Honda Previews New STEP WGN – “Waku Waku” Tailgate Opens Door to the Future

By Steve & Tamami Laser

Honda has revealed the first look at its all-new STEP WGN (pronounced Step Wagon) set to go on sale in Japan in April.

Image converted using ifftoany

This fifth-generation of the perennially popular mid-size van receives new styling, a new turbocharged engine and revamped interior design. Yet the feature that everyone will be talking about is the “Waku Waku” tailgate.

Step2Honda is likely the first manufacturer to put this creative new approach into production. As you can see in the photos, it operates as both a swing-up tailgate and a swing-open door. Waku waku, which means “fun” or “exciting” in Japanese, takes a different spin on this van’s open-door policy by putting the vertical hinges in the middle of the tailgate.


While other vans offer “barn-style” swing-open doors, the STEP WGN, with its low floor design, lets a passenger step in through the rear door and be seated in the third-row. It reminds us of the front door on a city bus although it’s not likely to be remote controlled. STEP WGN’s flexible seating arrangement also lets the independent third-row seats be stored into the floor for maximum cargo space.


The vertical door design is arranged for the Japanese market where cars are right-hand drive allowing easy access from the curb (left) side. The vertically split design also means that the rear door can be opened in tight parking spaces where a wider swing-out door could restrict access.


If there’s a potential downside to this design, rearward visibility is a bit compromised by the divided glass panels as we can see in the photo above. Fortunately, the door glass is split 60-40 which should help, and a backup camera is likely to be a standard feature.


Now entering its fifth generation, the STEP WGN receives a new 1.5-liter direct-injected turbocharged VTEC 4-cylinder Earth Dreams engine driving the front wheels through a Continuously Variable Transmission. All-wheel drive is likely in the works as well. There’s no indication at the moment that a hybrid model will be offered.


STEP WGN will be sold in both regular and Spada models (the purple van above) which has different front-end styling. The regular interior is shown above while the Spada’s interior is shown below. We can see a difference in trim with the regular STEP WGN offering wood-grain patterns while Spada appears to have a sporty brushed look.


All the instrument panel gauges are mounted on top of the dash leaving a blank panel behind the steering wheel. The center display screen area is blanked-out in the photos so we don’t know what Honda has in store just yet. We do know that the latest Honda SENSING safety features will be available for STEP WGN.


All these changes should help to renew interest in the STEP WGN in a segment where Toyota has been garnering lots of attention lately with its Noah and Voxy mid-size vans. How about America? Honda hasn’t sold the STEP WGN in the U.S. during its long run of four previous generations. Honda’s larger Odyssey is better suited to that market. The new generation STEP WGN will likely remain exclusive for Japan and other Asian nations for now.

Note: Features and specifications for Japanese market models are subject to change without notice

News source and photos courtesy of Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Story (commentary) © 2015