Honda Earth Dreams 2012 – 1.5 litre i-VTEC DI engine and G-Design Shift CVT sampled, CR-Z facelift tested

The Sport Hybrid systems, including the all-new single-motor Intelligent Dual-Clutch Drive, weren’t the only highlights at the 2012 Honda Meeting – Earth Dreams Technology showcase held in Japan. Honda also previewed its new direct-injection mills, in both 2.4 litre and 1.5 litre guise. The two Earth Dreams inline-four units wear fresh CVTs as well.

The 1.5 litre twin-cam DI unit, which offers 127 hp and 154 Nm, has both VTEC and VTC as well as auto stop-start in the inventory. The 11:0 compression NA unit features a new lightweight block construction, with active measures to reduce friction.

Key tech employed includes low-tension piston rings, a two-stage relief oil pump, high-tumble port, mass EGR and patterned piston coating. In terms of improvement, torque is up by 6%, and efficiency by 5% over a similar existing powertrain.

As for the CVT, the transmission wears a G-Design Shift badge, and for this one the company states that a “new cooperative control achieves ‘the joy of operating’ the car.” Such imagery aside, the new 6.2 ratio unit is claimed to have a quicker response, better efficiency and wider range.

Honda Earth Dreams 2012 – 1.5 litre i-VTEC DI engine and G-Design Shift CVT sampled, CR-Z facelift tested

Reduced friction is on the cards, as well as the employment of a new CVT transmission fluid. Elsewhere, the design incorporates a new high-precision pulley pressure control, high-efficiency oil pump and a new high-strength belt.

The new power and drivetrain was on a Fit at Tochigi, and there was a chance to try it out on the high-speed banked oval – the upper lane was closed off at the banked sections, but there was still ample acreage to stretch the car’s legs as part of what the company tagged the ‘Acceleration Fun’ part of the event.

Tuned towards offering economy without sacrificing drivability, the unit isn’t a veritable powerhouse, but it’s energetic enough. It’s also impressively smooth, especially the CVT. There’s none of the rubber-banding characteristics associated with the type, and what was coming off the unit was rather direct, almost auto transmission-like in feel.

The engine itself is quite willing, lively as it climbs up the rev range, and the smoothness carries through to higher band operation. A simple round across Tochigi won’t reveal what it’s like in the real world, so things will have to wait until it – presumably – debuts on the new Fit to show what it can really achieve, especially with regards to fuel consumption.

Honda Earth Dreams 2012 – 1.5 litre i-VTEC DI engine and G-Design Shift CVT sampled, CR-Z facelift tested

The bigger displacement unit, the 2.4, has pretty much the same bag of tech tricks seen on the 1.5 DI, with the inclusion of a double-arm chain system into the list. Output torque has been increased by 10%, and efficiency is up by 4% over the current unit. As for power output, the new 2.4 DI offers 184 hp at 6,400 rpm (188 hp in Sport trim) and 243 Nm at 4,000 rpm.

Aside from the two DI units, there were other engines on static display – the new 1.6 litre Earth Dreams i-DTEC turbodiesel, which will make its market debut in the new Civic hatchback in Europe in January, as well as a research three-cylinder petrol turbo mill.

No details were available for the three-cylinder turbo, and none were again forthcoming from the Honda engineers despite some serious prodding, but the unit does look rather 1.0 EcoBoost-esque in intent and form. It does look like Honda is viewing the downsizing card and at alternatives quite intently – might be that something like this would bridge the gap from its 1.5 DI to its 660 cc mills quite nicely.

Speaking of 660 cc mills, we had the chance to take out the recently-launched N-One kei car, in both normally-aspirated and turbo forms. The NA version offers 57 hp at 7,300 rpm and 65 Nm at 3,500 rpm, while the turbo delivers 63 hp at 6,000 rpm and 104 Nm at 2,600 rpm. The N-One only comes with a CVT, and from what was gathered at the event, that also wears a G-Design Shift badge.

Honda Earth Dreams 2012 – 1.5 litre i-VTEC DI engine and G-Design Shift CVT sampled, CR-Z facelift tested

The car looks cute, in a kitschy way – I quite like the front end, actually. The interior is rather neat too, if spartan. The front bench looks novel and there’s a decent number of cubbyholes for storage, and a push-button ignition and auto AC keeps it all tidy.

Around the track, belting it seemed a poor idea, especially with the NA, given that it’s really meant as a city car, but aside from a wooly steering at speed and some wind noise, the N-One gave a decent account of itself. Its behaviour is clean and the overall spirit is definitely perky. The turbo went around much easier, naturally, but performance isn’t the be all and end all – in Japan, it’s the cheaper NA that sells far better.

Such is the case too with the gangly N Box, which was at Tochigi in its turbocharged form, complete with Custom dress-up kit – the engine is the same unit as that on the N-One, and has identical figures.

Like the N-One, the normally-aspirated N Box does much better than its turbo sibling in terms of sales, but Japanese consumers do opt to dress it up with the Custom kit – it’s 50-50 basic and Custom as far as sales go, I was told.

Honda Earth Dreams 2012 – 1.5 litre i-VTEC DI engine and G-Design Shift CVT sampled, CR-Z facelift tested

Inspired by what the N-One achieved, I decided to let rip with the N Box, and at 130 km/h going into the middle lane of the bank, images of the vehicle tottering over flashed in my mind, but aside from a complete drop in steering weight, it chugged along happily.

As far as drive character goes, think of it as a bigger N-One. It’s not the prettiest thing, the N Box, but it is eminently practical (plenty of space at the back with the rear seats folded down), and sales reflect its popularity in Japan.

Last, but not least, the facelifted CR-Z. The example at Tochigi was an auto mule, but the additional juice incorporated into the revision helps add zip – you should temper your expectations, because it’s not jaw dropping, but there’s a definite improvement, notably going into the midband.

Honda Earth Dreams 2012 – 1.5 litre i-VTEC DI engine and G-Design Shift CVT sampled, CR-Z facelift tested

I finally figured out how the S+ button operates. Press it, and you get all the available power the car can muster, but the battery has to be at least four bars full; any lower and the system is unavailable. When available, a ‘S+ Ready’ indicator lights up on top of the battery meter display.

Operation is accelerator pedal dependent. The moment you ease off on it, the system disengages and goes back to normal output. Things are also good for a moderate time only, but it’s long enough for something like overtaking.

No word on when the car will arrive on our shores, but given that production of the pre-facelift model is all but over, you can work the math as to when it’ll tentatively arrive here. Oh, and apologies for not grabbing any pix of the CR-Z’s interior – there was simply too many things going on, and by the time I remembered we had left for the next section!