It’s amazing how far off base highly trusted “industry pundits” can be when they “prognosticate” what is to come from an automaker in regards to their future plans. It makes you wonder, where do they get their information if they themselves are not present in the engineering and design departments of an automaker? Do they have psychic powers or are they, as we suspect, making educated guesses?
In some places, this is also known as “making stuff up,” so when we were invited by Honda to fly all the way to Japan to their Motegi Race Track facility we figured something rather important was happening. Or maybe they just wanted to give us more frequent flier miles. As far as trying to get anyone from Honda to spill the beans before the trip as to what was to be seen, they were so tight lipped that the whole frequent flier theory could have easily been our best “educated guess.”
Essentially what we found when we got to Honda’s Motegi Race Track was a company that had opened its proverbial toy chest to the assembled auto journalists with time set aside to drive cars equipped with their new engines, transmissions, alternative fuel technology and even the next generation update to the SH-AWD system which was simply amazing. But more on that later.
An Introduction to Earth Dreams Technology
Yes, it may sound a bit like a PR catchphrase but the term “Earth Dreams Technology” is Honda’s all-encompassing term regarding their newly unveiled automotive technology. These new engines, transmissions and drivetrains are planned to be rolled out across the Honda/Acura lineup by as soon as the end of the calendar year 2013 but even Honda product planners admitted delays may push that into 2014. Still, that’s an ambitious plan to say the least.
With their new engines Honda aims to be #1 again in fuel economy in each segment, have the highest output per liter from their engine offerings, and reduce their overall corporate CO2 emissions levels by 30% by 2020. Part of that reduction would be thanks to models that we got to test drive for the first time like the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid and Honda Fit EV which boasts a class leading 123 mile range and a 3 hour recharge time from a 240-watt charger.
The new line-up of engines is now known as “i-VTEC-i” and come with the usual VTEC system mixed with direct injection, a unique Atkinson cycle that is used during low to mid-acceleration cycles for optimum efficiency and a new VTEC output cam profile that noticeably increases torque under heavy acceleration. All of the engines boast reduced friction designs for optimal efficiency and longevity and cooled EGR systems.
Honda also took this opportunity to torture North American journalists with its brilliant new 1.6 liter all aluminum diesel engine which is the lightest motor in its class and shames VW’s 2.0 liter diesel from a power and refinement perspective. Honda claims that the market for such an engine in the U.S. would be too small as diesel costs more than regular gas in most parts of the country.
One engine that was not on display or available to drive was the promised inline 2.0 liter gas/electric hybrid which promises to achieve the highest efficiency of any hybrid thanks to the Atkinson Cycle being used with this motor. We aren’t sure where this engine will fit into the Honda line-up but we know Honda has no plans to bring a Fit Hybrid to the United States (although it does make one) as the fuel economy benefit of the technology in such a small car isn’t worth the added cost of the technology.
Now, we may not have gotten a chance to drive every single new engine in every single Honda/Acura model, but there were only so many hours in the day. In a later installment we’ll talk about the wacky models Honda doesn’t sell here and what they are like to drive, but for now let’s hit the race track and talk a little more about the new technology coming soon to our shores.
Acura TSX with new 2.4 liter 4-cylinder and CVT automatic
Before you start screaming about Honda’s adoption of CVT automatics in much of its line-up, allow us to explain something to you. We have driven every CVT on the market today and there is not one annoying “CVT-like” attribute to this transmission. If Honda hadn’t told us it was a CVT we never would have known as the new G-Design shift system, wide ratio range, and co-operative control system all give the driver the feeling of piloting a car with actual gears and not just one long belt. It also improves fuel economy, has lightning fast shift times, and could quite possibly be the best autobox on the market today. Honda didn’t come out with the first CVT, they just perfected it.
