Generation Why: Forced Introduction

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Back in September, I wrote a piece lamenting the death of Honda’s high-perofrmance hallmark, the twin-cam VTEC 4-cylinder engine. It was just the sort of article many of you are fed up with: a lengthy piece filled with flowery prose and Honda fanboy-ism sprinkled with a condescending explanation of the auto industry’s inner workings. Miraculously, it was fairly well-received. But I’ve had a change of heart.

November and December let me get behind the wheel of two fairly different cars: the Acura ILX 2.4 and the Ford Fiesta ST. Despite the bad rap it gets in the media, I was fairly excited to drive it. The Honda Civic Si sedan gets a lot of guff for being quantitatively underwhelming compared to the current crop of sport compacts, but it’s what I call a “Goldilocks” car: it just feels right, similar to how the Acura TSX does. How bad could a Civic Si be with a better interior and more grown-up looks?

It turned out to be a bit of a letdown. The ILX is definitely a softer car than the Civic Si and lacks the composure and solidity of the Euro-Accord based TSX. The K24 motor was also less charming than I remembered it to be. The new, emissions-friendly, long-stroke VTEC motors work well in a CR-V or an Accord Sport, but don’t deliver the kind of excitement one would expect in a modern-day Integra GS-R sedan.

The Fiesta ST, on the other hand, was a revelation, one of the most thrilling drives I’ve had in a long time. Nothing else on the market brings such a hypomanic intensity and sheer driving thrills in an accessible and practical package except for, well, an older Civic or Integra with a VTEC swap and a dialed in chassis. In a larger car like an Escape or Fusion, the 1.6L Ecoboost feels overburdened, and delivers fairly poor fuel economy. In the Fiesta ST, it delivered a combined 26 mpg even though the throttle spent a lot of time getting hot and heavy with the floor mat. Whatever Ford’s powertrain group has done to squeeze some more power out of the tiny turbo mill has not only paid dividends on the spec sheet, but virtually eliminated turbo lag.

Driving the Fiesta ST made me a lot more optimistic about where the next generation of affordable performance car is going – especially with respect to the death of naturally aspirated engines in these types of applications. In all likelihood, Honda’s messaging will spin the new Civic Type-R (gallery below, since it was introduced in concept form today at Geneva) and the NSX’s turbo engines as congruent with the newest Formula 1 regulations, and as a link to Honda’s return to Grand Prix racing. Knowing what I know about The Big H, the adoption of forced induction was not so much voluntary, but an inevitable concession to emissions and fuel economy requirements around the world. But I’m no longer worried. Bring on the turbo VTEC era.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

More by Derek Kreindler

Join the conversation
4 of 164 comments
  • Aqua225 Aqua225 on Mar 05, 2014

    Had to post to this article, since I love the concept of turbos. Current turbos will virtually never deliver on the concept of voracious acceleration and dramatically better highway mileage. This is due to the fact that the car rags always jam down any car with dreaded turbo lag. In the 80's, the turbo lag was your decision point: "Do I really want to transition onto boost, and light up the wheels?" Nowadays, a turbo 4 feels like a V6 because turbo lag has been virtually eliminated. But that also means you are now generating somewhere close to V6 power levels very early on. I used to be a city driver, and usually end up in the city at least 2 times a week even now, and I see how city drivers handle stoplight launches. Those folks will never see the EPA ratings on their cars, because they are on boost from every stoplight. They may as well bought a V6, and their oil life indicators would be happier. I seriously doubt much changed at the pump overall. The turbo was brought back on board to keep the EPA tests happy (gaming the CAFE regulations) and to keep horsepower numbers up. It's no more complex than that, really. If the manufacturers were serious about the EPA mileage, they would offer a dashboard switch which would retard boost dramatically (econ vs. perf mode). Then you would see these turbo-4 bangers return good economy for Joe Sixpack. I would also seriously consider NOT buying anything in the used market with a Turbo nowadays. Too easy to chip up the power, damage the engine, down chip it, and resell it before it grenades on the highway somewhere. Not necessarily going to happen, but I know it was a going thing in the Subaru community (and still is for all I know). WRX was a car you didn't buy used unless you planned to mod it anyway, because some 20-something probably stuck a STi fueling & boost program in it, without a STi intercooler to keep that charge air cool, and swapped it back down when he discovered a slight odd sound at full tilt one night, so he down chipped it, and put it in the auto trader.

    • See 1 previous
    • Aqua225 Aqua225 on Mar 05, 2014

      @mkirk I had to look up the EFP, admittedly. I hope you weren't in it, when it was hit, but, at least if you were, you are still with us! That must have been either a lucky or a tough engine block. I am surprised any of the air intake monitoring sensors worked after such an encounter. A miracle the thing ran at all... I had a first gen Chrysler Turbo I (under the Laser model)... it ran a water-cooled center bearing, AiResearch turbocharger (which is now Honeywell). That turbo appeared to be in good shape when the car was destroyed by ice storm debris. I never got to "wear out" the turbo as it were. I always idled the car before shutdown, and I ran GTX 20W50 oil in the crankcase. Engine was as tough as nails. And it was a pull through design (throttle plate before the turbo), which evidently stresses a turbo more. Hopefully the idle down requirement is a thing of the past today. Supposedly, I could have gotten away without it, due to the water-cooled center bearing, but I was a college kid, and I could not have afforded to replace a turbo during that time, so I chose to attempt preservation with extra caution.

  • Power6 Power6 on Mar 05, 2014

    I'm totally picking a nit say "long stroke VTEC" like its a new thing. Though the K24 is stroked up pretty good, look at the K20 it is based on, a square design. Its really about overall displacement rather than stroke though I understand long stroke is the way to meet emissions. The old B18CX Integra motor was considered a long stroke motor and decidedly undersquare. I only mention so as when I had my GS-R I thought it was interesting the 8100RPM screamer had some ridiculous piston speeds due to the long stroke design. Of course the Type-R B18C5 more so at 8400RPM, second to the (oversquare) S2000 at 9000RPM. I traded that GS-R for and SRT-4 and never looked back, turbo baby!

  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern
  • Tsarcasm No, Japan only. Life costs by Rank:#1 - House (150k+)#2 - Education (30k+)#3 - Automobile (30k+) why waste hard earned money in inferior crap => Korean, Chinese, and American cars are trash. a toyota or honda will last twice as long.
  • Tassos In the 90s we hired a former PhD student and friend of mine, who 'worked' at GM "Research" labs, to come work for us as a 'temp' lecturer and get paid extra. He had no objection from GM, came during the day (around 2 PM), two hours drive round trip, plus the 1.5 hour lecture, twice weekly. (basically he goofed off two entire afternoons out of the five) He told me they gave him a different model new car every month, everything (even gas) paid. Instead of him paying parking, I told him to give me the cars and I drove them for those 90 mins, did my shopping etc. Almost ALL sucked, except the Eldo coupe with the Northstar. That was a nice engine with plenty of power (by 90s standards). One time they gave him the accursed Caddy Catera, which was as fun driving as having sex with a fish, AND to make it worse, the driver's door handle broke and my friend told me GM had to pay an arm and a leg to fix it, needed to replace almost the whole damned door!
  • 3-On-The-Tree I only buy Toyota cars. But if the Chinese cars are cheap people will buy them. They don’t care about the above issues that were stated in this forum.
  • Tassos Ford models are like dumb Hollywood movies. The original is far better than their god damned sequels. This was true of the Mustang vs the II, AND the Capri vs its second gen, and their BEV PORKER atrocities many decades later