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Honda's Turbo Trifecta

Dissecting the latest boosted VTEC engines from the new Accord, RDX, and Civic Type R

Mar 13, 2019
Photographer: Honda

When Honda turned over its turbocharged Civic Type R to the masses of VTEC fanatics all across America, we did a little dance. Not just because we were one of the first to drive the little hellion of a Honda hot hatch, but because we were thinking ahead to the swaps we might see down the line.

Branded as the K20C1, this forced-induction engine produces a healthy 306 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque when fine-tuned to fit within the Type R, and it serves as a banner from which much of the brand and its opulent Acura offshoot can rally around. It's no secret automakers are ditching larger displacement vehicles for smaller, forced-induction alternatives, and thanks to this ferocious little four-banger, Honda and Acura are no different.

To date, only the Civic Type R, Accord, and Acura RDX have been outfitted with this engine, all of which behave quite differently due to a multitude of factors. After spending extensive time with all three of these vehicles, we began to take note of some of their more intriguing behavioral features, performance pitfalls, and what makes each so special.


Honda turbo k series acura rdx Photo 2/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Acura Rdx
Honda turbo k series RDX engine bay Photo 3/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series RDX Engine Bay

We begin with the latest automobile to be bestowed with this uproarious engine, a vehicle that, coincidentally, came with a turbocharged K-series straight from the factory when it made its debut more than a decade ago. For the OG's reading this, some of you may recall Honda Tuning's RDX Stage 1 build from a few years ago, when we took a first-gen daily beater and gave it a well-rounded slathering of bolt-ons and OEM upgrades.

Honda turbo k series acura RDX Photo 4/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Acura RDX
Honda turbo k series RDX drive mode selector Photo 5/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series RDX Drive Mode Selector

Today's RDX returns to those same turbocharged roots, this time with a far more efficient engine and a 10-speed automatic gearbox that makes silk feel like sandpaper. What makes this setup so good isn't just its ability to generate torque 30 percent faster or bump rear torque numbers up by 40 percent when needed. It's the ability to kick down from 10th gear to 6th when overtaking on the interstate or throw power instantaneously to the pavement in an extremely tidy fashion from a standstill or in a tight corner that gets our pistons pumping.

Much like the perks found when putting the Civic Type R in Sport or Sport+ mode, the all-new RDX turns into a completely different animal when these settings are selected. Its throttle response becomes even more outstanding, turbo lag is suddenly barely notable, exhaust notes and engine noise grow aggressive, and cornering turns into a key focus thanks to Acura's latest round of SH-AWD torque vectoring. In regard to the latter, not only does the vehicle apply brake pressure to the inside of a rear wheel to help pull it around a curve, it now applies controlled amounts of power to help you keep a tidy line.

Honda turbo k series RDX Photo 9/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series RDX
Honda turbo k series turbo RDX engine Photo 10/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Turbo RDX Engine
Honda turbo k series RDX Photo 11/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series RDX

With 272 hp at the ready and 280 lb.-ft. of twist on tap, the RDX doesn't feel like it has a detuned Type R engine underneath, but a retuned version instead. So don't knock it until you try it, because this one's playing for keeps—not to mention the A-spec trim in Apex Blue Pearl looks utterly outstanding.

What we'd change: basic bolt-ons and a tune. If Graham Rahal Performance can get an extra 100 hp by bolting on the usual intake, exhaust, intercooler, and reflash lineup, the possibility of building your own "Type RDX" sounds downright delightful.

Honda turbo k series RDX infotainment screen Photo 15/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series RDX Infotainment Screen
Honda turbo k series RDX gauge cluster Photo 16/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series RDX Gauge Cluster


Moving on to arguably the most pedestrian of the three turbocharged 2.0L vehicles in today's lesson comes the redesigned Honda Accord. For years we've been offered an Accord Sport with a V-6 and a manual gearbox, a combo that has become increasingly rare in a world where semi-autonomous midsize sedans and coupes are becoming more of the norm.

Honda turbo k series honda accord Sport Photo 17/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Honda Accord Sport

Fortunately for us performance fans, the all-new Accord shares many of the same underpinnings with the 10th-gen Civic, making it the ideal candidate for the turbocharged 2.0L out of the Type R. Keeping with tradition, Sport models are still being offered with a six-speed manual, too, and although the clutch and corresponding drive feel are both light-years away from the Type R, the manual Accord remains an enjoyable daily driver.

Unlike the Civic Type R, the Accord receives a turbo with a smaller, low-inertia turbine for improved low-rpm boost response and more efficient cruising. Maxing out at 20.8 psi of boost, the family sedan hits 252 hp at 6,500 rpm and will generate 273 lb.-ft. of torque anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 rpm, a full grand ahead of the Type R's 2,500 sweet spot. That may not sound like much on paper, but that's the most torque ever offered in a stock Accord, and the way in which it is delivered is both smooth and reassuring.