The power readings for this new 2.4 liter 4-cylinder which we drove in a Euro-spec Honda Accord (our Acura TSX) seem ridiculously low (181 horsepower/177 lb. feet of torque) given how forcefully powerful this engine feels. You still get the same delicious VTEC howl as the cam phasing changes as the revs rise and there is none of that annoying direct-inject “ticking” noise typically heard while idling.
This 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine gained speed so quickly that it made us wonder if in fact there would ever be a need for anyone to get a 6-cylinder in the TSX again if they introduce this engine in that model. It was smooth, powerful, and howled like a banshee under full throttle yet purred like a pussycat at idle.All in all, it's a wonderful engine and transmission that we hope to see spread all across the Honda/Acura line-up.
Acura TSX with 1.6 liter diesel engine and manual transmission
You can imagine that we were skeptical of a 1.6 liter diesel engine being able to move a model like an Acura TSX with any sort of authority but boy were we surprised. Also, given the low weight of the engine up front, this sedan felt more nimble and agile around the corners than we expected it to. Yes, a diesel engine doesn’t rev as high as your usual Honda motor but this engine proves this car company can build any kind of powerplant it wants and will build the world’s best.
It’s a shame Honda won’t be bringing it to the United States. It’s so good that pretty much every journalist there at one time or another was overheard whining about it to a Honda representative. Not that such behavoir is typical of the profession or anything.
Honda Accord with 3.5 liter V6 and SH-AWD Advance
The SH-AWD Advance technology will most likely find its way to certain Acura models and comes with a standard 3.5 liter 310 horsepower/265 lb. feet of torque 6-cylinder with a 7-speed dual clutch automatic with a built-in electric battery. Two electric motors control the power delivery to left and right rear wheels and the negative torque from the unused wheel powers the generator attached to the transmission. Once full traction is re-established, the electric motors attached to both wheels aid acceleration for V8 like performance with what is promised to be 4-cylinder like levels of efficiency.
We can say that after driving this vehicle that it was easily the fastest production Honda we’ve ever driven and their assertion of SH-AWD Advance giving a “handling on rails feeling” felt very true. We entered a slalom course at a rate of speed that may have been a touch faster than was wise, but somehow the vehicle powered through each turn with steadfast stability and tenacious grip. Time for the competition to rethink their all-wheel drive systems.
Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid
The Accord Plug-in Hybrid we drove worked seamlessly even though it was still a prototype and has a 50 mile range electric battery that serves as the main propulsion system until it runs out of juice. The gas engine will turn on under heavy acceleration for added passing power but this changeover is imperceptible and rarely happens as the electric system serves up plenty of pep for most driving situations. The one odd thing is how utterly silent the car is when it is in pure EV mode.
Honda Fit EV
Most electric cars drive like glorified golf carts with airbags. Not so the Honda Fit EV. We were very surprised by how much fun we had behind the wheel of the Fit EV as it easily powered up hills that would challenge an ordinary Fit and cornered with the agility and stability you would expect of the best Hondas. Interior trim is also upgraded and even with the battery pack there is still plenty of storage space.
Honda Civic European Hatchback with Old 2.2 Liter Diesel Engine and Manual Transmission
This diesel engine was a bit more gruff and vocal than the new 1.6 liter but it did show us that the U.S. market did get short changed with the interior of the 2012 Honda Civic. The interior of the European Civic has a more interesting design, better materials and a higher “surprise and delight” feel-good factor. It makes you wish Honda could just swap in this interior and call it a day but no doubt the realities of engineering would make that troublesome. They are also adamant about not importing a hatchback Civic to the U.S.
Power Readings From Engines on Display (All numbers were only estimates)
3.5 liter 6-Cylinder—310 horsepower/265 lb. feet of torque
1.8 liter 4-cylinder—148 horsepower/133 lb. feet of torque
1.5 liter 4-cylinder—127 horsepower/111 lb. feet of torque
1.6 Liter Diesel 4-Cylinder—120 horsepower/221 lb. feet of torque
2.4 Liter 4-Cylinder—181 horsepower/177 lb. feet of torque