Soichiro Honda founded the company with motorcycles but always dreamt of making an aircraft. Others within his firm shared this and, through the years, it has spent billions pursuing it. The result was launched in 2016: the HondaJet.
Take that, Mercedes-Benz and BMW: you may have a plethora of luxury cars, but none of you has your own-brand aircraft. The HondaJet has shaken up the entry-level luxury business jet sector, for years dominated by just two other aircraft, the Cessna Citation M2 and Embraer Phenom 100. If you’re new to the idea of My First Plane, these are the only three names you need to know.
To try it out, I lived the life of a FTSE 250 CEO for the day. I drove a BMW i8 hybrid supercar (no Honda NSX hybrid supercar was available) to Biggin Hill, waited in splendid comfort and was then personally escorted to my ride for the day, a gorgeous white and grey HondaJet, Honda script proudly emblazoned in red on the twin overwing engines. Destination: La Rochelle. For lunch.
Executives use business jets not to be fancy, but to save time. Driving to the French southwest coast would take a working day; flying there takes just over an hour. It’s 395 nautical miles, over 500 by car, and you’d have to fill up with unleaded at least once, while the aircraft has a range of over 1,500 miles, enough to get you almost anywhere in Europe.
I climb the steps and enter first class luxury. Honda has trimmed it to the same standard as its range-topping cars, so it feels appreciably posher than any commercial aircraft. It’s bigger than your normal business jet, too. Those cleverly-located engines mean the cabin can be wider; they also make it quieter when flying. Four glorious seats face one another, with a fifth jump seat, a bathroom in the rear (not all small jets have a loo, apparently…) and two pilots up front.
You can pretty much do what you want. You can even go into the cockpit, if you want. I did.
This one had just been sold (each costs around £4m), so we weren’t allowed to eat. Not a problem; you’re generally not in the air long enough in a business jet to get hungry. Besides, the CEO experience only went so far. I was, after all, headed to lunch, not a crucial board meeting.
If you’re used to regular, lumbering jets, everything about flying a HondaJet will wow you. The sheer thrust when taking off, and haste at which you leave the ground, and then climb. The refinement. The lack of bothersome rules; here, you can pretty much do what you want. You can even go into the cockpit, if you want. I did.
Like Honda road cars, navigation is by Garmin, and there’s an autopilot. Don’t think the pilot has it easy, though. They’re in near-permanent contact with air traffic control for starters, tailoring the fastest possible route in real time, to shave vital minutes off the flight time, all the while precisely controlling a £4m jet and its priceless cargo.
There’s also an element of adrenaline-seeking to the experience. I’m used to driving super-cars and even my heart begins to race as we come into land. It looks graceful from the back, but when viewed from up front it’s like landing on a sixpence at 200mph. Which we do, immaculately – the HondaJet feels reassuringly rigid in the air, thanks to all the carbon fibre in its construction, and this robustness is untroubled as we kiss the La Rochelle tarmac.
Disembarking and leaving the airport takes minutes: walk off, wave your passport, exit via a side gate, and get into a taxi. This is what it’s all about, I think, as I’m tucking into my lunch. Michael O’Leary, you’ve got it all wrong.
Even the pilots enthuse about the HondaJet. Unlike cars, new aircraft don’t come along very often, and Honda’s first ever jet is a big deal.
And then it’s time to go home. The pilot thumbs the two NSX-style engine start buttons, and tells us we’ll try a static thrust take-off, the fastest possible. I’m pinned into my seat like in a 190mph NSX, only this doesn’t let up until beyond 300mph. The cruising speed of 420mph is reached in seconds. I was back by mid-afternoon, dreaming of making it big in business and getting me a HondaJet.
Richard Aucock works for motoringresearch.com