From celebrated road cars to Formula 1, Honda has quite a storied reputation as an engine manufacturer. Honda has truly mastered the inline-4 formula with engine series like the D-Series, K-Series, and B-Series, that not only outperform the competition in terms of performance but also in terms of reliability. Engines like the J35 also prove that Honda’s engine-building expertise expands past just 4-bangers and includes pretty much any powertrain that they greenlight. While a list of every exemplary Honda engine could fill a novel, we’ll just look at 5 of the best Honda engines of all time for now.
Honda are most well known for their contributions to the inline-4-cylinder engine architecture, and the D-Series is one of the earliest examples of why enthusiasts fawn over Honda 4-bangers. It is pretty obvious that Honda was proud of the design of the D-Series, considering that it was in production for over 20 years between 1984 and 2005. Over that period, the D-Series was offered in a dizzying number of variants with displacement ranging from 1.2L to 1.7L.
One of the most celebrated engines from the D-Series lineup is the D16Y8. The D16Y8 is truly the engine to have from the D-Series catalog for a couple of reasons. Honda enthusiasts love the 1.6L D16 variants of the D-Series, as they have the highest displacement other than the D17 variants which are pretty universally disliked by the Honda boys.
The “Y8” has one of the highest flowing cylinder heads of all of the D-Series engines, allowing for a lot of top-end flow. Being a pretty barebones SOHC Honda engine, the D16Y8 is also nearly indestructible, potentially one of Honda’s most tank-like engines of all time, in fact. Despite their relative simplicity, the Y8 also came with some more modern goodies that are expected from a Honda engine. I mean let’s be honest, would we even feature a non-VTEC engine on this list? I don’t think so. The D16Y8 is, in fact, equipped with VTEC and also uses an OBDII engine management system, which separates it from a number of more archaic OBD I D-Series engines.
Also, since they came in 1996–2000 Honda Civic EXs, there are just about a trillion of them out there, making them dirt cheap to get your hands on.
When you think Honda, you don’t normally think V6. Usually, Nissan and Toyota are the heavy hitters when it comes to Japanese V6s. However, that doesn’t mean that Honda can’t build solid engines with 6-cylinders, as demonstrated by the J35. While we’ve put a couple of engines on this list by looking at them from a performance angle, the J35 made this list as a very solid all-rounder.
The Honda J35 entered the picture in 1995, continuing to build upon the already hefty J-Series V6 catalog. As the name suggests, the J35 is a 3.5L engine, making it the second-highest displacement J-Series engine behind the 3.7L J37 variant. Ultimately, the J-Series engines were designed to be peppy workhorses with enough power to get some of Honda’s larger vehicles (like the Odyssey and Ridgeline) moving under their own weight not only efficiently, but also reliably.
The J35 truly doesn’t have any areas of weakness. With between 210 and 290 VTEC-delivered horsepower on tap, the J35 is a true sleeper powerhouse. With it still being a single overhead cam engine, the J35 is also relatively simple to wrench on, not that you’ll need to very often. It is often considered one of Honda’s most reliable modern engines, with hundreds of reports of happy owners who have owned J35-powered Hondas well past the 200,000-mile threshold with very few issues to report.
Despite being an odd one out in terms of Honda’s typical 4-cylinder engine formula, the J35 proved that Honda can build robust and powerful engines of any kind.
Okay, yes, my own personal biases really influenced me to put the F20C on this list because the S2000 is one of my favorite Japanese cars of all time. But, to be fair, is there anyone who doesn’t like a good S2K? I didn’t think so. Chassis dynamics aside, the F20C found under its hood is the main reason that the S2000 is one of the most sought-after Hondas ever made and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
The F20C is a truly unique engine for a number of reasons. For one, it goes against the grain of Honda’s usual transverse inline-4 formula. Since the S2000 is rear-wheel drive, the F20C was designed to be longitudinally mounted, a rarity for Honda. To make things even more intriguing, the F20C was designed specifically with knowledge learned from Honda’s winning racing engines in mind. For example, it makes use of fiber-reinforced metal cylinder liners and molybdenum disulfide-coated piston skirts to safely operate at an extremely high 11.1:1 compression ratio, squeezing every bit of efficiency out of the engine as possible.
