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The forgotten V8 - Remember when Honda had a Land Cruiser rival?

2020-04-17 04:30

Lance Branquinho

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Honda Crossroad. Image: Honda Press

The 1990s were a great time for the Japanese automotive business. As Germany struggled with the industrial realities of reunification and American designers kept building poorly engineered vehicles, Japanese car brands dominated many segments. Amongst the strongest of these was Honda.

In the mid-1990s Honda had a treasure of desirable cars: NSX, Prelude and the V-Tec engine technology which would make many of its Civics so legendary. 

The one thing that Honda didn’t have was a large SUV with low-range. Mindful that developing such a vehicle would be costly, and aware that its engineers had no experience with building oversized off-road vehicles, Honda did something unusual: the Crossroad. At this time of unparalleled strength for the Japanese auto industry, things were falling apart in the UK - especially at Land Rover.

Honda had cash reserves that Land Rover was desperately in need of. The Japanese company made an offer for the world's most iconic off-road vehicle brand, and it was accepted, which in 1993 birthed the Crossroad, Honda's forgotten Land Cruiser rival. 

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Honda Crossroad. Image: Honda Press

Honda-Rover… Strange, but true

In truth the Crossroad was very little Honda, but for its badging. This was a first-generation Land Rover Discovery with all the issues that would entail in terms of reliability. What Honda managed to deliver with the Crossroad, was a three- and five-door off-road capable SUV, with some clever design details (when they worked) and a V8 petrol engine.

And that engine is what made the Crossroad so novel, as it remains the only production vehicle with a Honda badge and V8 engine. 

Powering the Crossroad was Land Rover's amazingly inefficient 3.9-litre V8, which only made 136kW and very rarely averaged below 13-litres/100km. More than two decades later, Honda's strategy with the Crossroad remains challenging to understand. In the early 1990s, Honda had a reputation for building some of the world’s best engines.

It had just finished a tremendously successful engine partnership with McLaren, winning multiple F1 titles. Its products had an incredible reputation for build quality, especially vehicle such as the Legend luxury car. 

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Honda Crossroad. Image: Honda Press

Was Honda too early into luxury SUVs?

One imagines that Honda had some cash in reserve and its marketing futurists could see the potential of premium SUVs. When the Crossroad launched, there was no Mercedes-Benz ML or BMW X5. A mark of Honda's foresight is that by the time its unhappy relationship with Land Rover terminated, Mercedes-Benz had launched its ML.

A year later, BMW would start production of X5. Honda definitely had the right idea, but its execution was bizarre. Honda eventually discontinued its original Crossroad when the Series 2 Discovery arrived in 1998, ending one of the most peculiar product agreements in history. 

In a world gone mad, let us take comfort from recounting a time when things were even madder: and Honda had a V8 SUV, with Land Rover build quality.

The original Crossroad remains an answer to that ultimate car enthusiast quiz question: "name the only ever V8 Honda, which had a differential lock and low-range…"

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Honda Crossroad. Image: Honda Press
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Read more on:    toyota  |  land rover  |  honda  |  lance branquinho  |  suv  |  v8  |  land cruiser

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