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The Honda V6 Engine Guide

The detailed evolution of Honda V6 engines...

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Guide to Honda V6 engines
  • Mechanical specs
  • Power and torque figures
  • Driveline configurations
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Honda V6 engines are some of the sweetest on the planet and, with VTEC technology, they are also amongst the most powerful. In this article, we take a look at the range of Honda C-series and J-series V6 engines - including the NSX screamer and a turbocharged V6 you probably didn’t know about...

Early Honda V6s

Interestingly, the first Honda developed V6 appeared in the mid 1980s – a long time after Honda's popular four-cylinders.

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Keen to move into the luxury market, Honda introduced an all-new large saloon – the Legend – in 1985. The Legend initially came powered by a 2-litre C20A engine with a 9.2:1 compression ratio, SOHC four-valve-per-cylinder heads and multi-point injection (PGM-FI). Output is around 108kW/178Nm. This engine is transversely installed into the Legend and most come fitted to a four-speed auto but a five-speed manual version can also be found.

In 1987, the bore and stroke dimensions of the C-series 90-degree V6 were upsized to 84 and 75mm respectively to create the 2.5-litre C25A. The same engine architecture is retained and output is upped to around 123kW.

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Following this, the bore was enlarged further to 87mm, creating the 2.7-litre C27A. A mild 9:1 compression ratio enables this engine to run on normal unleaded fuel and breathing is through SOHC four-valve-per-cylinder heads. In Japanese guise, the C27A produces 132kW at 6000 rpm and 226Nm at 4500 rpm. In Australian-delivered Legends you’re looking at 4kW less. As far as we’re aware, the engine is available auto-only.

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Later, in 1988, a turbocharged version of the C20A appeared in the Japanese market Legend. This engine has its static compression ratio reduced slightly to 9:1 and, without an intercooler, it puts out 140kW at 6000 rpm and 241Nm at 3500 rpm. It’s not a powerhouse but it does offer a substantial increase in torque. This is one of the most overlooked Honda performance engines.

In 1990, Honda upped the ante with a whole lot more cubes.

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With the release of the new generation Legend saloon, a bigger and more sophisticated engine was required. Using similar design to earlier engines, the newly created C32A engine runs bigger bore and stroke dimensions (90 and 84mm respectively) to displace 3206cc. The compression ratio is also raised to 10:1 which necessitates the use of premium unleaded for maximum performance. The heads remain a SOHC design but with four valve breathing.

The Japanese spec C32A puts out a healthy 158kW at 5500 rpm along with a substantial 299Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. Output is 13kW less In Australian delivered Legends (which we believe can run on normal unleaded). Interestingly, this engine is longitudinally mounted in the Legend but the standard four-speed auto channels drive to the front wheels. The same engine was also used in the 1995 Inspire and Saber saloons (which are rated at 154kW at 5300 rpm).

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But the biggest news around this time was the late ’90 Honda NSX and its screaming VTEC V6. The Japanese supercar is powered by a 3-litre C30A V6 which runs a 10.2:1 compression ratio. The big difference is the use of DOHC heads with VTEC dual-stage valve lift. The Honda VTEC system enables the V6 to hold torque to stratospheric revs and the result is power. Quite a bit more power... there’s a genuine 206kW at 7300 rpm and 294Nm at 5400 rpm. Of course, premium unleaded is the C30A’s fuel of choice.

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Unlike its bigger cube stablemate, the C30A is transversely mid-mounted in the NSX. A five speed manual delivers grunt to the back wheels. An optional four-speed auto was also offered but its engine is rated at slightly less power. A Type R version of the NSX was also released in 1992 but it doesn’t offer any more power.

Late Honda V6s

In 1997, a new Honda V6 emerged – the J-series. The J-series uses 60-degree opposed cylinders, is designed for transverse mounting and use SOHC VTEC variable valve timing heads.

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The 3-litre J30A engine uses an 86mm square bore and stroke and 9.4:1 compression ratio combine with a SOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder heads with VTEC and multi-point injection. Fitted to the top-line Accord V6 (as delivered to Australia), the early J30A punches out 147kW at 5500 rpm and 265Nm at 4700 rpm. The J30A is bolted to a four-speed transverse trannie only. The same engine was also fitted to up-spec versions of the Odyssey people mover available in certain counties.

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In 2000, the Odyssey’s J30A received a higher compression ratio (10:1) and other small revisions to help boost output. It worked with 154kW at 5800 rpm and 270Nm at 5000 rpm while running on normal unleaded fuel (the same output is quoted for Japanese and Australian delivered versions). A five-speed auto transmission was also adopted to make the most of the newfound grunt. An AWD version was also introduced in Japan before the 2004 release of the current generation Odyssey which is four-cylinder only.

