating it was a “new high for small, green coupes”.
Finally, the CR-Z is available with a six speed manual. How can you say no?
Honda City Turbo
If a 1980s Honda Civic wasn’t small enough for you, then the Honda City was there to fill the void (or shrink it).
Aimed at the Japanese Domestic Market, this diminutive Honda was designed to make getting around on Japan’s increasingly crowded roading network easier.
The regular City itself is actually quite a cool car, albeit exceedingly underpowered (let’s just say you won’t be winning many traffic light drag races).
However, it is the Honda City Turbo that you really want.
The formula is simple; take a pint-sized, lightweight hatchback and strap a turbo to it. And what a winning formula that turned out to be.
With 100hp in the first generation, and 110hp in the City Turbo II it was possible to hit 60mph/100kph in about 8.5 seconds, which was impressive at the time and still not too shabby today.
The City Turbo also featured superior brakes and suspension to make the package more complete.
If you’re going to buy one of these tiny turbo Hondas, then we recommend looking out for a Turbo II that was definitely more aggressive looking and well-deserving of its nickname, “Bulldog”.
Don’t expect much in the way of creature comforts or safety features (a biscuit tin would probably be about as protective in a crash) but if you’re angling for some 1980s Japanese retro cool and don’t have a lot of space, there can’t be much out there more desirable than the Honda City Turbo.
Honda Fit/Jazz RS
While the Honda Jazz (or Fit as it is known in the Japanese Domestic Market) has never been the last word in excitement or performance, there is no denying that it is a hugely popular and well-regarded car.
The Jazz is beloved by owners for its frugal, reliable nature and almost comically practical interior space thanks to the “magic” seat system.
While many of the Jazz/Fit examples you see on the road are low spec models, usually with CVT gearboxes (and to be honest these aren’t at all bad to drive for what they are) there are some out there in “RS” specification.
In particular, look out for the third generation RS which features a more powerful 1.5l VTEC motor versus the lower output 1.3l on the ‘poverty pack’ models.
If the RS badge isn’t enough for you, it is even possible to get a Mugen Honda Fit/Jazz in some markets.
While the RS/Mugen variants don’t gain much in terms of performance (beyond having the superior 1.5l engine versus the standard 1.3l) they do look the part, and provide an excellent level of practicality, reliability and economy for the price point as well as genuinely impressive drivability and “fun factor”.
If you’re the kind of person who believes that cars have to have big power outputs to be fun, then the Fit/Jazz wont be for you. However, if you are looking for a “complete package” that will put a smile on your face when pushed but also carry the family in safety and comfort for a low cost, then this is one of the best Hondas on the market.
We hope you enjoyed this list of the best Hondas that don’t carry the Type R badge.
What Hondas have we missed off the list? Are there any other great Hondas you like that aren’t Type Rs? Whenever we do these list-based articles, we know that some great choices will inevitably be left out – if you think there’s a car that deserves to be on the list and we haven’t added it, then let us know by using the comment feature on this site.
We welcome any feedback/comments – just use the comment feature below.