TOKYO -- Honda thinks it finally has a diesel that will make its European rivals a little nervous. Using comparable Volkswagen Group powertrains as a benchmark, Honda says it has created a new 120-hp 1.6-liter diesel that offers 300 newton meters of torque while emitting less than 100 grams per kilometer of CO2.
At 180kg, Honda says the new diesel is the lightest in its class, which contributes to its low CO2 numbers. The engine's final CO2 scores will be released closer to launch as it still needs to undergo testing in Europe.
When asked whether he hopes the new powerplant will put pressure on VW, Honda engineer Junji Yamano said through an interpreter: "It is good if they have some sleepless nights because we have had sleepless nights" trying to develop a diesel that can compete against VW's.
The engine, which will be made at Honda's factory in Swindon, England, will debut at the Paris auto show in autumn 2012 and appear first in the new ninth-generation Civic in early 2013. The new Civic will debut in Europe in February 2012 with a choice of 1.4- and 1.8-liter gasoline engines and a 2.2-liter diesel unit.
The current Civic offers Europeans only the 2.2-liter unit, which is too large – and heavy – in a segment where most buyers want 1.5- or 1.6-liter turbodiesels.
Alessandro Skerl, head of Honda's Italian unit, said the new 1.6-liter diesel engine will be crucial in a market such as Italy where the majority of compact car buyers favor diesels. Cars with small diesel engines of 1.6-liter displacement or less account more than 50 percent of compact segment sales. "We expect the 1.6-liter diesel to cover 65 percent of Civic sales," he said.
Fuel economy goal: No. 1
The 1.6-liter engine is 50kg lighter than the 2.2-liter diesel because it has a smaller displacement as well as aluminum cylinders rather than steel and pistons made of high-strength steel so that their diameter could be reduced, saving weight without sacrificing on performance or endurance.
The new diesel is the first powerplant for Europe from what Honda calls its Earth Dreams Technology lineup.
Sources say this engine likely will be offered in the United States in addition to its European application, however, Honda CEO Takanobu Ito said last week that the automaker does not have any plans to launch diesels in North America.
Honda officials also said that turbocharged gasoline direct-injection engines will be developed in the future. A source said they should be launched within the next two to three years.
Ito said Honda's aim for launching its new powertrain lineup is to have "the No. 1 fuel economy in each [vehicle] category within the next three years."
In addition to the engines, Honda has designed three new continuously variable transmissions, one for mid-sized cars such the Accord, and two for smaller vehicles such as the Civic, Jazz and Japan-market minicars.
While many competitors in Europe are moving toward dual-clutch transmissions, Honda is betting big on CVT because it feels its solutions address key weaknesses in the technology such as lag.Current CVTs have a "rubber band" feeling similar to a slipping clutch under acceleration, but the Honda system has less of a feeling of slippage, said Hideki Wakamatsu, general manager of Honda R&D.
That's because the Honda belt, which is sourced from German's Robert Bosch, is thinner and has a proprietary material that resides between the element and the ring of the CVT, Honda said. Also, the engine control software has been remapped so there is less hunting between the engine and CVT for optimal engine revs and transmission ratios during sudden acceleration, Wakamatsu said. He said that Honda's CVT is designed to use the engine at its most efficient, resulting in fuel economy improvement of 5 percent to 10 percent.
Honda will continue to offer manual transmissions for markets such as Europe. A source added that within the next two years Honda also plans to launch a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and an automatic with either eight or nine speeds. Traditional stepped-gear automatics will be offered for vehicles such as sport sedans and sports cars where more immediate performance impact is needed, Wakamatsu said.