Honda 3-Cylinder Engines a Possibility, Exec Says

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Ever more stringent CAFE requirements in the U.S. and CO2 regulations in Europe are squeezing automakers like never before. They’re turning to technologies and fuels they would have never considered just 10 years ago. What’s Honda’s strategy to meet these standards?

“Trend-wise, downsizing powertrains [is key]” said Tetsuo Iwamura, President and Chief Executive Officer of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. He also said small displacement engines and turbochargers “are the direction” for all automakers, but stopped short of saying if or when the capital “H” would introduce such a powertrain.

Interestingly Honda went in the opposite direction with the new Acura RDX. In its first-generation this compact luxury crossover featured a turbocharged four-banger under the hood, but the latest incarnation is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that surprisingly delivers more power and is more efficient. Front-wheel-drive models deliver up to 28 miles per gallon on the highway.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Acura RDX Review

“Three-cylinders could have a possibility as well,” Iwamura said, a statement that suggests Honda is possibly considering a small engine with an odd-cylinder count.

Next year Ford will offer a Fiesta in North America with a three-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Displacing just 1.0-liter, it delivers reasonably snappy performance and superb fuel economy. If the Blue Oval is successful with this unconventional small-car effort Honda could follow suit.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0-Liter Review

Diesel is another route to higher efficiency, but if you’ve been praying for oil-burning Hondas to land at dealerships in America keep on dreaming because it doesn’t look like that is going to happen anytime soon.

Iwamura said they would have to sell between 30,000 and 50,000 diesels in the U.S. annually to make a business case for offering them. They would also have to be made available on the Accord and Civic “to be accepted by the mass market” he said.

Cost is another issue. Diesel engines are more expensive than their gasoline counterparts as is the fuel itself. Iwamura said oil refiners in the U.S. are optimized to produce gasoline; they’d have to invest in their production facilities to make more diesel. As such there’s not enough of the fuel to go around, which increases its price.

One alt-fuel area Honda has played an active role in is compressed natural gas. With the Civic, it’s the only OEM to produce a CNG-powered passenger car in the U.S. However, on the pickup side, the 2012 Ram 2500 CNG is the sole OEM-built truck in North America to be powered by the vaporous hydrocarbon.

Of course natural gas has its own issues, from limited availability at fueling stations in the U.S. to insufficient range. But one potential advantage is home filling. Drivers can top-off their tanks from the natural-gas line in their houses. There are issues, though.

Iwamura said the CNG sold at gas stations has been dried, meaning moisture has been removed from it. This is not the case with the natural gas used in people’s homes. It contains excess water, which is very bad for vehicles. Furnaces and kitchen ranges don’t mind the extra moisture.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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