They wanted you to believe the CR-Z was the second coming of the CRX, one of the most iconic cars that Honda has ever made. It wasn't. Designed as a compromise between something you'd actually want to drive and something that's been put here to save the Earth, the CR-Z does neither all that well. For the money, there are all sorts of gas-electric, green rides that are more efficient, and there are just as many hatchbacks that'll stretch an even bigger grin across your face. But what Honda failed to emphasize was just how similar the CR-Z is to something you never would've imagined. We're talking about the overseas-only, Euro Civic Type R ('09-'12 model), a car that you couldn't buy even if you wanted to, but the CR-Z's similarities with the CTR might make you rethink how you felt about Honda's hybrid hatchback.
THE TYPE R PARALLEL
The CR-Z sharing much of its sheetmetal with the second-generation Fit isn't anything new. But did you know the CR-Z's suspension geometries are identical to the Euro Civic Type R? And did you know, as an option, the CR-Z was meant to be powered by a 2.0-liter K-Series engine? Both of these reasons is why you ought to care about the car, that is, if you're interested in going fast in a Honda that wasn't manufactured before, oh, say, '01. Which is something that's getting entirely harder to do and which cars like the ninth-generation Civic Si, with its exhaust manifold that's a contorted extension of the cylinder head and its less-capable adaptation of VTEC, have proven. The jury's still out on the newly released, tenth-gen Civic, but so far a turbocharged mill that churns out about the same amount of power as a 22-year-old, naturally aspirated Integra isn't wowing anybody this side of unwavering fanboys. To do anything that's got to do with going fast in a modern-day Honda, you've got to take matters into your own hands and, if you're smart, it'll start with something like, yes, you guessed it, a CR-Z.
THE ENGINE BAY
According to our sources at Honda, a 2.0L K-series was destined for the CR-Z as an optional powertrain. Pesky crash-test rules kept all of that from happening (crash-test standards require more space in front of the engine), but the chassis, which has already proven itself to be K-swap friendly, had already been finalized. All of this is very good news if you plan on dropping something like the '06-'11 Civic Si's K20Z3 powertrain into place.
"But why an engine swap," you're thinking to yourself, bolstering the case to keep the L-series hybrid with things like Jackson Racing's supercharger or turbocharged concoctions by way of Bisimoto. After all, Jackson Racing's emissions-legal Rotrex blower means you can maintain your squeaky-clean image, and Bisimoto's 533hp turbo package, well, it makes 533 hp.
As it turns out, all of this has less to do with that gas-electric powertrain that's got very little aftermarket support and more to do with the CR-Z's six-speed transmission that's of little use past the 250 lb-ft of torque mark. And don't even joke about trying to do anything useful with the CR-Z's CVT because, well, just don't.
Not ready to jump on the K-swap bandwagon? A K isn't your only option explains Hasport's Brian Gillespie, who's spearheaded the K-swapped-CR-Z movement, but he'll tell you it's the most straightforward. According to Gillespie, Hasport's also working on kits that'll mount six-cylinder J-series engines into place as well as the tenth-generation Civic's turbocharged L-series. Any of the three will fit within the confines of the CR-Z's bay, but Gillespie advises to make wiring easy on yourself, stick with an '11-'12 model for K-series swaps and a '13 or newer one for everything else. And for the guy who got talked into the CR-Z with the CVT transmission, you can still redeem yourself. According to Gillespie, engine swap wiring varies a smidge depending on which gearbox your CR-Z was originally sold with but the details are negligible.
In terms of engines, just about any pre-'12 K-series will fit (except for the outcast that is the first-generation RDX's K23A1). But a word of advice, swapping in the Civic Si's K20Z3 engine and transmission will be the least amount of work, and have the least amount of electrical drama. How much is it going to cost? According to Gillespie, you'll need to set aside at least six grand to make all of this happen, and that's assuming you know how to turn a wrench.
