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2015 Honda Fit: Powertrain Preview Drive

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Over the next several years—and spearheaded by the 2013 Honda Accord that’s already at dealerships—Honda plans to introduce an entire lineup of new fuel-saving Earth Dreams engines and transmissions in its cars. That includes a range of next-generation direct-injection engines, plus CVTs for fuel efficiency, or dual-clutch automated gearboxes for hybrids and sporty models.

The subcompact Honda Fit is definitely part of that future, and this past week we got to drive a next-generation Honda Fit (likely to arrive here as a 2015 model) with the all-new 1.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that will replace the current five-speed automatic and almost certainly become the most popular combination for the model in the U.S.

The new engine is part of Honda's Earth Dreams initiative for lower fuel consumption, and in addition to direct injection it employs a high-tumble port, low-tension piston rings, patterned piston coating, mass EGR, and a two-stage relief oil pump. There's also engine idle-stop, to shut the engine off at stoplights.

On the transmission side, this is the middle of three new CVTs developed within Honda (the smaller one is only for Japanese kei-cars like the little, retro-styled N-One). This one bound for the Fit isn’t the current unit already offered in other markets; instead, this new one has a higher-strength belt, reduced friction, higher-precision pulley control, and a new high-efficiency oil pump.

Major gas-mileage gains

Honda hasn't yet released output figures for the new engine, or final information on the CVT's ratio span, but it does say that the engine will produce at least six percent more torque than the current engine’s 106 pound-feet, so at least 112 lb-ft in the future engine, while being at least five percent more fuel-efficient. Add the CVT to the mix and the next-generation Fit could be about 15-percent quicker and ten-percent more fuel-efficient than the current 2013 Honda Fit and its 31 Combined figure (28 mpg city, 35 highway). In our best estimate, we may be seeing figures around 34 mpg Combined, with a highway number close to the 40 mpg mark.

Just as with Honda's large-vehicle CVT in the U.S.-market 2013 Honda Accord, the future Fit's CVT gets a 'G-Design Shift' strategy—configured to provide a stronger, sharper rise of G-forces when first starting out from a standing start, or when tipping into the accelerator at speed.

Although our drive was on the high-speed oval at Honda's Tochigi Proving Ground in Japan, we were able to slow down and notice how the CVT responds at transition speeds. We slowed to maintain 30 mph at one point, then floored the accelerator—a feat that Nissan's four-cylinder/CVT powertrains (like the ones in the 2013 Nissan Sentra and Versa) seem to have particular issue with. But instead, the Fit did well, letting revs rise briefly, then holding them at a higher rate before pegging the revs near redline.

More responsive, linear than other CVTs

And in general, we experienced a responsiveness and linearity from the driver's seat that's lacking in some small-car CVTs. The rubber-band delay isn't completely excised, and you do feel a little bit of 'drag' when moving back and forth from about 1/4 throttle to 3/4 throttle, but for those sorts of situations there are steering-wheel paddle-shifters that tap into seven simulated 'gears.'

Otherwise, Honda’s new 1.5-liter works well with the CVT; it’s more of a middle-rpm engine, just as the current engine, but it revs into its highest ranges smoothly and without all that much noise (less than we remember from the current version). Meanwhile, we didn’t notice any DI clatter at idle, but we started with a hot engine and DI engines tend to be a bit noisier on cold starts.

No further details have been confirmed for this next-generation model--which, by the way, will be built at a new plant in Mexico. But if we can get this CVT version, a manual transmission, and a Fit Hybrid or Fit-based crossover hybrid with the i-DCD system we also previewed, we anticipate this small car lineup will be an even better fit with Americans.

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