New Honda STEP WGN Explained – Waku Waku Gate, Beautility and VTEC Turbo

By Steve & Tamami Laser with Nahoko Osuka reporting from Japan

Update: Honda has introduced an all-new STEP WGN for 2022. Read our story here

New Honda STEP WGN Explained – Waku Waku Gate, Beautility and VTEC Turbo

When Honda previewed its fifth-generation STEP WGN in March, we were hoping more information would follow that explains how its creative new “Waku Waku Gate” operates. Honda granted our wish and we’d like to share it with you. In addition we also have more information about STEP WGN (pronounced “Step Wagon”) design and engineering.


Ryo Tamura of the Japanese comic duo “London Boots Mark I, Mark II,” demonstrates the Waku Waku Gate design in Honda’s new STEP WGN.

Equipped with a newly developed 1.5-liter direct injection VTEC Turbo engine, the fifth-generation STEP WGN was designed to be a “fun-to-use minivan featuring a functional cabin space much like a living room at home,” plus a revolutionary tailgate mechanism named Waku Waku Gate (“Waku Waku” is a Japanese expression for “exciting”). The new Waku Waku Gate, which was created based on Honda’s original idea, is an asymmetrical design. As the story goes, the STEP WGN exterior design team wanted to create a unique van that would attract families at first sight.

According to Honda, the new STEP WGN features the largest cabin space in the class as well as the Waku Waku Gate, Honda’s original design that functions as a wide tailgate that opens up, or as with a sub-door that opens to the side. When combined with the third-row Magic Seat with a 60-40 design that can be split and stored under the floor, the side-opening door enables third-row passengers to get in and out without opening the entire tailgate. It also makes it easier to load and unload cargo.


While other vans offer clamshell style doors that open from the center, the STEP WGN is the first with an offset hinge in the center. The door swings open allowing a passenger to step inside even when restricted by a tight parking space.

The sub-door opens to the side with three levels of opening angles, enabling full and convenient use of the door in situations where a wall, ceiling or another vehicle prevents the user from opening the entire tailgate in a parking lot or in a garage at home.

Thanks to its third-row Magic Seat that disappears into the floor and a low step-in height, a passenger can enter the van from the rear, close the door, sit down and raise the folded side of the seat in a just a few seconds. We can’t think of any other van that offers this intriguing combination.


Adding to the functionality of the Waku Waku Gate is the ability to raise it like a conventional tailgate. According to Honda, this is the first van that combines a swing-open door with lift-up gate.

If you’re wondering why sliding doors are still used on the side instead of swing-out doors, it’s a matter of convenience for available space. There isn’t much room to be found in tight parking stalls where only a few inches is needed to slide open the side doors.

The new STEP WGN, which went on sale in Japan last month, has been redesigned with all-new styling, a larger and more functional interior, a downsized 1.5-liter turbocharged engine and offers Honda’s latest safety features.


Striving to realize a fusion of beauty and utility, which is often found in “the Northern European style of design,” the interior of the STEP WGN was designed under the concept of “Beautility Living.”

The STEP WGN design team pursued an interior space filled with hospitality and comfort including:

  • People-friendly and relaxing shapes, colors and materials.
  • Visual and tactile qualities that are comfortable for those who see and touch the vehicle.
  • Seats that offer visual indication of how comfortable they are.
  • Utility such as storage that can be used “casually and smartly.”


STEP WGN has been a big seller for Honda in Japan through four previous generations. Unfortunately, none of these vans made the journey to America where the larger Odyssey remains Honda’s only minivan.

The STEP WGN is fitted with a light-toned interior coordination that emphasizes warm colors and the soft texture of the materials, while the STEP WGN Spada comes with a more elegant interior coordination that uses black-based, deeper-toned colors and harder texture of materials.


Checking the specs, we see that the new STEP WGN has reduced length for the engine compartment. This translates into more room for passengers inside with increased legroom in each row. Plus, the side glass is now nearly vertical, a technique used in the smaller Honda N-Box to maximize cabin width.

