It has long been said that Honda is first and foremost an engine company and everything it does is really just to sell more engines. It sells everything from motor bikes and generators to jet planes with cars in between. Honda engines can be as small as 25 cubic centimeters used in lawn and garden equipment. The engines we are interested in are Honda engines powering their cars, minivans and crossover SUVs. The new evolution of Honda’s car and truck powertrains is “Earth Dreams Technology”. Earth Dreams includes a range of engines and engine technology, CVT transmissions and hybrid powertrains and EV technology. It is a comprehensive approach to updating Honda’s automotive powertrains in response to looming United States and global emissions regulations.
Engines for Every Application Focusing on Environmental Friendliness and Fun The engine line-up goes from 660cc (in foreign markets – N-One and N-Box) to 1.5L, 1.8L, 2.0L, 2.4L and 3.5L. In the USA, we find these engines in Honda’s lineup from Honda’s Fit (1.5L 4-cylinder) to Accord and from Acura’s ILX to RLX. Earth Dreams technology improves efficiency with better fuel economy, and lower emissions while still providing fun-to-drive performance.
Three Sport Hybrid Drive Systems There are three unique extra cost hybrid systems: one-motor, two-motor and three motor systems. Honda refers to them as “Sport Hybrid” systems. The one-motor system uses Intelligent Dual-Clutch Drive (i-DCD) that combines a 1.5L DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The two motor system is found in the 2014 Accord Hybrid using a 2.0L DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine with a CVT. Honda calls this two motor hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD). Coming later in the Acura RLX is the Super Handling All Wheel Drive three motor hybrid system. Honda claims this “unique system achieves both fuel economy and superior driving performance at a whole new level by combining a new V6 3.5L direct-injection engine and a newly-developed 7-speed DCT system with a built-in motor, while enabling free control torque distribution to the right and left rear wheels through the use of two motors installed in the rear.” From a company only having mild hybrids before, this onslaught of Earth Dreams hybrids in such a short period of time is impressive.
Continuously Variable Transmissions Coming with the new engines and hybrid systems are new CVT transmissions. Honda engineers state that the toughest challenge when developing the 2013 Accord was getting the CVT right. It is used on all 4-cylinder Accords. The key is to make the CVT feel more like a conventional automatic transmission with noticeable (but smooth) shift points rather than the rubber band feeling that many CVTs provide. Honda says their new CVTs are 5% more efficient than other CVTs on the market today and 10% more efficient than a 5-speed automatic (who is using those anymore?).
Earth Dreams Electric Vehicle There is even an EV in the Earth Dreams portfolio found in the Fit EV.
PHEV Accord We can’t forget the 2014 Accord PHEV introduced earlier in 2013. This top of the line Accord plug-in hybrid has stretched the technology in the Honda brand lineup by adding an EV system that provides an all-electric range of 13-miles and an MPGe fuel economy rating of 115MPGe. EPA fuel economy ratings are 47/46/46 (city/highway/combined). The recently launched Accord Hybrid (not PHEV) gets 50mpg in the city.
Powertrain System Naming Becoming the Rage Earth Dreams may sound a bit hokey to customers, but Honda is not alone in naming their powertrain technologies. Ford has EcoBoost. Toyota has Hybrid Synergy Drive (for its hybrids). Mazda has Skyactiv. Nissan has Pure Drive. Chrysler has Hemi.
The new 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid joins the mid-size sedan hybrid wars with a two-motor hybrid that achieves 50mpg in the city (50 city/45 highway/47 combined). As one of the top selling cars in the USA, the Accord Hybrid has the potential to unseat the present leader Toyota Camry Hybrid (followed by the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in sales so far in 2013). Accord’s bragging rights are for city fuel economy – highest in the mid-size class at 50mpg. Fusion gets 47mpg in the city (and highway). The best-selling is down on mpg compared with Fusion and Accord – Camry gets 43mpg in the city and 39 on the highway.
I have to admit that I’m rooting for Lincoln. I used to work there and the Lincolns were “my” cars – Lincoln Continental Town Car, Lincoln Continental Town Coupe (yep, there was a Town Coupe in 1981), (eh hem, the Granada/Monarch-based Lincoln Versailles dubbed the “Mini Mark”), the Fox-based Lincoln Continental, and the Lincoln Continental Mark VI Coupe and Mark VI 4-door.
About 20 American journalists and analysts had a chance to drive the Volkswagen XL1 at the Autostadt near Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. Only 20 of the planned 250 vehicles have been completed to date and five were on hand for our drives. A Volkswagen engineer guided each drive through Wolfsburg and even included a short autobahn blast hitting the car’s top speed limited to 160kmh (about 99mph).
