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Honda's engine future

Honda is an organization that doesnt reveal much about its engines and is not one to boast about state-of-the-art innovations either. But in a world exclusive, ETi has gained a rare insight into the company's future powertrain direction, which includes an all-new family of IC engines

Honda is one of the most celebrated names in the engine technology business. The company has fine-tuned its reputation on world-beating Formula 1 racing motors, cutting-edge, high-economy IC designs, light and efficient hybrid and fuel cell innovations, and of course, some of the most iconic, high-revving sportscar powertrains around.

The car world is always watching to see what Honda does next, so recently the company released some information about its next-generation program, dubbed Earth Dreams Technology, which is essentially a set of technical advances that aims high: top-of-the-industry fuel efficiency in every vehicle class and all within three years.

When it comes to market, Earth Dreams will cover a wide base: petrol and diesels, new transmissions and hybrids, as well as a new generation of electric cars also thrown into the mix. And its not just about going green. Powertrains that deliver driving fun will play a key role in the Earth Dreams thinking, which sounds encouraging for those that still have a great fondness for the engines driving the likes of yesteryears S2000, NSX and various Type R models.

Diesel dreams
For Hondas all-new, European mainstream diesel engine, which will be launched in the Civic later this year, the Japanese OEM has employed some high-end, eco-friendly solutions. The 1,596cc, 118bhp motor comes from an all-new architecture and will feature an aluminum block and head, a cylinder sleeve constructed from lightweight cast iron, and a host of other weight-saving features that will make it the lightest in its class and deliver sub-100g/km of C02. ETi has learned that the diesel, which has been benchmarked against Volkswagens 1.6-liter Bluemotion engines, will have a dry weight thats at least 50kg lighter than that of Hondas current 2.2-liter diesel. The variable turbine geometry turbochargers will come from Honeywell. The Japanese OEM is also promising a class-leading balance of fuel economy and performance from the 1.6, plus a low friction level equivalent to current petrol engines. Lower mechanical friction levels will be realized, thanks primarily to a new high-efficiency air-charging system.

Away from the diesel in Europe, Hondas Earth Dreams mantra is already taking shape in Japan through a new-generation 660cc unit in the new N Box minicar, which is the first global example of Earth Dreams to make production. Other Honda engines spanning the 1.3, 1.5, 1.8, 2.0, 2.4, and 3.5-liter classes will also get the Earth Dreams technology as the company progressively overhauls its entire power range.

Honda has been working on IC technology to improve both performance and fuel efficiency, mostly with VTEC technology at its core, comments a senior Honda R&D spokesman. We have applied lean burn technology, direct injection, and variable cylinder management technologies in the past. Now the PET engine series in our new kei car (N Box) achieves both high engine output and class-leading fuel efficiency, and this marks the next step for us.

The tiny three-cylinder gives a good insight into Hondas thinking with Earth Dreams. It employs both DOHC and variable timing control to improve intake efficiency. Engine weight has been cut by 15% by reducing the thickness of the cylinder block and camshafts and by shortening the cylinder bore pitch. The compact combustion chamber achieves high thermal efficiency, and fuel efficiency has been bettered by 10% over the outgoing unit. Its this type of approach that Honda will now apply to all new engines coming out under the Earth Dreams banner.

For its next-generation larger engines including the 1.3-liter and 1.5-liter units, as well as the 1.8-liter and 2-liter classes, Honda will use the Atkinson cycle with DOHC and direct injection. All of these engines, along with the next Accord 2.4 offering, will employ extensive friction-reduction measures, probably in the form of high-tech coatings. New valvetrain mechanisms are planned for the next 3.5-liter V6 within the engines single cam, VTEC and VMC systems to bump economy up by 10% and power output by 5%, reveals our source.

Green light for NSX heart
Honda is infamous for shying away from media questions about it powertrain strategy, so it comes as no surprise to learn that its not yet ready to go public on some aspects of future engine direction, such as the worth of two-cylinder designs, the use of forced induction technologies, or even commenting on whether it will ever again build another high-revving VTEC sports classic such as the S2000 and Integra Type R. However, the worlds largest engine producer is pushing confidently ahead on hybrid technology, and an intricate hybrid setup with a V engine will form the heart of the next-generation NSX. The high output SH-AWD three-motor system was unveiled earlier this year in the latest NSX Concept. A mid-mounted V6 (with a capacity of around 3.5 liters) links with a dual-clutch transmission and a 30kW high-efficiency motor. Two independent 20kW in-wheel motors then feature at the front of this all-new Honda electric 4WD system. Engineers are hard at work configuring this system for front-engine applications, in which case the twin in-wheel motors switch to the rear. The promise is V8-level performance, but with four-cylinder economy, or better, via this efficient, high-tech sport hybrid SH-AWD layout. The powertrain and supercar is three years away from market launch, says Honda.

The companys R&D spokesperson adds: Honda sold about 200,000 units (an increase of 30%) of hybrid vehicles around the world last year. Cumulative sales of hybrid models have reached 500,000 units globally within the past three years. In Japan, hybrid vehicles make up over 45% of our full line-up. As such, Honda plans to push on with evolving its compact, lightweight Integrated Motor Assist system now powering the Insight and others.

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