For the Honda motorcycles branded "Ascot", see Honda Ascot (motorcycle).
The Honda Ascot was a intermediate saloon car (mid-size sedan) manufactured by Honda and marketed in Japan only from 1989 to 1997. There were two generations of the car, based on the contemporary Honda Accord and Honda Inspire, respectively. Additionally, from 1993 to 1996 a "pillared hardtop" model based on the Accord was marketed in Japan as Honda Ascot Innova, being equivalent to the Swindon-made European-market Accord at that time.
The "Ascot" name was chosen with reference to the Ascot Racecourse and Ascot tie, in order to add the model an alleged air of class and elegance.
The first Honda Ascot was borne out Honda's strategy to diversify its sales channels in Japan. In 1985, two separate dealer networks were established, under the names of "Honda Clio" and "Honda Primo", in addition to the already existing "Honda Verno" network. While the Primo stores handled kei cars, as well as base Honda Civics, the Clio stores focused on larger models, including the top-of-the-line Honda Legend. With the arrival of the fourth-generation Honda Accord (CB), its sales were assigned solely to Honda Clio.
That meant, however, that the Honda Primo network needed a new intermediate-size car. Honda adopted a rather simple solution (quite common in such cases in the JDM market) of creating a "sister car" to Accord, the Honda Ascot. Technically, the Ascot was identical to the Accord saloon, and so was most of the body, but some cosmetic differences provided for a different look, befitting the Ascot's upmarket role as the top-of-the-line model of Honda Primo. The Ascot had a six-light greenhouse compared to the regular Accord's four-light layout, and featured a different front end with a more formal grille, as well as a revised rear end with a unified light belt.
The Ascot was launched on September 13, 1989, and the television commercials initially featured the "Take the A-Train" jazz standard. Later on, Honda decided to change the marketing image of the car, employing Eric Clapton to do the commercials. In August 1991, a rehashed Ascot was presented, allegedly "refined to better suit the Japanese taste". In March 1992, Honda presented an all-new Honda Ascot Innova (see below), while the regular Ascot was replaced by an all-new model in 1993.
Launched on March 5, 1992, the Ascot Innova was also based on the CB Accord underpinnings, but was given an all-new, modern-looking and rounded body, with styling similar to the 1991 Honda Prelude coupe. The Innova was fitted with frameless side glazing to provide for the "pillared hardtop" look, thus being Honda's answer to cars like the Toyota Carina ED/Toyota Carina EXiV and Mitsubishi Emeraude.
The Innova retained the original Ascot's six-light greenhouse layout and horizontal taillights, as well as long, sleek and low body proportions (as opposed to the second-generation Ascot's upright stance and more Accord CF-like rear end). As such, it was somewhat similar to the Ẽfini MS-6, which, like the Ascot Innova, was marketed in Europe under a less exclusive nameplate, becoming the regular Mazda 626 hatchback.
The Ascot Innova was available in two four-cylinder engine choices: the 2.0-litre F20A unit, producing 135PS in the less expensive 2.0iC and 2.0i versions, and 150 in the 2.0Si trim, and the H-series 2.3-litre H23A engine fitted in the export versions of the Prelude, producing 165HP (the 2.3-litre versions were designated 2.3Si-Z). Interestingly, while the 2.0-litre versions maintained the 1695mm width which allowed them to remain in the favorable tax class, the 2.3-litre Innovas were 1710mm wide, as the engine displacement didn't allow them to remain in the lower tax band anyway.
A 4-wheel steering system like the one in the Prelude was made available for the 2.0i, 2.0Si and 2.3Si-Z versions. Apart from the cheapest 2.0iC version, which came with a 5-speed manual transmission, all Ascot Innovas came with a 4-speed automatic. The Ascot Innova range started at ¥1,558,000 for the 2.0iC in the Tokyo sales area, while the most expensive 2.3Si-Z fetched ¥2,992,000 in Sapporo area, not including extra charges for options such as 4-wheel steering, sunroof, passenger airbag or ABS. The television advertising campaign was built around the slogan "Hardtop Innovation" and featured the American actress Geena Davis.
The Innova itself remained a JDM-only model, and a Honda Primo exclusive, with no JDM sister cars, but it spawned a very closely related European derivative, which was made in Swindon, UK and marketed in Europe as Honda Accord saloon in lieu of the Accord sedans sold in most other markets. The European Accord and the Ascot Innova differ only slightly, with the Accord being wider and featuring framed windows.
The European Accord was in turn the base for the Rover 600 saloon, developed under Honda's long-standing relationship with the British Rover Group. The Rover 600 and the Swindon Accord also shared two engine options not available for the Ascot Innova - Honda's F18A 1.8-litre unit and Rover's 2.0-litre L-series turbodiesel. The Ascot Innova remained in production until 1996, while the European Accord saloon continued until 1998, when it was replaced with an all-new model.
The next-generation (CD) Accord grew in size considerably, mostly to satisfy the American market requirements, and thus became too big to fit within the favorable Japanese tax class (taxation on cars in Japan depends, among other factors, on outside dimensions). Therefore, Honda needed a slightly smaller intermediate car to cater for the JDM market, and this duty was assigned to the new Honda Ascot.
Rather than being directly based on the Accord, the new Ascot was given its own platform, with the codenames CE4/5, derived from the larger Honda Inspire and its sister car, Vigor. Like the Inspire, Vigor and the even larger Honda Legend, the CE Ascot had its engines mounted longitudinally, contrary to the Accord and most other FWD cars, employing the transverse setup.
The new Ascot had a rather formal upright appearance, being shorter but taller than both the CD Accord, Ascot Innova and the Inspire, thus continuing the first Ascot's role as a premium formal sedan. It was fitted with the 5-cylinder inline Honda G engine, also employed by the Inspire and Vigor, in two displacement versions - 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre, with the gearbox slotted underneath it. The Ascot also spawned a sister car, the Honda Rafaga, to be sold in the Honda Verno stores, which differed from the Ascot only by different external trim details. Both models were replaced by the Accord-based Honda Torneo in 1997.