The Honda Insight was one of the most awaited cars of 2009. It disappointed pretty much everyone and was quickly forgotten about. The Honda CR-Z was one of the most anticipated cars of 2010. It disappointed pretty much everyone and has quietly sat in the lineup ever since. One of these cars is worth another try.
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When Honda rolled out the CR-Z a few years ago, it hoped to bridge the gap between those who would save the planet and those who would rather burn all of its resources in a glorious cloud of tire smoke. But enthusiasts recalling the CRX of 1980s vintage balked, imploring Honda to ditch the heavy battery packs and electric motors in favor of a lighter-weight, more conventional powertrain. At this point it seems less likely that Honda would do so at one end of the market than Porsche would ditch the hybrid component of its 918 Spyder at the other. But that doesn't mean Honda isn't still cooking up ways to curb the CR-Z's weight. And it had just one such idea waiting for us when we visited its Japanese R&D center at Tochigi last week.
Nestled in between the JDM hatchbacks, powertrain test mules and new technology prototypes Honda rolled out for us sat the experimental CR-Z you see here. While it may look mostly like the hybrid sport-hatch you can pick up at your local dealer (albeit blacked out), nearly all of this prototype's bodywork has been completely replaced, as have its basic underpinnings, with carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. The exotic material is usually reserved for high-end exotics, but like BMW is democratizing its use in the new i3, so too is Honda researching ways to implement the use of carbon fiber on a mass scale. This one-of-a-kind CR-Z prototype stands, for the time being, as the embodiment of that effort.
- Ingress and egress in the carbon CR-Z is a bit more challenging than in the stock version. This prototype has been rebuilt on a carbon floor, with high sills and deeply bolstered buckets positioned down low. The door aperture is subsequently higher, prompting the R&D crew to fit a pair of butterfly hatches in the roof to allow those without the physique (or core strength) of a professional racing driver to get in and out without bumping their noggins. Once inside, the lower seating position - along with the visible carbon fiber all around - gives this prototype a feel more akin to a racecar than a mass-market hybrid hatchback.
- As soon as you get moving (and before even getting used to shifting with your left hand - a first for this writer), the carbon CR-Z feels markedly quicker than stock. Honda insists the powertrain remained intact, which we'll take on faith. But the 30 percent faster 0-62 time they quoted us - now down to 8.3 seconds from 9.5 stock - strikes us as conservative. Just imagine this machine fitted with HPD's supercharger and the CR-Z's mild image would go right out the split rear window.
- With at least 30 percent less weight and a lower seating position, the carbon CR-Z feels more sure-footed than a hybrid hatchback should. We say "at least" because while the CFRP chassis and bodywork helped Honda trim 30 percent off the stock CR-Z's sprung mass (now down to about 1,760 pounds), that weight reduction also enabled it in turn to lighten up the suspension, brakes and rolling stock. With a center of gravity closer to the ground, there's little body roll to be detected and the prototype grips with tenacity through the corners - evident even on the short handling circuit at Tochigi, around which we were permitted only two laps.
- Of course with less heft to keep in check, the brakes also felt considerably stronger, grippier and all around more adept at shedding speed coming into the corner than you'd expect of the stock CR-Z. Given this prototype's scarcity, though, we were admittedly more hesitant to push it to its limits of adhesion.
- Noise, vibration and harshness obviously suffered, as this is a research prototype not a production model - nor even intended to directly preview one, for that matter. The car creaked and pinged audibly the whole way, but we don't doubt that if Honda were to develop it for production, the final fit and finish would be up to the standards you'd expect from a major Japanese automaker.
- We couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the R&D engineer who had to endure lap after lap of journalists (some less talented behind the wheel than this one, some undoubtedly more) flinging this prototype around the tight circuit. But when we left him and his one-off prototype (developed and built at untold expense), both were still in tact.
- Although the cost of producing carbon-fiber is always dropping as production methods are improved and streamlined, we're still a long way off from seeing a $20,000 hatchback built out of the stuff. Of course if Honda were to put its buying power and production expertise behind it, we're sure it could get the price down to a more manageable level, but we still doubt that would go far enough and come soon enough to implement on something as mainstream as the next-generation CR-Z. And given the costs associated with repairing carbon bodywork and structures in the event of a crash, we're not sure mainstream buyers would want something so mass-market to be made out of the high-tech woven material, either. But if this prototype is anything to go on, it sure would be fun - for both tire-smoker and tree-hugger alike.
The whole point of the Honda CR-Z was that it was going to delivery a great driving experience with incredible gas mileage. Well, the mileage wasn't fantastic and the drive wasn't the best. So now HPD gave up and stuck a gas-sucking supercharger on the car.
Honda invited us to its Southern California North American headquarters last week to take a spin in a very special CR-Z - one modified with a full complement of Honda Performance Development (HPD) components. While the company has been racing with HPD parts for years, this is the first time the automaker has offered them for its street-legal vehicles, and it has chosen this year's SEMA Show in Las Vegas to be the launch venue. Last year, Honda introduced the HPD Supercharged CR-Z Concept at SEMA - this is the slightly modified production version.
The complete transformation gives the normally placid hybrid hatchback a serious shot of adrenaline thanks to a bolt-on supercharger combined with suspension, tire, brake and exhaust upgrades. In addition to the blower (detailed in a bullet point below), new HPD suspension components lower the car by about half an inch, and firmer spring rates stiffen the ride. Stock 16- or 17-inch wheels are then replaced with HPD 18-inch alloys wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (215/40ZR18 at all corners). The clutch is upgraded, a limited-slip differential is installed and new HPD monobloc four-piston calipers are fitted over slotted and ventilated iron rotors up front (the single-pistons over solid discs on the back axle are unchanged). In the rear, the stock hidden single exhaust pipe is replaced by a free-flow twin-tip exhaust that peers out of a new HPD lower diffuser. Other cosmetic enhancements include an HPD front lip spoiler, rear deck lid spoiler and an HPD emblem kit for each side. To say the CR-Z is transformed by the complete HPD package is an understatement.
