It’s been a few years since we last detected much of a pulse from Honda [Ed: in fact, Paul Niedermeyer declared Hyundai the "new Honda" in terms of engine technology leadership way back in 2009]. But just when we were wondering if all hope was lost, and that it might be time to pull the plug…signs of life. In Japan, for the Tokyo auto show, Honda has unveiled ambitious new powertrain plans [via Automotive News [sub]].
A new “Earth Dreams” family of four-cylinder engines, all with DOHC and (after just about everyone else) direct injection [Ed: another shift from Honda's 2009 position, which was that direct injection wasn't worth the investment compared to hybrids]. With the shift to DOHC, Honda seems to have accepted the conventional wisdom that using a complex valvetrain to operate four valves per cylinder with a single cam entails too many compromises. One strong possibility with DOHC: more complex and nuanced variable intake AND exhaust valve timing.
The 2.4-liter four or the next Accord will kick out 181 horsepower, while the Civic’s 1.8 will make 148 and the Fit’s 1.5, for the largest and most needed bump, 127. All more competitive, but nothing earth-shattering. And the final production numbers will likely be a little higher. It’s possible that fuel economy was a higher priority, with an increase here of at least ten percent.
A new 3.5-liter V6 remains SOHC, but gains 30 horsepower, to 310.
A 1.6-liter diesel that’s as powerful as the current 2.2, but with much better fuel economy. I wouldn’t count on this one coming to North America.
For us: four- and six-cylinder “two-mode” hybrids. “Two-mode” in this case likely refers to the engines’ employment of VTEC to switch between the Atkinson and traditional Otto cycles, not a complicated transmission like that employed by GM in its large SUVs. At least the V6 hybrid will pair with a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual. In case that isn’t enough novelty for one powertrain, in a potential all-wheel-drive variant an electric motor will shunt power to the outside wheel in turns, curbing understeer. Combining a hybrid engine that can switch between two cycles with a dual-clutch transmission and a new approach to SH-AWD? This is the sort of out-of-the-box combo we used to be able to expect from Honda, but which we haven’t seen in a while. (No, the Acura ZDX doesn’t count.)
And the transmissions for the new conventional four-cylinders? Apparently Honda has decided to triple down on CVTs, developing three of them. Given Honda’s history with new transmissions, and the history of CVTs in general, these will warrant a close watch in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Performance-oriented engines will continue to be paired with manuals and conventional automatics.