The Honda Life is a name that is being used on various kei cars produced by Honda: passenger cars, microvans, and kei trucks. The first series of the nameplate was built between 1971 and 1974, with the name being revived in 1997. The Honda Life has rarely been marketed outside of Japan.
First generation (1971-1974)
The original Life range was offered as a two-door or four-door sedan and in a three-door wagon model (also sold as a van, intended for commercial use), replacing the Honda NIII360. Compared with the previous Honda minicar series, passenger comfort was improved to make this a better family car - indeed, Honda's target was to make a kei which was as habitable as a period 1-liter car. The wheelbase, at 2,080 mm (82 in), was eight cm longer than that of the predecessor. The entire Life range had a water-cooled Honda EA 356 cc engine, usually producing 30 PS (30 hp) at 8,000 rpm. which began as the air-cooled engine borrowed from the Honda CB450 motorcycle. Top speed of a sedan is 105 km/h (65 mph). The sprint to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) came up in 34.9 seconds in a period test. In September 1972, the tall and curiously shaped "Life Step Van" was introduced, with either three or five doors. A pickup version of this was later added to the lineup, but had minimal impact on the market.
The engine was also installed with a balance shaft to reduce vibration. The engine was called "refined" in period tests, and was considered to be as quiet and smooth as some four-cylinder engines. The change to a water-cooled engine also eliminated the smell in the heating system commonly associated with air-cooled engines that drew the heated air into the passenger compartment. Another improvement was that the gearbox was separate from the engine, unlike in the N-series where the gearbox was in the sump (as for the original Mini). Production of the Life coincided with the larger Honda Civic with both vehicles having introduced a timing belt (rather than chain) for the operation of the overhead cam.
This version of the Life was exported to a few markets such as Australia, where the four-door version (same specs as in the Japanese version) entered the market in the middle of 1972. The two-door N360/600 continued on sale alongside. The Life was only produced for four years, as the Civic proved to be much more popular both in Japan and internationally, and when the decision was made to cancel the Life, it ended Honda's production of a passenger kei car until 1985, with the introduction of the Honda Today. At the time, the Life was ¥350,000, and the Civic was ¥400,000. The Civic also had an advantage of size, making the car safer in a collision.
- 1971, June 1
The Life emerged as the successor to the Honda NIII360. It was fitted with a series of newly designed two-cylinder 356 cc SOHC, liquid-cooled four-stroke engines equipped with a balancer shaft. For strictly urban use, a lower-revving engine with a lower compression (8.0:1, as opposed to 8.8:1 for the higher powered version) was installed in the "Life Town". For this version, which was a no-cost option across the range, the engine output was dropped to a lowly 21 PS (15 kW) at 6,500 rpm - as opposed to 8,000 rpm for the high-compression unit. It also received a three-speed transmission, meaning that top speed was limited to 90 km/h (56 mph).
- 1971, July 20
An all-new, three-speed, fully automatic transmission was made available. Unlike the manual, the automatic's shifter was column-mounted.
Honda Life two-cylinder EA enginewith twin Keihin carburetors
- 1971, September 6
A three-door commercial-use "Van" was added, with unique bodywork from the B-pillars back. Slightly taller than its sedan counterparts, like them the Life Van was also available with the full automatic transmission.
- 1971 October 25
A private-use version of the Life Van (called "Wagon", chassis code WA) was added, priced mid-way between the two- and four-door sedans. This could also be equipped with the three-speed automatic. The Van can be told from a wagon by its tattletale luggage rails visible through the rear windows.
- 1972, May 1
A sporty engine with twin constant velocity carburettors was added, for the new "Touring" range. The all two-door lineup consisted of the SS, SL, and the GS on top. Power was up to 36 PS (26 kW) at 9,000 rpm, and the top-of-the-line GS received a dogleg five-speed gearbox to take full advantage of the peakier engine. The Touring GS could reach a top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph).On June 15 of the same year, the Life received a minor facelift with redesigned grilles, and in September four-door versions of the Touring range appeared. Production of the lower-powered "Town" engine also came to an end during 1972.
- 1972, September 20
The Life Step Van was launched, the packaging of which embodies the tall wagon style so popular for current keis.
- 1973, August 21
The Life Pickup was released. At the same time, the sedan lineup underwent a minor facelift (another new grille) and the lineup was reshuffled. The automatic option was now only available on one two-door and one four-door model.
- 1974, October
In the face of an ever-contracting Kei class combined with ever more stringent emissions standards, manufacture of the Life series, along with the Z360/600, came to an end. This ended Honda kei passenger car participation, until the 1985 arrival of the Today.
Life Step Van
This Step Van type variant, which shares the VA chassis code with the low-bodied Life Van, also uses the same 30 PS (22 kW) 356 cc, two-cylinder water-cooled engine as does the rest of the range. At the time of introduction, its appearance was considered a novel approach, but it had some benefits in that the engine was installed up front and with front wheel drive. The Step Van, while its loading space was shorter, it could offer certain interior space advantages such as a very low and flat floor that competing, rear-wheel drive vehicles couldn't provide at the time. It drew many influences from the DKW Schnellaster produced in Europe. Its appearance, while unique and not appreciated when new, is now the standard approach for current kei products from Japanese manufacturers. The rear gate was of a clamshell style, divided horizontally. The 605 kg (1,334 lb) Step Van, like the regular Life Van, could carry 300 kg (661 lb) with two occupants, down to 200 kg (441 lb) with the full complement of two more passengers.
The van was first sold on 20 September 1972 with production ending in 1974, at an introductory price of ¥376,000 for the standard Step Van and ¥403,000 for the Super DX version. The Step Van series was only ever available with a four-speed manual transmission. The price of the Standard model had crept up to ¥388,000 by the time of the introduction of the pickup version. A total of 17,165 vehicles were produced, for a total of less than half the projected 2,000 units per month. It also can be found in the Gran Turismo 4 and Gran Turismo 5 videogames, as the Honda Life StepVan.
- Life pick-up
Introduced on 21 August 1973, this version of the Life was designed as a pickup truck. The pick-up received the PA chassis code. In spite of weighing only 550 kg (1,213 lb), the Life Pickup could carry a 350 kg (772 lb) payload. Production ended in 1974, with no more than 1,132 vehicles produced, as the Honda TN7 cab over truck with its considerably longer bed proved to be more popular.