Honda’s Sport Hybrid system milks more MPG without punishing performance

Honda's 2014 Accord PHEV

Honda built its reputation early on with top-notch engineering and a propensity for going its own way. For the last several years, however, cost cutting coupled with a drive to become a more mainstream auto manufacturer seemed to push Honda away from its ingenious roots. Thankfully, the winds of innovation seem to be blowing strongly again from Honda Headquarters.

Honda has introduced a trio of new Sport Hybrid drivetrain technologies, beginning with small and simple vehicles up to larger all-wheel drive vehicles. Honda is calling these new technologies “Sport Hybrid Intelligent Dual Clutch Drive. If that name seems clunky, remember, Honda is composed of engineering wizards, not wordsmiths.

Honda SPORT HYBRID Systems

At the bottom of the range is the One-Motor Sport Hybrid Intelligent Dual Clutch Drive. Designed for small vehicles, the system improves upon efficiency as well as acceleration.It uses a new inline four-cylinder 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with a built-in electric motor and Lithium-ion battery pack. This arrangement improves efficiency by more than 30 percent over the outgoing version. As one might expect, the system is capable of electric only driving mode (EV) during stop-and-go and low-speed driving.

In the middle – and with an even longer name – is the Two-Motor Sport Hybrid Intelligent Multi Mode Drive/Plug-In. The Two-Motor system follows along the same lines as the One-Motor, improving efficiency and acceleration. This system has been designed with mid-sized vehicles in mind and will be first implemented in the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In. The Two-Motor system is capable of three drive modes: “EV Drive,” “Engine Drive,” and “Hybrid Drive.” EV Drive is essentially what it sounds like: electric-only driving with energy coming from the on-board battery pack, which is charged at home or at a charging station. Engine Drive is for medium- or high-speed driving and relies on power generated from the gasoline engine, which is directly locked to the front drive axle by a lock-up clutch. Lastly, Hybrid Drive is for stop-and-go driving when the on-board electric power has been depleted and the gas engine is relied on for electricity generation but does not power the wheels.

Last, we have the Three-Motor Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive). With the power output of a V8 and the fuel efficiency of a four-cylinder, the Three Motor system is ideal for larger vehicles like the Honda Ridgeline pickup or the Pilot, Honda’s large SUV. The Three-Motor system is powered by a fairly typical 3.5-liter V6, which has been mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Here’s where it gets tricky. In the rear of the vehicle are two electric motors, one on each rear wheel. This system allows for either motor to most efficiently deliver torque to its respective wheel, whether it is positive or negative torque. For instance, as a vehicle goes around a corner, the inside wheel spins more slowly, and the outside spins more quickly as it travels a greater distance. The electric motor on the inside of a given corner in the road will capture energy of the slowing inside wheel and transfer it to the outside wheel, requiring less energy to be exerted by the gasoline engine up front.

Personally, we can’t wait for these new technologies to be implemented into future Honda vehicles. In the meantime, however, who said powerful and efficient drivetrain technologies couldn’t make for riveting reading?