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Honda’s packs N-Box

Honda Motor Co. wants to change their dowdy image on both counts with its next-generation N-Box, the best-selling nameplate in that uniquely Japanese niche segment.

The redesign, which hit the market Sept. 1, gets a revamped engine that prioritizes acceleration over fuel economy. It also gets the company’s latest advanced safety system, Honda Sensing, which includes such features as emergency automatic braking and lane-keep assist.

The flourishes are rarities in the world of Japanese minicars.

But Honda’s deployment underscores the proficiency of Japanese automakers in migrating higer-end features into down-market, downsized vehicles.

Honda hopes such upgrades will help the N-Box keep its title as Japan’s best-selling minicar for a third straight year, despite sluggish demand in the segment.

On the performance side, the N-Box sheds about 176 pounds by employing a new platform. Engineers also re- evaluated about 90 percent of the outgoing car’s components to find new opportunities for light-weighting.

Its naturally aspirated engine features variable valve timing and lift electronic control system, while the turbo version gets an electric wastegate for better turbo boost. Both are firsts for a Japanese minicar, Honda says.

The N-Box also goes high-tech with Honda Sensing coming standard on all grades

The N-Box has been a salvation for Honda’s minicar business. Prior to the first generation’s debut in December 2011, Honda was losing money in the segment and had even considered withdrawing, Chief Engineer Kiyonari Shirato said. The floundering minicar unit began to undermine profitability of domestic production.

But Honda redoubled its focus by developing the all-new N-Box series from scratch.

Since then, Honda has sold 1.67 million units. The model has captured the best-selling minicar title in fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016, according to the Japan Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Association and the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.Sales of the outgoing N-Box surged 11 percent in July to make it the nation’s