How Honda unlocked the power of small engines with VTEC


In 1989, Honda introduced a powerplant that was, effectively, two engines in one. It combined low-rpm drivability with high-rpm power. Its four-cylinder B16A produced 160 horsepower from just 1.6 liters—100 horsepower per liter—an unheard-of power density for automotive engines. By comparison, the Corvette’s V-8 made 245 horsepower from 5.7 liters, and even BMW’s high-strung four-cylinder M3 engine—192 horsepower from 2.3 liters—didn’t match the Honda. Unlike nearly all high-performance engines, Honda’s B16A provided excellent fuel economy, low emissions, easy starting, a smooth idle, and ample low-rpm torque. How did Honda do it? VTEC, an acronym for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control. This system operates the valves to maximize fluid flow into and out of the engine over an uncommonly wide rpm range.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/12/12/honda-vtec-unlocked-small-engine-power.

Shame that there isnt as much of a push for innovation anymore. Seems like the only companies trying new things are Koenigsegg and Mazda. One of my favorite Honda stories is when they debuted the CVCC engines, and the CEO of GM criticized the tech, saying it was fine for “some little toy motorcycle engine” but they didnt see the potential for their large V-8s. So Mr. Honda bought a brand new 1973 Impala, air-freighted it to Japan, and tasked a team of engineers with developing a new intake manifold, carburetor and new cylinder heads and making their CVCC technology work. When they were done they flew it back and had it tested by the EPA. It outperformed the stock car in nearly every single way.