The War Rages On ...
Ever since the official announcement of the new Hybrid CR-Z in Honda's modern-day lineup, enthusiasts far and wide have taken sides in what's quickly escalated into a full-blown war. The lines have been drawn, and you're either in favor of Honda's push to find new ways of increasing mileage in an eco-friendly manner, or you're dead set against any thoughts of introducing a new model without the beloved K-series powerplant. Furthermore, you're outraged by the mere thought of Honda using "sporty" and "hybrid" in the same sentence. One thing is for certain at this point, there are no thoughts of unveiling a K-powered CR-Z model (no matter how much you complain) to the masses. With all of that out of the way, as the title hints, I've been given the privilege (as well as a set of keys) to research and modify a six-speed CR-Z EX for 2011. Similar to the Project Fit of 2009 and the TSX V-6 of 2010, I'll be digging into some of the available aftermarket parts, as well as introducing some new ones throughout 2011.
Originally, I was to take delivery of the car in August 2010. This would have given me plenty of time to find parts, develop a theme, and prep the car properly for SEMA 2010, in early November. However, due to the crackdown by the EPA on just about every pre-production model, there was a heavy delay and I didn't receive the car until just a few weeks prior to SEMA. Luckily I'd spent quite a bit of time writing proposals and requesting parts through some of the manufacturers that were on the verge of releasing goods in Japan, or were prototyping parts in the U.S. Though the timing was terrible, the one ray of sunshine in all of this is that the aftermarket is definitely responding to the hype surrounding the CR-Z. Suspension, exhaust and intake systems, aero kits, even boosted applications are out there; either in development or entering production. This is good news, especially after most of the industry completely turned their backs on the second-generation Honda Fit.
"Why Don't You Guys Just Drop In A K?"
This is the question I've heard probably 50 times since I picked up the little EX. The answer is pretty simple; this is a production car that has to go back to Honda in one piece. That means cutting, welding, or chopping up the chassis is not an option. Beyond that, dropping in a K-series motor, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of Honda even handing the car over. A swap would make the CR-Z incredible, but it's really no different than swapping one into an EH or DC. The only difference is you'd have a $20,000 car with a high-dollar swap, and some excess weight. You and I both know that's not what our community is about. We buy cheap and load up on the good stuff, rather than buying a brand-new car and tearing it apart. Would you really be proud of driving around in a $35,000 CR-Z? For the average enthusiast, it's a pipe dream, and something that I'm sure we'll see quite a bit of in five or six years when depreciation sets in. Now that's not to say that I'm against it, I'm actually pretty excited to see what tuners around the world do with this new chassis. We've already caught wind of a K-swap currently being mapped out on a CR-Z, and with any luck, we'll capture some photos of it when it's all done, and bring you the feature to drool over.
In the meantime, before the swap revolution takes over, the Honda Tuning magazine project is going to be aimed at the average CR-Z buyer looking to increase handling, appearance, and performance, while still maintaining that nice gas mileage.
From the moment I set eyes on the CR-Z, from top to bottom, I felt "modern-day CRX." A number of writers have voiced their anger in relating the two models, but I have to disagree. After daily driving, racing, showing, and even participating in some *cough* street activities *cough* with my old, beloved CRX when I was much younger, I personally feel that the CR-Z mirrors the X in far too many ways for them not to be considered cousins. Obviously, the dash and interior are far more modern, but the deleted rear seats, slanted rear window, storage area out back, and the maneuverability of the short, low-slung hatchback is quite similar. Writers have voiced their discontentment with a lack of "CRX spirit" as they call it. However, this isn't 1987, and though this new offering has packed on some serious pounds compared to the original, I think we'll all agree that the CR-Z is quite a bit safer.
On the road, the seats are decent in the comfort department, but a bit too shallow in the bolster, and far too high, even at their lowest setting. A telescoping steering wheel is a godsend and the shifter feels smooth and precise, though I do miss Project Fit's shifter with a short-throw adapter that added a new level of confidence during spirited driving. The dash is simply amazing during the day and breathtaking during darker hours. The almost 3D image that sits inches off of the cluster relaying vehicle speed is easy to read under all lighting conditions, and draws a comment from every single person that sees it for the first time.
On The Road Again ...
At the left edge of the dash sits the infamous trio of selectable driving modes: ECON, Normal, and Sport. In ECON mode the dash lights up in a green hue, and the car is slower than Kenny Powers' assistant (think CRX HF in limp mode). Based on my experience, I wouldn't suggest using this mode in heavy traffic on surface streets. That is, unless you're oblivious to soccer moms wanting to end your life for holding them up after every red light. For this type of driving, Normal mode is far more suitable-and safer. On the freeway, once the car is up to speed with the flow of traffic, ECON mode is perfect. With momentum behind it, the CR-Z doesn't require much to hold its speed and this mode will keep you away from the gas pump. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour, crawling my way through each painful mile, ECON mode served me well as bursts of speed are non-existent during this time. That leaves the last and most satisfying driving mode out of all three options: Sport. With this button pressed the dash lights up a fiery red-a suitable color to represent an audible change and feel from the 1.5L. The IMA assist adds a healthy dose of torque from 1,000 rpm and carries it for a few thousand rpm before dropping off. For those that are used to B-series VTEC or K-series iVTEC encounters, the lack of power up top can be disheartening. But remember, this is a much smaller, gas-friendly engine, not a GS-R or Type S screamer. Though it's not a powerhouse, the CR-Z has no problem scooting through traffic. I find myself using the Sport mode as a small boost to motor around slower cars on the freeway, and of course for spirited drives.
Going Side To Side ...
One of the best aspects of earlier-model Civics and CRXs is the remarkable handling. Even in stock form, these cars exhibit very manageable characteristics and are just plain ol' fun to drive. The CR-Z shows glimpses of that same feeling, with the suspension nudging you to take a joyride through the local backroads at will. That is, until you sample the tires. Beyond the fact that the wheels and tires are somewhat anorexic, the ultra-hard tire compound, most likely used to add a few more mpgs, are your worst enemy. This is probably the first and only car that I'd recommend a wheel and tire upgrade even before suspension changes are made. For me, as well as most of you reading along, this isn't a deal breaker. Wheels and tires are often at the top of the upgrade list for enthusiasts anyway.
SEMA And Super Lap Battle
Getting the car ready to display at SEMA was the first and probably toughest part of the project. Time constraints and a series of late nights plagued me for 10 agonizing days, but miraculously, the car was delivered on time as promised to display on SEMA-laid carpet. Just a few days later was the annual Super Lap Battle time-attack event, and organizer Elliot Moran promised a Hybrid class if at least three hybrid-powered competitors showed up. While there were only two of us that actually took part, the CR-Z opened some eyes, as both cars weren't expected to break the 2:40 mark at Buttonwillow. When the clocks stopped, many were surprised to see that both CR-Zs, sporting only intake, exhaust, and suspension changes had gone quite a bit faster than that. Stay tuned for more on the CR-Z's trip to SEMA, Super Lap Battle, the dyno, and everything in between as we break down what's been done so far, and search for more in 2011.