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Honda outs trio of VTEC turbos

Tec-packed: Over the coming years Honda is rolling out a flurry of technologies, including new engine and transmission developments.

Tiny turbos, dual-clutch auto, carbon-fibre and steer-by-wire headline Honda charge

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Honda logo19 Nov 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO in JAPAN

HONDA is in the midst of “transforming itself”, starting with the imminent market introduction of a trio of small-capacity three- and four-cylinder VTEC turbo-petrol engines and an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with a “world first” difference.

Set to roll out across its small and medium-sized vehicle fleet over the next few years, Honda hopes the new powertrains will return it to the cutting edge of internal combustion engines, a position it long occupied before cutting back investment during the global financial crisis.

With Honda’s current batch of small cars sporting ageing normally aspirated engines, the new turbocharged units cannot come soon enough. The new powertrains range from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder and a hardcore 2.0-litre flagship with serious outputs.

Its outdated automatic transmissions will also be replaced in most cases by new-generation CVTs, although performance versions will get an impressive new eight-ratio DCT with paddles and an industry-first torque converter (generally the province of single-clutch units) to smoothen take-offs at low speeds.

Speaking from the car-maker’s research and development centre in Tochigi, Japan, this week, Honda R&D senior managing officer and director Yoshiharu Yamamoto spoke of the need for the company to match the low-emissions offerings from key rivals, and marked this brace of engines as the next step in its ‘Earth Dreams’ series.

Interestingly, Yamamoto-san emphasised Honda’s decision to be more outward-looking, stating that it was crucial for the company to respond faster to changes in the automotive landscape, and to set trends rather than follow them.

“Honda is transforming itself, shedding its skin … understanding market trends and customer changes better,” he said, pointing to “more globalisation” and a greater focus on its development hubs outside of Japan (there are 23 in total, including Tochigi).

Other notable technologies being pursued at Honda’s top-secret facility include full-body and tub carbon-fibre construction – an F1 and aircraft-inspired CR-Z mule that weighs 30 per cent less than a regular version is doing the rounds – and a new Infiniti-style steer-by-wire system that sharpens up inputs and reduces kickback by erasing any mechanical link between the tyres and the steering wheel.

In terms of new engines, while the hardcore 206kW/400Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection VTEC turbo destined for the reborn Civic Type R in 2015 is the star of the show, new ‘downsized’ 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 1.5-litre four-cylinder VTEC turbo units are arguably bigger news still.

Honda is keeping unusually quiet on which models will receive the engines first, and when, but GoAuto understands the Euro 6 emissions-compliant range of engines will in time replace the powertrains across most of its passenger range.

Obvious candidates include the brand-new Jazz-based baby SUV that will appear in production-ready form at the Tokyo motor show this week, as well as a facelifted version of the new Jazz light car.

“We have the technology, the challenge will be how we will allocate production and commercialise it,” Honda global R&D executive president and director Toshihiko Nonaka told GoAuto in Tochigi.

“The technology is close to complete, but in order to commercialise will take some more time.” The company is also keeping final mechanical details under wraps as it goes about ironing out any final kinks in development, but early signs are strong, something attested to by the time we spent driving test mules fitted with each engine around the Tochigi test loop.

Key features on the new 1.0-litre three-cylinder VTEC turbo include direct injection, a compression ratio of 10.0, an electrical wastegate, high-tumble intake port design, a more efficient than usual cooled cylinder head, sodium-filled exhaust valve and automatic idle-stop.

Final outputs eclipse Ford’s impressive EcoBoost 1.0-litre triple, with Honda claiming the engine produces an impressive 95kW and 200Nm, equivalent to an average 1.8 or 2.0-litre atmo four-cylinder.

Expect fuel consumption in smaller vehicles of around 4.2 litres per 100km, and carbon dioxide emissions of 99 grams per kilometre, crucial to dodge European emission taxes.

We drove a Civic hatch mule fitted with this engine, matched with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a CVT version will be available from the get-go. The car pulled with gusto from 1500rpm, and had the hatch hustling at close to 200km/h on the straight of our closed circuit.

More importantly, at 100km/h in sixth, it was revving at around 2600rpm, and Honda has clearly taken steps (counterbalancers, perhaps) to reduce typical three-cylinder vibrations and harshness. Refinement and NVH on our mule was top-notch.

The larger 1.5-litre VTEC turbo four-pot produces a remarkable 150kW of power and 260Nm of torque, equivalent to an average 2.0-litre turbo engine. We drove a test mule fitted with this engine matched to a CVT.

The ratio-less automatic exhibited typical CVT ‘drone’, but the engine itself had ample punch, although strangely felt a little less refined than its tiny-capacity sibling. A six-speed manual gearbox will also be offered.

We also tested the new Type R prototype with the brutal 2.0-litre engine (see separate story linked below), and found the forward momentum was eclipsed only by the Darth Vader-esque induction ‘whoosh’. Renault and Volkswagen had better go on high alert.

The final prototype we sampled was fitted with the new eight-speed DCT. At present, it can only handle 270Nm of torque, limiting it to smaller engines.

Our test car had the Accord’s 2.4-litre atmo engine, with engineer admitting the DCT is not yet configured with the smaller-capacity turbos.

Shift times were outstandingly fast, and the software is all-too-happy to rev the car out to beyond 6000rpm under heavy throttle. Rapid take-offs at low speeds also showed the efficacy of the torque converter, which ironed out any low-speed hiccups. It should be noted here than rivals such as Volkswagen and Ford have equally smooth double-clutch units now, however.

Our time in Tochigi was brief, but if the prototype engine, transmissions, steering and bodyshell development we sampled showed us anything, it’s that Honda’s mojo didn’t die, it just went on hiatus.

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