In Episode 18 Chris and I might have angered a few Honda owners by suggesting that their beloved VTECs – Type Rs, no less – aren’t actually fast. Fearing that one of us might soon get doxxed by a furious EP3-owning IT professional I figured it was time to clarify our position. Don’t call it a backtrack though – they aren’t fast.
OK, so that last sentence probably didn’t appease the VTEC army, but listen: I don’t really “get” fast, at least in it’s modern incarnation, anyway. I like kei cars – you know, the ones with a government-mandated 63hp – and choke on my tea when I read forum posts claiming a 200hp GT86 is not fast enough to safely overtake other vehicles. I appreciate fast, and I’m lucky enough to have been in some very fast cars, but for me fast just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. That’s why this seemingly cruel proclamation comes from a loving place… honestly.
When VTEC burst onto the scene it’s fair to say it left a lot of “serious” machinery looking a bit old hat – your 150bhp hot saloon was now 50bhp and a couple of thousand rpm down on a comparable Type-R. It was truly
game-changing remarkable but it wasn’t long before the rest of the auto industry spooled up and the boost came on hard. Turbocharging became ubiquitous in both in petrol and (shudder) “sporty” diesel form and with it the one-dimensional slug o’ torque delivery so adored by the masses and so absent in VTEC-engined vehicles. That “torque uber alles” mentality might be softening a little these days but not so much that Honda could leave out the turbo on it’s latest FK Type R. (Have you VTEC nerds finished deleting all your past “TURBOCHARGING IS EVIL” forum posts yet?)
As VTEC’s prowess has waned so the insecurities of their drivers has come to the fore – when was the last time you saw a Type R being driven sedately, for example? Out on the open road they’re always keen for a race and eager to show you how fast they are(n’t); around town they (try to) prove their fast car credentials by screaming maniacally whilst turbos cheekily woosh and V8s simply rumble. It’s hard not to get exasperated by something that’s always trying so hard to prove itself.
So, we’ve successfully defined our hatred of the VTEC, right? Thing is, I really like them.
BAIT AND SWITCH JUST KICKED IN, YO!
You see, VTECs aren’t fast but they’re far from obsolete – they’re raucous, involving, theatrical, at times maddening and most of all fun… the kind of traits that pull me in when it comes to cars. Yes, including the simple fact that it’s Japanese. I know, I’m pathetic.
In the podcast I posited that they were the automotive equivalent of the samurai sword and, at the risk of offending an entire culture, I’m sticking to that claim. For the samurai their sword was more than just a tool – it was (and remains) a highly refined piece of technology and a spiritual object deserving of worship. Whilst I’m not necessarily going to claim that VTEC should be worshipped (though Best Motoring’s VTEC Club might prove that it already is) my argument is that it should also be seen as more than just a tool of speed. Honda didn’t back the wrong horse by focusing on natural aspiration over forced induction because it wasn’t just about fast – instead it was about fusing incredible craftsmanship with the kind of spirit and personality sorely missing from the majority of cars today. Those vehicles lucky enough to receive VTEC propulsion (Type Rs in the main, but let’s not forget the hot “grocery getters” sporting VT, SiR or Si VTEC badges) might be slower than your average BMW 330D but by ‘eck are they alive in comparison. Ignore the racing, the showboating – in fact just ignore what everyone else is doing – and focus on the car. Do that and you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse at the real spirit found inside these amazing machines.
P.S. Don’t dox me bro!