261 MPG! The XL1 is very special. First, it looks totally cool and highly aerodynamic. Volkswagen has been developing a car to achieve the European objective of 1 liter of fuel consumed per 100 kilometers driven for over a decade now. This equates to 238mpg using United States gallons. The XL1 actually beats this. It gets 0.9L/100km fuel efficiency (about 261mpg!). With its 10L (2.6-gallons) fuel tank this translates to a cruising range of over 600-miles on a tank of diesel.
How does it do this? A combination of small size, great aerodynamics (Cd=0.189), plug-in-hybrid 2-cylinder turbo-diesel powertrain and a carbon fiber body that weighs only 197lbs. To save weight, VW forgoes an on-board charger – at least for the first 50 in their production run. Adding an on-board charger (which would allow the car to be charged at a public charge station rather than a dedicated charger likely in someone’s garage) would add 8kg (about 18lbs) to the weight of the car. VW is considering adding a charger to the last 200 of the vehicles.
Staggered Seating The seating package uses a trick out of the smart fortwo design. The seat in the two passenger car are staggered with the passenger seated slightly to the rear of the driver so shoulders won’t touch. The XL1 certainly is not spacious, but for a hyper-miler it may be just the ticket. Seeing the XL1 out in traffic reinforces just how small the car has to get to achieve such great fuel consumption. It is tiny. It is about an inch lower than a Lamborghini – and those come up about to your waist. In traffic, it is dwarfed by other cars – even the small VW Polo and Lupo models driving around Wolfsburg. To its credit, and for better aerodynamics, the rear of the body is lengthened and yields a trunk of 4.2 cubic feet – about twice the size of the first generation Mazda Miata.
Advanced Powertrain The XL1 is a rear engine, rear wheel drive car. The diesel is hard-mounted just behind the passenger compartment. Given that location it is very obvious when the diesel kicks in. At least in the early models, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is sacrificed to achieve a total weight of 1723 pounds. The diesel is relatively noisy and with only two cylinders it vibrates quite a bit. The 5.5kw battery pack is mounted in front of the driver and on electric-only power the car will go 31 miles. XL1 uses a DSG (automatic) transmission from VW’s new MQB platform. If you really step on it, the XL1 will achieve a 0-60mph time of 12.7 seconds. With no power steering, the rear engined car is a bit heavy feeling but not objectionable.
Rear View Cameras – a Bit Uncomfortable Probably the most uncomfortable part of driving XL1 is rear visibility. VW has received an exemption from the EU to use rear view cameras instead of outside rear view mirrors. The viewing screens are mounted in the door trim panels just forward of the armrests. You have to look down left or right to see the traffic behind you. Takes a bit to get used to the design. You never really know where the traffic is in your blind spot.
Some naysayers are already preparing their eulogies for the electric car. They say that have failed. They say that consumers don’t want them. They say the market’s not ready for them. Our view? To date, they’ve been a tough sell, but there’s some real progress being made. We’re not ready to start cuing Mozart’s Requiem just yet.
Consider if you will the new Fiat 500e, the Italian brand’s new entry into the electric car segment. It’s great to look at. It’s fun to drive. It’s quick. It’s well equipped with lots of features. And the whole package incorporates some very convincing and innovative motivators to consider one.
From our point of view, there are two major reasons why electric cars haven’t taken off yet. One is price. Electric cars cost far more than their gasoline powered counterparts. The other is range anxiety. Consumers are (rightly) concerned that electric cars won’t get them where they need to go and that they could be left stranded, with no backup in sight.
In the January, 2013 issue of Automobile Magazine, Wolfgang Egger, Design Chief of Audi is quoted when discussing the Crosslane concept shown at the Paris Auto Show in September, “The new headlights are certainly more subdued than the very bright dot-style LEDs we had to work with in the past. But the era when daytime running lights were shaped like waves, loops of swooshes is definitely over. Instead, we have developed inoffensive and geometric light graphics consisting of distinct vertical and horizontal elements. This trademark light pattern will be unique to Audi and we will eventually see it on all models”
Audi A8 Headlight Graphics - Dramatic
Audi A8 Running Lights - Instantly Identifiable
Well… this qualifies for a “What Are They Thinking” category!
New Audi Headlamp Cues Shown on Crosslane Concept
The Crosslane running light graphics are shown in the image above. As can be seen, this is a much more linear interpretation than the swoopy design Audi is using today. Is this as distinctive? Is this as head-turning? Is this a design that can immediately identified when you glance at the car behind you in the rear view mirror?
I guess time will tell, but it appears that Audi is taking a more conservative and possibly less expensive direction with their signature headlamp theme.