K-swaps don't need to be limited to the K20Z3, but anything else will cost you, at the very least, your time. For example, save at least a couple grand by going with a 2.4L Accord engine and gearbox; however, be prepared for all kinds of surprises that relate to the shifter assembly and its cables, the cooling system, and wiring. You can also go for even more torque and find yourself the TSX's K24A2, which will still require a piecemeal collaboration between itself and the Civic Si's transmission and ECU to work.
As far as engine swaps go, the CR-Z's is about as self-contained as they come. The car's radiator, fuel pump, and electric power steering system are all up to the job. In fact, this side of something like Hondata's FlashPro, which'll let you fine-tune fuel and ignition parameters as well as data-log what's going on, you won't find yourself wanting much else.
K-SERIES ENGINE SWAP PARTS LIST
- '06-'11 Civic Si K20Z3 engine
- '06-'11 Civic Si engine wiring harness (requires modification)
- '06-'11 or '12-'15 Civic Si ECU ('11-'12 or '13-'16 CR-Z)
- '06-'11 Civic Si transmission
- '02-'06 CR-V right-side engine bracket (2.4L swaps only)
- Hasport engine mounts
- Hasport axles
- '03-'07 Accord V-6 shifter cables and Hasport brackets
- Custom radiator hoses
- Custom A/C lines
- '02-'05 Civic Si idler pulley conversion
K-SWAPPING: THE GOOD AND THE BAD
- 200+ hp will always be better than 130 hp
- Bolt it all in; some minor cutting for A/C, but no welding required
- More aftermarket support than for any L-series
- It's the right kind of hybrid
- Better K-swap ground clearance than any Civic
- Parts alone start at $4,000
- Say goodbye to your warranty
- Sayonara, AT-PZEV or LEV3-SULEV30 emissions status
- Good luck with that smog check
You think the CR-Z's torsion-beam suspension out back automatically disqualifies it as a serious contender for the track and you're wrong. Here's where CR-Z and Civic Type R engineers compared notes, both sharing the same wider track as opposed to the Fit's, and both positioning the rear shocks in back of the rear axle which, in this case, is what makes the CR-Z so controllable on the track and an ideal platform for track noobs. At least that's what renowned driver Oscar Jackson Jr. of Jackson Racing thinks, going on to say what an ideal car the CR-Z is for drivers who are still learning their limits: "[The CR-Z] will let you know when you've over-cooked a corner with a push, so it's easier to approach your limits and learn from mistakes."
Yes, the CR-Z's front is built around MacPherson struts, which are famous for limited camber gains when compared to double-wishbone suspensions when compressed, but have come a long way since Honda pissed you off and stuffed them onto the '01 Civic. That's mostly because of where the steering tie rods have been repositioned to which, according to Gillespie, make it a whole lot more stable than previous MacPherson-strut Hondas. "Because of the suspension similarities," he goes on to say, "with a K20A in there, this is the closest you'll ever get to having a Civic Type R."
Jackson concurs: "I ran a couple sessions at Chuckwalla in our Jackson Racing CR-Z when it was stock and was pleasantly surprised with the overall handling and rotation with just tire pressure adjustments—even on the eco tires."
The CR-Z's suspension isn't all peaches and cream, though. Camber changes aren't just limited upon compression; as it turns out, the methods by which negative camber can be introduced in any capacity are limited. Up top, the CR-Z's funky-shaped strut towers are why nobody's bothered to make adjustable camber plates for the car yet. Down below, camber can be altered using the same methods as any other MacPherson strut, like with eccentric hardware, but changes are going to be minimal.
Right from Honda, the CR-Z's rotors and calipers are better than just about anything you've ever bolted onto your EK or EG hatchback. That and the aftermarket's already got things sorted out should you need anything bigger or with the ability to withstand more heat. Consider the CR-Z's curb weight, which hovers around the 2,680-pound range (about the same as a second-generation Integra), understand that the K-swap doesn't really change any of that, and all of a sudden its 10.3-inch (front) and 10.2-inch (rear) rotors (also about the same as that Integra), seem like all you'll need. Even better, the '16 CR-Z was updated with larger, 11.1-inch rotors all around.
