We at AutoPacific have just completed a week’s worth of driving the Thailand-built Mitsubishi Mirage. Now we know what drivers in a third world country experience when they drive locally assembled cars. And we don’t like it much.
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.
Dodge Takes a Chance With a Hatchback. The Caliber is Dodge‘s new compact car entry, going on sale as we write these words. Taking the place of the Neon in Dodge showrooms, the Caliber is offered as a five-door hatchback. Dodge is right on in adopting this new bodystyle; while not a trendsetter in choosing to offer only a five-door hatchback, Dodge is ahead of the curve. Hatchbacks and wagons aren’t poised to overtake sedans in volume, but there is growing demand for vehicles with flexible interiors and these usually take a hatchback silhouette.
As a hatchback, the Caliber will not see volumes like the Neon (best year, 1996, nearly 140,000 Neons found homes; in 2005 about 113,300 were sold). But success today can be more accurately measured in per-unit profit than in pure volume, and Dodge may find a solid payoff for its risk.
correspondents were among the media who got a chance to explore the Caliber up close and take a first spin around the block. Here’s our report.