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Sampling Honda’s new VTEC Turbo Engine

REVIEW
Daniel Wong October 28, 2015 23:35

Back in the early 2000s when the Japanese tuner craze was at its peak, the notion of pairing a turbocharger to one of Honda’s fast and frantic VTEC engines was considered to be the holy grail of performance. The challenge of balancing the VTEC switch and the turbocharger kick was something only the brave dare attempted, and thus considered to be sort of an achievement. 

For Honda the very idea of its VTEC variable valve timing system was that it acted like a mechanically actuated turbocharger that gave the high-end rush like that of a turbocharger would. Adding a turbocharger on top of that would have been like sweetening the honey with more sugar, so Honda didn’t think it was necessary to put the two together, well back in the day.

Times however has changed, and with the trend moving towards downsized turbocharged engines to meet stricter emission regulations, Honda has joined the bandwagon and develop a new range of VTEC Turbo engine. As the name implies the VTEC Turbo engines feature intake and exhaust continuous variable valve timing control mechanisms, coupled to a small-diameter turbocharger for low-end torque delivery, and topped off with a direct-injection system.

It sounds as promising as those rosy-eyed memories of the VTEC name standing as a byword of performance. And recently Honda Malaysia gave us the opportunity to give it a try.

More Power from Less Displacement

The setting for our first encounter with Honda’s VTEC TURBO was one a flat test circuit at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Tochigi. It was fitted to Honda’s Jade RS MPV, in the 1.5-litre guise. With a power output of 150hp at 5,500rpm, the 1.5-litre engine had the power output that was nearly similar to that of a 2-litre naturally-aspirated engine. By comparison the 2-litre i-VTEC engine in the Civic produces 155hp, but only at 1,000rpm higher, at 6,500rpm.

The difference in torque however is even more significant. At 203Nm, this 1.5-litre engine out guns the Civic’s 2-litre quoted torque figure of 190Nm, and gets to the maximum mark quicker from 1,600 to 5,000rpm, rather than the Civic’s 4,300rpm. In fact at 1,600rpm this new 1.5-litre unit produces more torque than what a 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine is capable of.

According to Honda, the Jade RS, with the 1.5-litre VTEC Turbo, is able to achieve a JC08 mode traveling fuel consumption rate of 18km/L, which – based on our experience with the 2-litre Civic – is a massive improvement in terms of fuel consumption.  

Part of a Whole Family

This 1.5-litre engine however is only part of a bigger family of VTEC Turbo engines, which comprises of a smaller fuel-efficient 1-litre engine, the Banzai 2-litre engine found in the new Civic Type-R, and 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 in the mix. These new engines are part of Honda’s Earth Dreams technology, which utilises the latest drivetrain technologies to greatly enhance the driving performance and fuel efficiency from its engines.

Putting those Claims to the Test

For our test of the VTEC Turbo engine the Jade RS was paired to the Jade RS’ CVT gearbox. But even so, with the cogless transmission smoothly delivering the power, the VTEC Turbo’s ample torque reserves are undeniable. You don’t need to stamp on the throttle to get any decent pace from it. Peak torque is almost immediately available from the moment you get moving, and the power delivery is silky smooth, which is also due in part to the CVT gearbox.

Honda maintains that the CVT has been developed to make optimise the use of the VTEC Turbo in both outright performance and fuel efficiency. It features Honda’s ‘G-Design Shift’ that is mean to keep the accelerating harder for longer, and keep the engine speed up according to the throttle input. While it does allow for a quicker build-up of speed and alleviates the dreaded ‘rubber-band’ effect, it doesn’t completely eliminate the CVT drone, which is present at higher revs.  

That being said the turbocharged engine loses some of the razor sharp throttle response of the old naturally-aspirated i-VTEC engines. But as a trade-off its predecessor’s peaky engine power delivery is flattened and made far more manageable, more effortless on the move. In retrospect perhaps it is a worthwhile trade-off when used in a context of a family MPV.

Unlike naturally-aspirated VTEC engines, there is no rush to the edge of the rev counter’s redline here, in fact there is no need for that. You don’t feel the engine goad you with a rev-hungry character that makes you want to push it hard to unlock its treasures in the upper rev ranges. The power from the VTEC Turbo swells and the torque is plentiful that you don’t need to force your way up and keep the needle pointed in the high rev ranges.

In fact the VTEC Turbo feels as refined and capable as most modern downsized European engines today. It’s the sort of engine you keep it humming quietly along in the first 2000rpm over idle, and it does pretty much everything you could ever ask for. Gun the throttle, the engine willingly builds the speed smoothly and relentlessly. One thing is for certain, it is definintely not lacking in pace. 

Coming to our Shores

You won’t see the Honda Jade coming to our shores any time soon, or if ever, as the 4+2 seater MPV is only built for the Japanese and Chinese market. But don’t despair, Honda’s remarkable new engine is almost certain to find its way into the upcoming tenth-generation Honda Civic in its 1.5-litre guise, and likely to be paried to a CVT gearbox.

Considering that Honda has poured plenty of effort into improving the new Civic’s refinement, the smooth running and refined VTEC Turbo will be a fine complement to the Honda’s stunning new family sedan, broadening its range of capabilities and on-road refinement.

That being said it might have to wait a while longer before we can see the next-generation Civic make its debut on our shores. By our previous estimates, this may take as early as the end of next year, or the beginning of next. But based on what we have tried here in Tochigi, it might be very well worth the wait. 

About Daniel Wong

Born with a sizable cranium that is only humbled by Rubens Barrichello's, Daniel doesn't care much for numbers or figures but the immediate sensations and experiences one gets from a drive. To him a measure of a good car is one that does what it was set out to do well. A great car is one that draws a smile on your face with a quality that isn't quantifiable and keeps it there.

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