Tested: Honda CR-V 1.5 VTEC Turbo – Great Things Come in Small Packages

Miniaturization happens in many industry sectors but few require it more than the field of the automotive powertrain.

Because while engineers battle to reduce the scale of hydrogen fuel-cell units, lithium ion battery packs and hybrid systems, they are also forging ahead in down-sizing the internal combustion engine. This comes largely against a backdrop that alternative fuel vehicles are still struggling to make the inroads in consumer car sales that many predicted would have happened by now.

Global economic pressures are not least to thank, or blame depending on your view point, for keeping the gasoline engine the dominant force in today’s automotive powertrain world. That’s why Honda’s 1.5-liter VTEC turbo is such an important part of the carmaker’s immediate and medium-term strategy.

For while the manufacturer’s EV strategy is well known, especially following the closure of the UK’s Swindon plant and the cessation of the Civic sedan production in Turkey,  gasoline remains an important element in Honda’s multi-solution powertrain production it expects in the foreseeable future. So, can the diminutive 1.5-liter cut mustard with what is seen as a full-size SUV in most markets barring the US?

The power output matches the sort of figures you would have expected from a range-topping sports hot-hatch of a few years ago boasting up to 193 PS (142 kW) at 5,600 rpm for the automatic CVT models. More importantly for an SUV, maximum torque is 243 Nm between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. Environmental concerns have been addressed with Honda claiming CO2 emissions for the automatic of just 162 g/km despite being fitted with all-wheel drive as standard.

Honda has achieved this figures thanks to its lightweight, die-cast aluminum engine block with individual reinforced main bearing caps to reduce weight. On top of this, each journal on the lightweight forged steel crankshaft is, according to Honda, “micropolished” to reduce internal friction. Weight saving also comes from exhaust ports cast directly into the DOHC cylinder head eliminating the need for a separate exhaust manifold and the engine also uses thin-wall hollow camshafts. Service costs should also be greatly reduced thanks to Honda’s claim that the low-friction, silent running cam chain drive is maintenance-free for the life of the engine.

Miniaturization also extends to the motor’s low-inertia mono-scroll turbocharger which, Honda claims, is more compact able to operate with a small-diameter turbine.  Its small size means the turbo can build boost pressure at relatively small throttle openings and low rpm. On top of this, the electrically operated wastegate allows boost pressure to be more precisely controlled.

So, what’s it like on the road. Well, I’d tried the engine in the Honda Civic Sport on a drive from London to cover the Paris Motor Show last year and was more than happy with the urgency of power delivery from low revs and an economical 44mpg (36.6mpg US) fuel return after a mix of city traffic and high-speed motorway work.

Naturally, the CR-V all-wheel drive SUV is a much bigger craft tipping the scales at 1,598kgs (3,515lbs) against the Civic’s 1,307kgs (2,875lbs) and is effectively three full-grown adult passengers plus overnight luggage heavier. It was perhaps unsurprising that the CR-V’s new longer wheelbase chassis, being both lighter and stronger than the out-going model, copes well with the weight differential the ability of the 1.5-liter engine to do the same was very impressive. Of course, it’s no sports car but if, like me, you feel it’s an anathema to produce an outrageously powerful SUV that sprints to a bend, freaks out when the physics rebels and all the passengers immediately feel sick, then the CR-V will not disappoint.

True, it could feel a little fussy when accelerating hard from standstill but, when in its stride, the power and smoothness of the motor belied its small dimensions, a compactness that only enhances the car’s handling through winding country roads. It’s easy to believe Honda’s claimed performance for the new CR-V provides a 0-62mph sprint time of just takes 9.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 131mph.

Naturally, the car’s revised aerodynamics also helps performance and fuel economy thanks to features including a flush-mounted windscreen, smoothed-off profiling of the bumpers, active grille shutters plus under-engine and under-floor covers to improve air flow.

So, with the Honda CR-V, I believe the carmaker proves that small gasoline engines have a very useful role to play in any future mix of powertrains.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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