Honda turbo k series honda accord sport engine Photo 21/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Honda Accord Sport Engine

What we'd change: swap in the manual gearbox from a Type R with all the fixings. Unlike the Civic Type R's transmission, the Accord Sport 2.0T comes attached to a super squishy six-speed that would benefit greatly from a little "R-rated" action. The Civic's helical limited-slip, short-shifter, lightweight clutch, rev-matching feature, and revised high-speed gearing would all make the Accord's trans feel a lot more engaging.

Honda turbo k series honda accord sport Photo 22/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Honda Accord Sport

For those looking for a "boost" in power, outfitting an '18-and-up Accord 2.0T with a Hondata FlashPro ECU controller is a solid start. This electronic upgrade not only gives you unlimited access to a programmable ECU interface, but it has also been proven to deliver power gains that, with the appropriate bolt-ons, best a stock Civic Type R. According to Hondata, on manual Accords, a FlashPro Stage 1 tune safely delivers around 10 peak hp, and 20 to 25hp bumps in the midrange, as well as an extra 40 lb.-ft. of torque. Jump to a Stage 2 setup and you get 22 peak horsepower, with 40 to 50hp gains seen throughout the midrange, along with an impressive 85 lb.-ft. of grunt down low. Starting at just $695 and loaded with customizable options, this is without question one of the first upgrades any Accord buyer should consider.


Honda turbo k series fk8 type R Photo 23/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Fk8 Type R

As for the most iconic vehicle rocking Honda's turbocharged 2.0L, reviews of its performance returns and inherent problems are pretty well known. While 306 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque create the 0-to-60 in 5-second title page we all know, it's the engineering creativity that goes behind it that often goes untold.

For instance, in order to boost engine responsiveness, a specially developed, super lightweight, forged-steel crankshaft is used exclusively in the Civic Type R, and peak boost is bumped up to 22.8 psi. The Civic Type R also packs a unique high-flow exhaust system, customizable rev-matching features, and a trick helical limited-slip differential for increased high-speed cornering grip.

Honda turbo k series fk8 CTR engine bay Photo 27/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Fk8 CTR Engine Bay
Honda turbo k series fk8 type R shifter Photo 28/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Fk8 Type R Shifter

What we'd change: By this point, we can pretty much have our pick of Type R bolt-ons, so for the sake of time we aren't going to go too deep down this rabbit hole. That said, cooling upgrades definitely remain a primary concern (the Type R's radiator is a tiny 1.26-gallon unit), and the development of "Ring-Driven" hybrid rear-wheel power systems by Orbis is intriguing to say the least. According to Orbis, its hybridized all-wheel-drive solution reduces emissions, is 100 percent street legal, features regenerative braking, and provides an additional 50 hp and 70 lb-ft of torque to each wheel. The setup utilizes a fixed 6.2:1 gear ratio with a two-speed gearbox, and mounting is handled via a billet-machined aluminum knuckle that bolts onto OEM suspension mounting points. On the upside, there's no driveline, rear differential, or axles due to this system being a bolt-on-hub setup, and you get instantaneous electric power with integrated limited-slip. Additionally, the rear caliper and rotor weights are greatly reduced from factory, not to mention brake temps are roughly 40 percent cooler. Downsides include the need for a brake proportioning valve to alleviate unwanted brake bias, and overall curb weight jumps 180 pounds. There's also the turbine-like whine from the wheels themselves to contend with, and, from an aesthetics standpoint, you are pretty much stuck with a plastic clip-on hub cap that resembles the OEM alloys up front. But perhaps the biggest hitch is pricing, because even without battery packs (which average more than $2,000 used), the Orbis Ring-Driven System costs a hefty $9,995.


Honda and Acura have done precisely what many of us were hoping they would: Tweak the Type R engine to the point where it can be utilized in both all-wheel-drive soccer mom machines, and stately sedans alike. As tuning enthusiasts, there are things we would like to see ratified either by the use of aftermarket additions or OEM upgrades on all three of these vehicles, but that does not mean they are not perfectly fine for the masses when in stock trim.

Honda turbo k series honda civic type Rs Photo 29/29   |   Honda Turbo K Series Honda Civic Type Rs

So, let's hope Honda and Acura keep coming out with fun daily drivers, and we'll keep enjoying and modifying them as we see fit. Chances are, things are only going to get better as time passes, making "Performance Crafted Engineering" transform into "The Power of Dreams," and vice versa.

Micah Wright
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