Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1

Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1

10 August 2021
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Although mankind has been talking about fuel economy, ecology, and the preservation of forests in Equatorial Guinea for more than half a century, car companies were seriously concerned about this issue (or pretended to be concerned) only in the early nineties — with the introduction of Euro standards, limiting emissions of nitrogen oxides with carbon and the accompanying fuss. At the same time, Japanese companies, which continued to conquer the Western buyer, tried to act proactively. And they promoted energy efficiency topics long “before it became mainstream”.

The first commercially successful hybrids from Toyota and Honda appeared in the late 90s — they became the Prius and Insight models, respectively. Despite the unusual power plants for those years, the cars quietly integrated into the stream and became an integral part of it. The Japanese were lucky, you can’t say anything. Or is it still not about luck?

Japanese brands began probing the ground for cars with alternative power plants a long time ago. To some extent, these creative researches can also include Mazda rotary models, which were not only sports coupes, but also executive sedans, pickups, even buses! But the best way to understand the mood of the public was helped by concept cars. Including the Honda EP-X-the prototype, which will be discussed later.

Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1
Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1

The concept debuted at the 29th Tokyo Motor Show, which was held in early 1991 under the motto “Mastering new relationships: people, cars and the Earth are one”. As the organizers of the exhibition noted, in comparison with the 28th exhibition, which was held two years earlier, the number of cars running on alternative energy sources-that is, natural gas, hydrogen, electricity — has significantly increased, and the adjectives “light” and “compact” were most often featured in the brochures. And the Honda concept did not get out of this key.

The name EP-X stands for Efficient Personal-eXperimental-and this is not the first car of the company whose name ends with “experimental X”: in 1983, a “pocket rocket” CR-X appeared in the arsenal of the Japanese, and a year later, in 1984, Honda together with Pininfarina built a concept coupe HP-X, whose first two letters stand for Honda… and Pininfarina. But if the joint project with the Italians was quite abstract in its purpose (perhaps it was exclusively aesthetic), then the EP-X goal was absolutely clear — to demonstrate how an economical, eco-friendly and stylish city car of tomorrow can look like.

The main feature of the concept was the body, which many people had an ambiguous attitude to. If the EP-X was unconditionally beautiful from the rear, referring either to the Buick Riviera Boat-Tail or to the prototypes of the B. A. T. line from Alfa Romeo, then in front with its high-positioned headlights, the concept resembled a dropped fish thrown on dry land. Or a fairly swam cow with mirror horns. But you need to understand that in this case, the radical design of the front part is dictated not so much by the desire of Honda artists to be original, but by the intention to maximize the streamlining of the car. And, accordingly, its fuel efficiency.

The EP-X’s scanty weight (620 kilograms), as well as surprisingly small dimensions also contributed to the reduction in fuel consumption: length — 3.7 meters, width — 1.5 meters. The latter was achieved thanks to the “longitudinal” arrangement of seats in the cabin, in which the only passenger sits not next to the driver, but behind him almost like in a combat fighter!

Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1
Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1

Probably, it is the airplane landing scheme that dictates the “airplane lantern”, which replaces the traditional roof of the EP-X. However, the designers had other reasons to use a glass hood — it’s beautiful, aerodynamic, and practical: the driver can’t even dream of better visibility.

Despite the presence of an “airplane lantern”, access to the cabin is carried out through quite traditional doors that are available on both sides so that the driver and passenger can safely go out on the sidewalk… or simply do not crowd in one doorway. The rear part of the lamp can open sideways, like in old aircraft, opening access to the luggage compartment. In an emergency, this door could be used as an emergency exit.

Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1
Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1

The interior of the concept itself turned out to be quite simple — after all, it was not he who played the role of the main violin here. Among the striking features are a fully digital instrument panel based on an LCD matrix, a multimedia system screen similar to modern car tablets, as well as a pair of airbags that protected the driver and rear passenger, respectively.

But here’s the irony: if the few elements of the EP-X interior worked more or less properly (more precisely, they depicted activity, as on most concept cars), then the innovative power plant did not show signs of life. The prototype had it, but by the beginning of 1991, it was still at the stage of a crookedly working prototype. Therefore, it hung in the area of the front axle as a dead weight, and the car was pushed to the podium manually.

The power plant of the EP-X was the same that debuted eight years later on the Honda Insight-a three-cylinder inline VTEC-E engine with an electric motor on the crankshaft, direct injection, and a proprietary valve timing system. Its working volume was one liter, and its power was 70 horsepower, which is completely equivalent to the characteristics of the Insight engine. Given the modest weight, the specific power of the EP-X per ton of weight was 113 horsepower, which is comparable to hot hatchbacks of that time, as the same Honda CR-X.

Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1
Honda EP-X: a car that was 30 years ahead of its time. An eco-friendly prototype that is suitable for the fathers of the Volkswagen XL1

The suspension of the EP-X was also a match for the Honda hot hatch of that time — independent circuits on dual aluminum levers front and rear. But in terms of fuel consumption, the prototype was much ahead of its relatives — in a good sense of the word, of course: according to calculations, with such a power plant, such a mass, and such aerodynamics, the EP-X should have consumed less than 2.5 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers of travel. And, as Insight’s practical experience has shown, these calculations were not far from the truth.

After the Tokyo Motor Show, EP-X went to Europe for a viewing, where he appeared before the visitors of the Frankfurt Motor Show. This decision was facilitated not only by the original idea of the concept but also by its interior layout — there was no need to move the steering wheel from right to left. And the Europeans also liked the car.

Is it a coincidence, but 10 years later, at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen presented a car that was conceptually very similar to the EP-X: the landing scheme “tandem 1+1”, focused on the economy and environmental friendliness… The prototype was called simply — 1 Liter Car, thereby hinting at how much fuel it consumes per 100 kilometers. But over the years, the concept of the 1 Liter Car has changed, and it has turned into an aerodynamic “something” named XL1, in which the seats are already located side by side. Canonical ” Coincidence? I don’t think” here is just asking for it.

Whether the EP-X has survived to the present day is not known for sure. But his contribution, as you can see, was quite significant.

10 August 2021
458
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