Honda has made some pretty harsh decisions lately. Dropping out of F1 and abandoning development of the potential replacement for the legendary NSX has been met with gross resentment by brand enthusiasts. But in the current state of the world economy, manufacturers have been forced to cut their losses and focus on more profitable products.
Honda's latest creation, however, has been met with much anticipation. The CR-Z offers fun in a cheap and economical package, something that hasn't been done since the CR-X. On top of this, the CR-Z is the first hybrid car to offer the option of a manual transmission, making it a very interesting proposition. The car has been on sale in Japan since late February, but even before deliveries started, MUGEN already had something up its sleeve to tantalize the enthusiasts. We were kindly invited to the M-Tec headquarters in Wako city to take a closer look at the MUGEN'ized version of what's set to become the "little sports car that could" of 2010.
Honda isn't the type of company to stay away from new technologies and has been at the forefront of hybrid and fuel cell vehicle development for close to two decades. Nevertheless, Honda hasn't forgotten how to make cars fun and sporty to drive - this time going back to the old original recipe of keeping cars light. The CR-Z's small dimensions and 2+2 seating arrangement helps it stay light - it has a curb weight of 2,490 lbs, making the 126 hp that propels it (113 hp from the gasoline engine and 13 hp from the electric motor) enough for a fun drive. The instant torque response of the electric motor helps boost low-rpm pull, giving a very liner power delivery; it's the key to this new sports car concept. But a little tuning always helps to make things more interesting, which is where the guys at MUGEN come in.
Thanks to a thoroughly designed lineup of products, the CR-Z can be transformed into the car you see in these pages: a more performance-oriented vehicle that allows drivers to get the most out of this futuristic sports car. The most obvious changes have been carried out on the exterior with a complete MUGEN bodykit that provides a more focused appearance. Front and rear bumper spoilers have been added to help bring the body closer to the ground, joined by more aesthetically pleasing side skirts. The front end also benefits from a MUGEN grille, which on the demo car is fitted with the optional LED daytime running lights. Because plenty of attention was given to guarantee good visibility through the high-set rear hatch, MUGEN wasn't going to just drop a spoiler on top, causing a blind spot. That's why the rear spoiler sits so high, giving a very aggressive stance to the CR-Z.
MUGEN offers a selection of wheels for this new hybrid sports car, and the demo car has been fitted with the more performance-oriented GP forged lightweight choice. Sticky Bridgestone RE-11 tires in 205/45RZR17 size provide the traction. Braking is addressed with special sport-oriented, higher-friction brake pads and slotted discs that keep the pads clean and functional, perfect for those occasional track day outings that we've already seen in Japan.
Suspension development has been very high on the agenda to transform the CR-Z into a more focused drive. Specially developed MUGEN dampers offer a slightly stiffer ride and five adjustments to fine-tune the setup from fast road use all the way to circuit use. As MUGEN's staff told us, the rear dampers use the same size piston as the ones found on the Civic Type-R, so you can gauge from this just how potentially good the car will feel. Performance-wise, the little 1.5-liter engine gains a completely redesigned MUGEN carbon airbox that utilizes a much larger performance-oriented panel filter. This, combined with the after-cat stainless steel exhaust system with triangular tip, offers a marginal gain in performance. But as we know with MUGEN, due to its official tie with Honda, the company doesn't actually declare performance figures. The CR-Z will feel more responsive, and from what we've heard, has a deeper, throatier sound compared to the stock car.
The MUGEN parts also cater to the interior and inject more of a sports car feel in the very futuristic - and maybe a little too eco car-oriented - cockpit. Sitting on top of the central dash area is the triplet of MUGEN gauges displaying water and oil temperatures as well as oil pressure. The short-throw 6-speed manual has been fitted with a MUGEN aluminum shift knob that offers a meatier feel, thanks to its heavier weight. The MUGEN tire pressure monitoring system and special MUGEN floor mats complete the interior lineup.
The little CR-Z is already generating massive interest within the tuning world; Ichishima-san at Spoon has created his very own demo car that's ready to hit circuit events soon. It's very exciting to see the introduction of hybrid technology on sports cars, and with the way things are going it's definitely something we can't avoid.
Specs & Details
Mugen Honda CR-Z
Engine Honda LEA 1,496cc, 4-cylinder, MF6 100V DC brushless motor assist IMA
Wheels, Tires & Brakes MUGEN GP Bronze 7JJx17" +48 (f/r), lightweight wheel nuts, Type-Sport brake pads, slotted brake discs, micromesh brake lines, brake fluid; Bridgestone RE-11 205/45ZR17 (f/r)
Numbers 113 + 13 (electric) hp, 107 + 58 (electric) ft-lbs of torque
Interior MUGEN assist meters (oil/water temp, oil pressure), i-TCMS tire pressure monitor, carbon room mirror cover, aluminium shift knob