Spotlight on …
The Honda Life (1971 – 2014)
The Honda Life was first built between 1971 and 1974, the name being revived again in 1997 when it replaced the Honda Today, it has rarely been marketed outside of Japan.
1st Generation (1971 – 1974)
The original Life range was offered as a 2-door or 4-door hatchback and also as a 3-door wagon or commercial van, replacing the 1970 – 1971 Honda NIII360. Passenger comfort was improved to make this a better family car, Honda’s target was to make a kei-car which was as habitable as a period 1-liter car.
[ The 4-door Hatchback (above) and the 3-door Van / Wagon ]
The wheelbase, at 2,080 mm (82 in), was 8cm longer than that of its predecessor. The entire ‘Life’ range had a water-cooled Honda EA 356 cc engine, normally 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 the sedan was 105 km/h, which 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 3 or 5 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 4-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. A timing belt rather than chain was introduced for the operation of the overhead cam.
[ The 2-door hatchback and the EA engine with twin Keihin carburetors ]
The Life was exported to a few markets such as Australia, where the 4-door version with the same spec as in the Japanese version, entered the market in the middle of 1972. The Life was only produced for 4 years and when the decision was made to end production, Honda’s manufacture of a passenger kei-car stopped until 1985. At the time, the Life was priced at ¥350,000.
1971, June 1st: The Life emerged as the successor to the Honda NIII360. It was fitted with a series of newly designed 2-cylinder 356 cc SOHC, liquid-cooled 4-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 3-speed transmission, meaning that top speed was limited to 90 km/h.
1971 July 20th: An all-new, 3-speed, fully automatic transmission was made available. Unlike the manual, the automatic’s shifter was column-mounted.
1971 September 6th: A 3-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 25th: A private-use version of the Life Van, called “Wagon“, chassis code WA was added, priced midway between the 2 and 4-door sedans. This could also be equipped with the 3-speed automatic. The Van can be told from a wagon by its luggage rails visible through the rear windows.
1972 May 1st: A sporty engine with twin constant velocity carburettors was added, for the new “Touring” range. The all 2-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 5-speed gearbox to take full advantage of the peakier engine. The Touring GS could reach a top speed of 120 km/h. On June 15th of the same year, the Life received a minor facelift with redesigned grilles, and in September 4-door versions of the Touring range appeared. Production of the lower-powered “Town” engine also came to an end during 1972.
1972 September 20th: The Life Step Van was launched, the packaging of which embodies the tall wagon style so popular for current kei-cars.
1973 August 21st: The Life Pickup was released. At the same time, the sedan lineup underwent a minor facelift with another new grille and the lineup was reshuffled. The automatic option was now only available on one 2-door and one 4-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.
[ The Life Step Van ]
The 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, 2-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.
Step Van: The Schnellaster:
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 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 20th 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 4-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 in 1973. A total of 17,165 vehicles were produced, for a total of less than half the projected 2,000 units per month.
Life Pickup Truck
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.
2nd Generation (1997-1998)
In 1997, the Life name was resurrected for a new line of small, front wheel drive 5-door MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle) style cars, which required a redesign for 1998 because of new Japanese tax regulations. The Life used the 3-cylinder Honda E07A engine and was introduced in response to the popularity of the “tall wagon” segment of kei-cars popular at the time. It was built at the Yachiyo Plant at Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture, Japan.
The Life 2nd Generation Series JA4:
The Life was introduced as a revision of the 1970’s StepVan appearance, sharing the 2nd generation Honda Today basic components. The powertrain, chassis, interior and dimensions were almost identical to the Honda Today. It was an interim model that reflected changes in the law regulating kei-cars, and due to subsequent changes in the law again, this version was only built for about one and a half years. It used the Honda E07A, 660 cc SOHC 3-cylinder, 4-valves per cylinder engine, with Honda’s PGM-FI as standard equipment. Transmission was either 5-speed manual transmission, or a 3-speed automatic. It was also included with a driver’s side “SRS” airbag, heat absorption ultraviolet radiation glass, antibacterial steering wheel, and an optional antilock braking system. The three grades available were, B, G and T. The use of one windshield wiper for the front windshield was carried over from the Honda Today.
[ Chronology ]
1997 April 18th: Revived the name “Life”. 1997 December 15th: The bargain B grade based, AM/FM tuner with cassette deck; keyless entry; driver’s seat side armrest; body coloured door mirrors; bumper; door handles; special seat upholstery; and later announced special pricing to make equipment such as seat headrests; vanity mirror; intermittent front/rear wiper and wheel caps more affordable. 1998 January 4th: The “Super select” trim package was added.
3rd Generation (1998-2003)
Responding to new legislation, the 1998 model was bigger than its short-lived 2nd generation counterpart, at 3,395 mm (133.7 in) length and 1,475 mm (58.1 in) width.
Honda Life 3G Series JB 1-4:
In December 2000, a turbocharged variant named ‘Honda Life Dunk’ was introduced as a 2001 year model. The Honda Life Dunk and the Honda That’s were in the Forbes Magazine list of weirdest car names. At this time the engine was changed from the E07A to the improved E07Z SOHC. Transmisiion was either 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic column shift. A new 4-wheel drive-train was also introduced.
4th Generation (2003-2008)
Honda Life 4G Series JB 5-8:
2003 saw the Life updated with a 658 cc P07A 6-valve inline 3-cylinder engine. An optional turbocharger, mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission and optional 4-wheel drive were also available. The safety features were significantly improved and engine emissions were reduced.
The Life Diva
In 2005, Honda introduced the DIVA model, which included aerodynamic styling and aluminium wheels. At this time, the Honda That’s (2002-06) was made using the Life’s platform and Eo7Z engine unit.
5th Generation (2008-2014)
Honda Life 5G Series JC 1-2:
In November 2008 Honda introduced the 5th generation Life. This generation was available in C, G, PASTEL, PASTEL turbo, DIVA and DIVA turbo. In 2006, a higher specification model marketed towards a younger crowd called the Honda Zest was offered, sharing all its mechanicals with the Life.
The “Honda Life/Life Step Van” in Computer Games:
1972 Honda Life Step Van in Gran Turismo 4 (2004): ; 1972 Life Step Van in Gran Turismo (2009): ; 1972 Life Step Van in Gran Turismo 5 (2010): ; 1972 Life Step Van in Gran Turismo 6 (2013): ; 1997 Life in Gran Turismo 2 (1999): ; 1998 Life in Gran Turismo 2 (1999): ; 2000 Life in Gran Turismo 4 (2004):; Racing Battle: C1 Grand Prix (2005): ; 2000 Life in CrossThe Ridge Evolution (2014):;