30th November 2011

Honda Motor Regaining its Mojo?

posted in Car News Articles |
The radical engineering powerhouse that Soichiro Honda founded has been foundering lately. Hyundai offers gasoline direct injection on most of its engines nowadays, often teamed with turbocharging and downsizing. This is the kind of cutting edge tech Honda used to be renowned for, but the Motor Company hasn’t broken much new ground of late. During a pre-Tokyo-Show backgrounder, the original H brand did its best to convince us that it hasn’t completely lost its mojo by pulling back the curtain on some “Earth Dreams” technologies that are just about to break cover.

DI at last! Four engine architectures were displayed featuring direct injection. The four-cylinders include one displacing 1.3 or 1.5 liters, one good for 1.8 or 2.0 liters, and one initially offered in 2.4-liter form only (making at least 181 hp and 177 lb-ft). There’s also a 3.5-liter V-6 that’ll be good for 310 hp and 265 lb-ft or better. Some of them will be further upgraded with cooled EGR and an advanced VTEC system that includes a cam profile that provides a late-intake-valve-closing Atkinson Cycle mode for use at low and mid-range loads. Variable cylinder management is also available, as is auto start-stop and an electric water pump on many models.

More Super SH-AWD: This techno tour-de-force starts with a 308-hp V-6 engine mated to a new Honda-designed 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that incorporates an Integrated Motor Assist electric motor good for another 40 hp/96 lb-ft and mounted to the output shaft. This means the engine can be decoupled from the electric motor leaving the latter freer to regenerate more energy than today’s IMA models can manage with their generators locked to the engine. But wait, there’s more. The torque-vectoring out back is handled by a pair of 27-hp/38-lb-ft electric motors. The range of authority for torque vectoring is far greater with this system than with today’s mechanical SH-AWD, because the electric version can apply a little extra torque to one wheel and some regen to the other, or differing amounts of regen to each when decelerating through a turn. Today’s mechanical system can only vector when the driver is on the throttle. When starting off from rest at normal throttle openings, the rear electric motors whisk the car away silently up to about 18 to 30 mph. The 300-volt DC motors are fed by a lithium-ion battery of undisclosed size.

Real Hybrids: A new two-motor series/parallel hybrid system represents a major step up from today’s mild IMA setup while remaining simpler than Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive and Chevrolet’s Voltec setups. The engine usually just connects to a generator that powers a big traction motor that drives the wheels through a single-speed reduction gear. Under certain circumstances, at higher speeds (generally 60 mph plus), the engine can also be clutched to drive the wheels—kind of like with the Chevy Volt, except there’s a planetary gearset allowing some ratio manipulation with the Volt and Honda’s engine drives directly through the same reduction gearing the electric motor uses. There’s also a plug-in on the way, featuring a 6 kW-hr lithium-iron-phosphate battery pack

Mighty mini diesel: A new 1.6-liter turbodiesel makes 118 hp and an incredibly strong 221 lb-ft of torque, and achieves best-in-class output and efficiency in the 1.6-liter class. Honda’s innovation is making it the lightest compact diesel engine in the business. To do this, it employs an open-deck block architecture capped by an extra-rigid cylinder head, the block is made of a new, stronger aluminum alloy, the crank is more rigid and rides in smaller journal bearings. Intense friction-reduction measures make it slicker running than some gas motors too. Engineers say it would require a urea exhaust aftertreatment in a TSX-sized car, but not in a Civic weight-class vehicle (like the forthcoming Civic-based Acura).

Slicker CVTs: Three CVT families serve mini, compact, and midsize Hondas and all feature less-consumptive oil pumps, wider ratio ranges (5.5 for the minis, 6.2 for the compacts, and 6.5 for the midsize), revised friction oil and pulley-surface roughness, and electronics that hasten the acceleration response. The coolest one, though, is the new midsize CVT, which uses a new 30mm wide push-belt (both smaller CVTs use a 24mm belt) whose individual elements are held together by a Honda-unique set of 12 bands instead of the usual 14 or 16. This permits the belt to be thinner, lowering friction losses and improving torque transmission.

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