Along with concepts like the EV-STER and Micro Commuter, Honda officially revealed its banner for next generation technology called Earth Dreams Technology at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show. The company, and president/CEO Takanobu Ito, promises both to care for the environment and provide joy of driving under EDT. From what we’ve heard and experienced, it sure smells as sweet as Eau De Toilette!

There are few main weapons in the Earth Dreams Technology arsenal, comprising new petrol and diesel engines, a CVT gearbox, a fresh “two-motor” hybrid system, electric SH-AWD for efficient performance and of course, a compact electric powertrain for EVs.

With these, Honda is aiming high. No, forget high, let’s make it THE top. With Earth Dreams Technology, Honda is looking at being the fuel efficiency leader in every vehicle class within three years – how’s that for a mission? Alongside this FC target is a plan to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% for all products sold worldwide by 2020, relative to emission figures from year 2000.

Let’s start with petrol engines and what Honda is so famous for, VTEC. Honda has enhanced its much vaunted variable valve timing and lift control system for better thermal efficiency and reduced friction. This will benefit both ends of the scale – fuel efficiency and higher output.

This “new VTEC” will be homed in a new engine series which has a new structure and higher expandability. The new range will include players in every engine class – from the JDM minicar standard of 660 cc to a 3.5 V6 that Americans require. Four cylinder units displacing 1.3, 1.5, 1.8, 2.0 and 2.4 litres will sit in the middle.

Another major shift is the use of the Atkinson cycle, till now only seen in Toyota’s hybrid models. The Atkinson cycle provides high efficiency at the expense of power density. It’s also not the strongest at low engine speeds, so this is where Honda’s twin cam VTEC know how comes into play, normalising the situation. Honda plans to use the Atkinson cycle from 1.3 to 2.0 litre sizes; no change for engines outside this range.

That’s not all, as 1.3L engines and above will all receive direct injection. The 1.8 and 2.0 engines, likely to power Honda’s future C-segment cars like the Civic and CR-V, will also get high capacity EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation). If used with motor assist in a hybrid, the 2.0L engine will come with an electric water pump, eliminating the need for a belt in the auxiliary drive and reducing friction.

Honda gave us a sample of this next gen engine, which in 2.4L guise features direct injection, DOHC VTEC, VTC, high tumble port, double arm chain system plus “extensive friction reduction measures” and Idle Stop. With all these, Honda claims 5% improved economy and 5% better output, along with 10% more torque – the latter is also more accessible thanks to a friendlier torque curve.

The improvements over today’s K24A is noticeable. Housed in an Accord Euro and paired to a CVT, the new engine has sharp response on take off, opposed to today’s “comes alive at high rpms” character. Can’t quite remember the top end feel though, no thanks to the CVT. But one thing’s for sure – it performs with vigour that’s not very common in the class. Figures? Over 181 hp and over 240 Nm is what they’re ready to reveal at this point.

Japanese carmakers are always critisised for their lack of diesel engine development, so when we were told that there’s a new oil burner for sampling, we were naturally excited.

Honda will be replacing the 2.2L diesel it uses in Europe now for a thoroughly modern downsized unit – a 1.6L that’s aiming for best in class acceleration and fuel efficiency. I can see people at VW and PSA scratching their heads in disbelieve, but Honda is saying it with a straight face.

Firstly, this new 1.6L diesel is compact and has the world’s lightest body, according to its maker. Optimising engine rigidity and combustion pressure allowed them to use an aluminium open deck for the cylinder block, saving previous grams. Reducing mechanical friction was also a main objective, and the result is on par with current Honda petrol engines. There’s also a new compact and more efficient turbocharger.

This engine will make roughly 120 hp and 300 Nm of torque, but boy, it feels much better than that. Also demo-ed in an Accord Euro, but with a six-speed manual gearbox, you hear no diesel clatter in the car, and there’s no turbo lag. What’s nice is the way it revs so cleanly without any lack of breath or added vibration at high rpms.

“Like a petrol engine” is often used to describe nice diesels, but this is even smoother revving than many petrols. And since manual gearbox feel is something of a Honda trade secret, the package is top notch. In Malaysia, we can start writing a song dedicated to Honda titled “If Only”.

Honda is on a mission to inject sportiness and fun driving back into the mix, after focusing solely on green for some time, and the new SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) represents this efficient performance mix well. Developed for future large vehicles, the new SH-AWD is essentially a “hybridised” version of the physics defying tech. Presently, SH-AWD is a mechanical torque vectoring rear axle that can be found in high end models like the Legend and US market Acuras.

The electric SH-AWD was housed in an Accord body for sampling. Up front is the new direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 with 310 hp and 360 Nm. It is assisted by a 40 hp, 130 Nm electric motor and mated to a self-developed seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. At the back, each rear wheel is connected to a 27 hp, 70 Nm electric motor. The result is four-wheel drive without a link between front and rear axles.

Each rear motor is independently controlled, and can deliver either positive or negative torque. Instead of just directing torque to the outside wheel for more traction, SH-AWD can simultaneously generate power from the inside wheel, neutralising power use.

It’s sort of like taking from one hand and putting it into the other, in every corner. The front wheels does the usual regenerating thing. It’s all extremely efficient, and Honda says that this combo can deliver V8 go with four-cylinder fuel economy. And of course, there’s the physics defying traction. View this short video to better grasp the concept.

We tried the SH-AWD Accord mule on a very short loop of the Motegi road course, and yours truly came away very impressed. Here’s a big heavy car that can corner like few other. There’s so much more traction in the corners when the regular FWD Accord would have already washed wide, leading me to carry higher than expected speeds in the corners.

It was a super brief stint, but the slalom run gave the Accord, which is already the entertainer of the class, a chance to show off its nimble feet. It danced, not plowed, around the cones, and the car’s tail played along. Ok, it wasn’t drifting, but it was obvious that it wasn’t just front end grip dragging the car around. The only negative factor is major body roll, but that’s not part of what’s being tested here. Highly promising.

There was also a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox in the evaluation car. It wasn’t conspicuous, which is a good thing to report for a DSG type ‘box.

There you go, one afternoon worth of exciting discovery at Motegi. Many enthusiasts, me included, have been lamenting the “death” of Honda’s enthusiast/engineering streak, replaced by an obsession with eco and hybrid. The condolences are premature, and I’m happy to know that there are exciting times ahead from the brand. Just that this time, performance will be fused with eco consciousness.