A large sedan with a 4.0L 520-horsepower twin turbocharged V8, the Audi S8 provides a compelling package for a quick blast from Orange County to Laughlin, Nevada swapping Interstates for surface roads and Route 66 – the “Main Street of America”. Think of this as a familiarization trip to get fully acquainted with the interactive technologies of the S8. Most of it has to do with the multi-media interface (MMI) with navigation, audio, phone and even seat adjustments shown on the center screen. Audi’s NAV system includes a Google Earth view that lost its terrain view data over the desert, but that was not Audi’s fault, just that the Google folks have not gotten around to mapping uninhabited terrain much. BTW, the S8 is rated at 15-mpg in the City and 26-mpg on the highway. Returning from Laughlin resulted in 24-mpg. Not bad at 75-mph cruising speeds.
Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go Really Works Spending more time on Interstates on the return, the S8′s adaptive cruise control system really came into its own. Even in very heavy traffic descending the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County the cruise maintained speed and distance. The spacing was a bit long and a few times someone would slip into the space causing the Audi to brake to adjust the distance again. When traffic slowed to a stop, so did the S8. This trip made me a believer in these advanced cruise control systems.
Two-Laners a Snap Admittedly, Route 66 is pretty deserted these days, even on a Saturday, but there are usually double yellow lines preventing passing. When passing is allowed, inevitably there is a car approaching too soon. Or is it? A car with 520-horsepower gives you the confidence to punch it and go. In the auto industry, there is a measurement called TED – Time Exposed to Danger. This is usually the time to accelerate from 50-mph to 70-mph. Well in the Audi, TED is very short almost feeling instantaneous from 50-mph to 80-mph. Going to full throttle in the S8 generates an outstanding grumble from the exhaust. I bet the cars passed by the S8 at full throttle were impressed when it flashed by. Yeehaw!
Comfort Seats are the Ticket If you read the VehicleVoice reviews of the S7 written last week, you’ll remember that we were not particularly impressed with the sport seats in the car and noted that comfort seats were available as a $1,950 option. Well, they are standard in the S8 and come with 22-way adjustment. With these seats you can back off the bolsters to provide more spacious seating and get a massage at the same time. When you are adjusting either front seat from the side-of-the-seat controls, a graphic appears on the center display showing you what adjustments you are making. Nice.
Ride Quality Suffers With Aggressive Tires The S8, being the performance package for the S8, is set up for spirited driving with very aggressive 21-inch 35 aspect ratio Continental summer tires. Even selecting the “Comfort” (rather than “Auto” or “Dynamic”) setting on the vehicle dynamics system resulted in a busy choppy ride at low speeds. At higher speeds – lets admit to ten or fifteen mph over the speed limit at times – the car felt much more at home absorbing irregularities with ease.
What if I told you you could buy a vehicle that had the capability to haul seven people, could hit at least 30 MPG on the highway, and had all of the creature comforts you would want, such as navigation and Bluetooth; would you buy it? What if there was a catch? Would sliding doors break the deal for you? Would riding in a jazzed up cargo van send shivers down your spine?
“I can’t underestimate how important the Fusion is to Ford,” — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, to workers at Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant.
The mid-size car segment is filled with able competitors and most are either new or recently updated. The oldest, Hyundai Sonata, is a 2011 model and each new model is being launched with a wider range of features than ever before. Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6 represent the best collection of mid-size cars ever available in the United Sates.
What makes this competition interesting is the different approach that each manufacturer is taking. The Nissan Altima enters the race with a cost conscious four-cylinder engine with no turbo or direction injection. Despite this, the Altima has superior fuel economy and excellent power. Add in attractive styling cues from the Maxima, and you get a pretty compelling offering at a great price.
The Ford Fusion takes a different tack with six powertrains, including two hybrids. We got a chance to drive four of them in Santa Monica this week. Our impressions are positive, but we wonder a bit about the complexity of all these offerings.
2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: This might be the best combination of price and attributes of the four we drove. While not as powerful as the EcoBoost options, it works well for a vehicle in a segment where dynamics are less important than price.
1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual: While Ford won’t sell a lot of manual transmission Fusions, this vehicle clearly has a European feel and would be our choice for fun. You clearly feel the small size of the 1.6, but pushing it hard and gliding through the gears with the smooth shifter makes this a fun ride.
2.0-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: More fun than the 2.5 liter four, but will buyers in this segment buy-in? Ours had the stand-alone start-stop feature, which worked better than other executions we’ve seen. It’s a good glimpse into the positive future of start-stop fuel saving technology.
2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with an electric motor: As fun to drive as a hybrid! The hybrid version has received an EPA certified 47 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, giving the vehicle the highest fuel-efficiency of any hybrid in its class. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry Hybrid LE gets 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, according to Toyota.
Building a hybrid can get you to about $38,000. A Titanium All Wheel Drive can get to you to $39,000. Start saving now.
Honda will add a plug-in hybrid version of the Accord for the 2014 model year with launch in the first quarter of 2013. As part of its Earth Dreams Technology initiative, the PHEV represents the toughest powertrain challenge for the Accord according to Plug-In Hybrid Large Project Leader Yasuyuki Sando. Later, a pure two-motor hybrid version will be added.