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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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