Honda said that the new STEP WGN was designed with a three-generation family in mind. Mom and dad can ride up front, with grandpa and grandma in the center row and the kids in the third row. Of course, the interior can be reconfigured to carry passengers and cargo while offering plenty of clever storage solutions.

Using a ramp, a wheelchair can be positioned on the left side of the third-row while a passenger can ride in the right side of the Magic Seat. This offers greater flexibility and convenience compared to other vans where a wheelchair would occupy the entire space of the third row.


Honda says the regular STEP WGN was designed from the Waku Waku Gate forward, while the more aggressively styled STEP WGN Spada was created from the bold front grille rearward.

For those seeking a more masculine appearing van, Honda offers the STEP WGN Spada with its unique front styling and a slightly longer overall length thanks to the extended bumpers and street-style good looks. Spada offers signature STEP WGN design cues including the Waku Waku Gate.


Honda’s first 1.5-liter VTEC Turbo engine for STEP WGN is said to deliver “powerful and smooth acceleration with its torque equivalent to that of a 2.4-liter engine plus excellent fuel economy and quietness, achieving the type of performance people expect from a minivan even with multiple passengers and on hilly roads.” 

The new STEP WGN became the first Honda vehicle equipped with a 1.5-liter direct injection VTEC Turbo engine whose direct injection system, small-diameter turbine and dual VTC help improve the turbo effect in low rpm range, enabling the engine to offer power equivalent to that of a 2.4-liter engine. Honda also says the new STEP WGN realizes “top-in-class” level fuel economy of 17.0km/liter (JC08 mode).


Top fuel economy was realized by leveraging the advantage of the turbo engine whose amount of air-intake can be precisely controlled. Because engine displacement was reduced to 1.5 liters, the motor vehicle tax was reduced compared to previous models of the STEP WGN says Honda.

Honda also developed a new Continuously Variable Transmission to exploit the full potential of the 1.5-liter direct injection VTEC Turbo engine. “The thorough pursuit of CVT efficiency enabled the improvement of fuel economy and the realization of smooth driving in urban areas at the same time,” says Honda.


The STEP WGN is equipped with Honda SENSING, Honda’s advanced driver-assistive system that expands the scope of detection to include pedestrians, providing an enhanced sense of security.

With the global safety slogan of “Safety for Everyone,” Honda envisions an “accident-free society where everyone can safely use the road.” Honda says it has developed safety technologies that cover every aspect of collisions: active safety technologies that can help prevent a collision, passive safety technologies that can help mitigate harm should a collision occur and pre-crash safety technologies that combine both the active and passive approaches.


Honda SENSING is a system consisting of two types of sensors with different characteristics. One is millimeter-wave radar located behind the front emblem, and the other is a monocular camera mounted on the upper, inside part of the windshield.

With further improvement in performance, the new millimeter-wave radar expanded its scope of detection to include pedestrians regarded as being hard to detect due to their low rate of radio wave reflection, as well as the position and speed of the target object. The monocular camera identifies various attributes and the size of pedestrians and other target objects which come in range within approximately 60m ahead of the vehicle, achieving recognition with improved accuracy.

Honda says the STEP WGN features Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) that applies Honda’s original G-Force Control Technology (G-CON) to enhance self-protection and make it less aggressive to other vehicles in the event of a collision. The STEP WGN also features the Pedestrian Injury Mitigation Body structure to absorb the impact of a frontal collision, which is at the highest risk of causing a pedestrian injury in the event of a collision.

In the area of active safety, with the goal to prevent an accident before it happens, the new STEP WGN features standard Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), Hill-Start Assist function and Emergency Stop Signal (ESS) that warns vehicles following behind of a sudden stop.

Honda expects to sell about 5,000 units per month of the STEP WGN and Spada. Prices range from ¥2,288,000 (about $19,000) for the front-drive STEP WGN B grade to ¥3,081,400 (about $26,000) for the top-line STEP WGN Spada Cool Spirit with all-wheel drive.

Honda STEP WGN information applies to models sold in Japan. Features, specifications and prices are subject to change without notice.

News source and photos courtesy Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

Story (commentary) © 2015