All kinds of room—that's what you'll find underneath the CR-Z's fenders when you go looking for wheel and tire limits. According to Gillespie, 255/40R17 tires won't be a problem and fit all around with room to spare up front. Camber limitations will prevent you from anything much more dramatic than all of this and will also keep you from making headlines on the stance-your-pants-off blogs, which, as it turns out, is a very good thing.
There's a reason almost everything that's got anything to do with Honda's IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) hybrid system's either got some kind of warning label on it or is draped in a bright-orange cover that'll remind you of something you once saw in an old Nopi catalog. You exposing yourself to the CR-Z's hybrid battery-induced electrons as opposed to a regular old 12V battery is like comparing your toenail clippers to a machete. Follow the procedures outlined by Honda, though, and disabling and removing all of this isn't just safe, it's easy. And you'll shave off an easy 160 pounds while doing it. According to Gillespie, most of the dangers lie in separating the engine from the IMA system, which is made up of a series of magnets that can lop off a finger faster than you can say "VTEC, yo." The good news is that you won't be separating any of this nonsense if you plan on swapping that K-series engine into place; simply disconnect power to the hybrid system and yank the powertrain—along with the IMA nonsense—just as you would any other chassis.
THE $25K FACE-OFF
1. Showroom-Stock '16 Civic EX-T Coupe
- Cost: Turbo models start at $23,200, but you'll blow that whole $25K wad by the time you're done with taxes and fees.
- Thrills: It's bone-stock and it's got the non-negotiable CVT transmission that your aunt loves. You do the math.
- Reliability: A whip doesn't get any more reliable than a brand-new Civic that you haven't yet bungled up.
- Driveability: You haven't gotten your mitts on anything under the hood yet. Of course, it's gonna be easy to drive.
- Status: Turns heads because it's brand new. Go slow because it's got 174 hp and a CVT transmission.
2. 350hp Road Race CR-Z
- Cost: Set aside about $10K for the car, $6K for the K20A engine swap, and the rest for forced induction, suspension bits, and wheels and tires.
- Thrills: You won't have this much fun in any other post-'90s Honda.
- Reliability: $25K won't get you a built bottom end, which means tuning will determine whether or not you'll make it home.
- Driveability: You won't pass a smog check, but you'll be faster than just about anything else on the road.
- Status: It's the anti-hybrid and you want it.
3. BAR-Legal B18C5-Swapped '92-'95 Civic
- Cost: Between $3-5K for a decent chassis, about $5K to make it something you'll want to be seen in, about $8K for the mechanical bits, and the rest for whatever JDM rims and knick knacks you know you'll be getting.
- Thrills: B-series Type R-swapped Civics might not be as impressive as they were 15 years ago, but it's hard to argue with 195 hp that the smog police say you can have.
- Reliability: Do it right and it'll give you as much trouble as the stock D-series would.
- Driveability: Do it right and you won't know anything's been done under the hood until you mash the throttle.
- Status: A rare and unique take on the Civic that Japan said you couldn't have.
4. K-Series Type R-Swapped '96-'00 Civic
- Cost: Between $3-5K for a car that hasn't been mangled, about $5K to make it something that won't embarrass you, about $10K to put together the K20A Type R puzzle, and the rest to make it look as good as it is quick.
- Thrills: It's about the fastest stock-engined Civic you'll be able to put together.
- Reliability: Stock Honda engines are reliable no matter what car they've been plucked from or stuck back into.
- Driveability: Sort out things like A/C, power steering, and the right ECU and you'll have yourself one of the most daily drivable-capable swaps around.
- Status: There's no other way to go this fast in stock-engined a Honda.
5. 600hp '94-'01 Integra GS-R
- Cost: About $5K for the car, about $3K to make it not look like it did on Craigslist, and the rest for that built bottom end, custom turbo setup, and standalone engine management system. You'll blow past that budget if you aren't careful or if you decide to not do any of the work yourself.
- Thrills: It's faster than anything you've ever owned.
- Reliability: Reliability shmiabilty.
- Driveability: Do you want to go fast or do you want to make your grandmother happy when you schlep her to the podiatrist?
- Status: You're faster than just about anything else on the road. Status doesn't matter.