At around the same time, the Japanese market Honda Avancier wagon was made available with the same spec engine generating 158kW/272Nm. Again, front and four-wheel-drive versions were manufactured, with production ceasing in around 2004.

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During ’03, Honda released an all-new Inspire (aka Accord in Australia and other counties) with a revised J30A i-VTEC engine. The new engine uses a 10:1 compression ratio, bigger valves, a knock sensor, electronic throttle control and VTEC variable valve timing and lift. In Japanese models, the updated i-VTEC J30A belts out 184kW at 6000 rpm and 296Nm at 5000 rpm. Australian spec versions make 177kW at 6250 rpm and 287Nm at 5000 rpm using normal unleaded fuel. Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system (aka cylinder deactivation) is employed on some versions and hybrid version can be found in some markets.

Of course, the J-series V6 was released in various capacities other than 3-litre.

In late 1998, a short stroke version of the J-series was introduced - the 2.5-litre J25A. This engine employs a 10.5:1 compression ratio, SOHC VTEC heads and runs best on a diet of premium unleaded fuel. Output is 147kW at 6200 rpm and 240Nm at 4600 rpm. The front-wheel-drive four-speed auto transaxle is fitted to the Inspire and Saber. The engine is longitudinally mounted and it appears that it was discontinued in 2003.

Also in 1998, a larger version of the new J-series V6 was introduced. With a slightly larger bore, the J32A engine displaces 3210cc for a valuable torque increase. The J32A also uses a 9.8:1 compression ratio (suited to premium unleaded) and a VTEC equipped SOHC four-valve-per-cylinder heads. Output is 165kW at 5500 rpm and 294Nm at 4500 rpm. A four-speed auto and front-wheel-drive configuration is employed. This engine is fitted to top-of-the-range versions of the Japanese Inspire and Saber sedans. In early ’01, the J32A’s compression ratio was elevated to 10.5:1 and power rose to 191kW and 314Nm at 6100 and 3500 rpm respectively. A five-speed automatic was also introduced with the engine update.

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Bigger still is the 3471cc V6 J35A as found in the 1999 Honda Lagreat van and, as far as we can determine, US-spec Odyssey and Pilot. With a larger bore than the J32A, but with a lower 9.4:1 compression ratio and without VTEC, its output suffers. Peak power is 151kW at 5200 rpm and there’s a strong 296Nm at 4300 rpm. A four-speed transaxle comes standard. In late ’01, a higher compression ratio was employed and output was increased to 176kW at 5500 rpm and a five-speed auto was fitted.

In Australia, the J35A appeared in the MDX 4x4 during 2003. Further updates to the engine give it an impressive 191kW and 345Nm – Japanese versions make an extra 4kW/3Nm. The Japanese market also receives the current generation Honda Legend which uses the ultimate version of the J35A tuned for 221kW at 6200 rpm and 353Nm at 5000 rpm. A five-speed auto trans and AWD can be found behind this top-notch engine.

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Interestingly, Honda’s flagship Legend saloon continued to use the ol’ C-series V6 until recently. In ’96, the stroke was increased to 91mm to achieve a swept capacity of 3.5-litres. This creates the C35A. Despite having a relatively low 9.6:1 compression ratio this engine performs best on premium unleaded and still runs SOHC heads. Curiously, power remains the same as earlier 3.2-litre models – 158kW (though now at 5200 rpm) – while torque increases to 312Nm at just 2800 rpm. Australian versions are rated at 147kW. The existing four-speed auto was continued until the J-series powered Legend appeared in Japan during ’04.

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The NSX also continued with C-series V6 power. In ‘97, engine capacity was raised from 3-litres to 3.2-litres using the C32 bottom-end. But it’s a completely different beast to the C32A used in the early ‘90s Legend. In NSX spec, the engine receives DOHC VTEC heads to create the C32B. On premium unleaded you’re talking a claimed 206kW (and a bit!) at 7300 rpm and 304Nm at 5300 rpm. A six-speed manual replaces the previous five-speed while the optional four-speed auto continues. Interestingly, the auto version of the NSX stays with the C20A engine rated at 195kW/294Nm.

Of course, a second-hand NSX engine will cost a large wad of cash at the import wreckers (if you can find one) but there are other Honda V6s which look great for conversions - we’ve heard of C-series and J-series V6s crammed into Honda Civics! In the early series, the Legend’s C32A engine is hard to go past (thanks to its number of cubes) and the turbocharged C20A would be great to get your hands on. The rest of ‘em? Well, all of the late-model Honda V6s are simply brilliant...

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