To that point, the F20C is one of the most efficient inline-4-cylinder engines ever created and has one of the highest specific outputs of any N/A engine ever created at 124 horsepower per liter. As if it couldn’t get better, the F20C has VTEC on both the intake and exhaust cams, providing a hefty kick to the rear at its engagement point at 5,500-6,000 rpm. What’s funny is that 6,000 rpm is just where the F20C gets started, as you can wring it out to a whopping 9,000 rpm.
The F20C is truly the perfect engine for a small Japanese track-oriented roadster and is unquestionably one of Honda’s best creations.
It’s hard to think of an engine series that has anywhere near as dedicated of a fan base as the Honda K-Series (barring the LS). In fact, it is probably the most swapped engine outside of the LS as well, and there’s very good reason for that.
Since the K-Series introduction in 2001, it has truly become Honda’s flagship engine series, powering everything from the Civic to the CR-V. There have been so many variants of the K-Series that I don’t think even Honda can list them all. With such a long production run, there are millions of K-Series engines floating around, making them easily accessible, cheap, and easy to find information about.
Following that last point, the K-Series are also some of the most modifiable engines ever made as well. The aftermarket support for both the K20 and K24 is massive enough to be an industry all on its own, which is another huge plus for enthusiasts. Turbo kits, stroker kits, intake manifold swaps, header options, and pretty much anything else that you can think of are widely available for the K-Series, making them some of the best tuner engines of all time.
Another plus for tinkerers is that many parts from K-Series engines are interchangeable and directly swapable, leading to all kinds of frankenstein K-Series creations for certain build goals. There are more highly sought-after K-Series variants including the K20A, K20A2, and K24A2, but cylinder head swaps make any K-Series a pretty versatile option.
If you want to learn more about the K-Series and what they’re capable of, take a look at our Honda K20 vs K24 Engine Guide.
Before the K-Series was the B-Series, which had an arguably equally enthusiastic fan base as the later engine. Everything that the K-Series did well is owed to the B-Series, which simultaneously established and represented the pinnacle of the Honda inline-4 formula.
In fact, the B-Series and K-Series are pretty similar in terms of what they are famous for. Like the K-Series, the B-Series consisted of a number of different inline-4, DOHC, VTEC-equipped, engines that lived for high RPMs. Like the K-Series, the B-Series was also considered Honda’s flagship powerhouse, albeit a bit earlier, between the years of 1988 and 2001. As a result, they were used in all of the halo cars of the time, including the EK9 Civic Type R and Integra GS-R.
We went on for a while about how modifiable the K-Series is and I would dare to say that the B-Series is even more modifiable. A lot of that boils down to the fact that the B-Series has been around since the 1980s, amassing a core fanbase ever since. The B-Series might be the most turbo’d naturally aspirated engines under the sun, as kits are cheap and common as dirt. Not to mention the B-Series engines are ripe for forced induction due to their relatively lower compression.
While the B-Series engines are fantastic in their own right, there is an even more important reason why they top our list, and that is heritage. Ultimately, the B16A was the first Honda engine fitted with VTEC variable valve lift technology. The B16B was the engine featured in the first generation Civic Type R. Beyond their very capable performance, the B-Series has an undeniable “cool factor” that will make a Honda fan drool every time you pop your hood.
Honda Knows What They’re Doing With Powertrains
It goes without saying that there are plenty of other Honda engines that deserve a spot on this list but I didn’t have ample screen real estate to include. From the F-Series’ predecessor, the H-Series, to the NSX’s screaming C30A V6, there are plenty of other worthy contenders. However, we chose the engines on this list based on performance, reliability, modifiability, and attainability.
The Honda B-Series, D-Series, and K-Series all played instrumental roles in establishing Honda as the manufacturer to back as far as inline-4s were concerned, and that legacy continues to this day. Engines like the F20C demonstrated that Honda could put their motorsport pedigree to use in cars that you or I could afford, while engines like the J35 showed that they could deviate from their standard recipe to create a truly dependable workhorse engine.
There’s no doubt that Honda is one of the best to ever do it from an engine development perspective and all indicators point to that being the case for decades to come.