- Face-to-face with the gussied-up CR-Z, I found most of the enhancements stylish and clean. The design benefits from the new sporty duds and the overall appearance gains some much-needed masculinity in the metamorphosis. The finned rear fascia and bright exhaust are well done, but the rear spoiler set high on the decklid appears too tacked-on for my tastes. I would also skip the silver stickers on the doors, as they are a bit garish. The eight-spoke wheels and high-performance tires look great and the slightly lower ride compliments the look. Overall, the red test car made a statement that going green doesn't have to be boring.
- While the stock hybrid CR-Z relies on a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 15-kW electric motor for a combined output of 130 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque, the supercharger (providing up to 9 psi of pressure) boosts total output to 190 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque - that's assuming the 'Sport' button is pressed. (The supercharger kit goes on sale later, in Spring 2014, so Honda has not released pricing yet.)
- The standard CR-Z will burst through the 60-mile-per-hour barrier in about 9.5 seconds from a standstill, which is slower than most of today's minivans. But thanks to the blower adding an additional 53 horsepower to the mix, two full seconds are shaved off the benchmark sprint. Lethargic is replaced with spirited, and the Honda zips around with a newfound youthful demeanor. It is unquestionably fun to drive, and it quickly put a smile on my face.
- The new exhaust pipes provide a slightly more aggressive audible soundtrack, and - sit down for this one - the fuel economy actually improves a point in the highway cycle as the newfound low end torque means the engine doesn't have to work as hard (Honda and the EPA are still working on the official numbers).
- This wasn't a racing circuit exercise, so I wasn't able to push the suspension and brakes to their limits, but zooming around crowded Torrance, CA did give me a decent sense of how the platform has been configured. The suspension is firm, but far from abusive, and it seemed to work well with the stickier rubber to provide much better initial-turn in and grip in the corners. The supercharger and associated hardware add a little bit more weight to the nose (figure 60 percent of the mass is sitting on the front wheels), but I pushed the hybrid hard around a circular onramp and it held firmly without annoying understeer. The brakes also felt more than up to the task of spirited street driving, but the pedal feel doesn't inspire - blame the regenerative braking system for getting in the way.
- My red test car was loaded with everything, including the $60 decal kit, which is a configuration I suspect very few customers will duplicate when you consider that the kit, minus the blower, costs at minimum $6,500 in components alone - the centrifugal supercharger and installation is extra. The automaker says that most of the components will fit all 2011-2014 CR-Z models, and the pieces and parts are offered a la carte through your dealer. And, since Honda promotes its HPD components as "track proven and street reliable," the company will stand behind them with a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty on the parts, and the supercharger meets LEV II SULEV requirements.
- I found the modified hatchback a talented little two-seater, yet I couldn't overlook the donor vehicle's shortcomings - the cabin of the CR-Z is loud, frustratingly lacks two-plus-two seating and rearward visibility is dismal - once I added up the price. But instead of listing competing alternatives for the same money, of which there are several, I will consider the HPD CR-Z a solid proof of concept that will lead to a slew of HPD-modified Hondas down the road.
- Tweaking a hybrid is an interesting strategy, and while it's certainly engaging to drive, most of my fellow enthusiasts would much rather see factory-supported HPD components offered to the public for a racy street-legal Civic Si - we likely won't have to wait very long.
Salt shakers at the ready, boys and girls. There's a rumor out of Australia claiming the next Honda CR-Z will be based on the forthcoming 276-horsepower, turbocharged Civic Type R. Apparently Honda's research and development bigwigs have been unnerved by the reception of the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins and are eager to return fire.
Now, don't get too excited - Honda isn't following the Volkswagen model of offering virtually unchanged mechanicals in a different bodyshell (Beetle Turbo and GTI, for example). Instead, the report says the future CR-Z will retain its hybrid powertrain, albeit with a serious kick in the pants. A prototype is said to already be zipping around Japan with a turbocharged, direct-injected, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and the current CR-Z's electric motor and battery pack. With a reported 221 horsepower mated up to a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission (say buh-bye to the CVT and six-speed manual) and the next-gen Civic platform underneath, the rumored CR-Z has all the makings of a hot hatch riot.
Of course, this all sounds wonderful. This is also the point where you should be enjoying that salt. We really like the idea of a properly hot CR-Z that can compete with John Cooper Works Mini models and the new Ford Fiesta ST, but the three-door hybrid has been such a slow seller for Honda in the US that it might not field a second generation here, no matter how improved it might be. Let us know what you think of an amped-up CR-Z in the comments. Is it a good idea, or is this one Honda model that's just too far gone?Permalink | Email this | Comments
Is it possible for a minivan to be more exciting than an Acura NSX? Well, Honda is trying to find out by entering a 532-horsepower Odyssey into the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with IndyCar racer Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel.
Starting with a stock Odyssey, Honda dropped in a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 producing an estimated 532 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque as well as racing suspension, tires and brakes and one of the biggest roll cages you're likely to ever see. If this van looks familiar to you, you aren't alone - it's a veteran of the Tire Rack One Lap of America.
In addition to this super minivan, Honda will also be entering a first-gen NSX, CR-Z hybrid, Fit EV and Acura TL into the competition as well as five motorcycles and an all-terrain vehicle. Scroll down for the full details on Honda's comprehensive assault on Pikes Peak.Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments