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Project CR-Z: Engine And Interior Upgrades

We find a little more power and a lot more comfort

May 9, 2011

In the April issue of Honda Tuning magazine, we featured a K-powered CR-Z that shocked the Honda world and, for a moment, quieted the anti-CR-Z movement that seemed to have grown threefold since the car’s official release late last year. As fun and exciting as a 2.0L K-series is under the hood of the futuristic micro-hatch, our Project CR-Z is confined to its factory 1.5L hybrid mill. Our goal of researching new products for both appearance and performance improvements will continue as planned, and the high-dollar K-swap will remain a pipe dream; at least for this particular car.

Htup 1105 01 o+crz engine interior upgrades+wheel Photo 2/29   |   Project CR-Z: Engine And Interior Upgrades

In an attempt to wring out a few more horsepower, we contacted HKS, who informed us that they’d already developed a complete cat-back exhaust system and high-flow intake for the CR-Z. Having used many HKS products in the past (and present), we were sure of two things right away, 1) the quality would be top-notch, as HKS has a well-deserved reputation for using high-quality components and strict quality assurance for every product they produce, and, 2) unless we got to a dyno so we could document the results, installing the intake and exhaust would be all but useless to our readers. Luckily, Elton Lo of Raceline Engineering volunteered to clear his schedule and offered us a lift, tools, and some dyno time to install and test our new upgrades.

HKS exhaust
First up was HKS’ new SUS304 stainless steel Hi-Power exhaust system. Like many of HKS’ cat-back kits, the muffler is accompanied by a sub-muffler that helps keep the decibels down, the driver happy, and the local authorities away. The factory CR-Z muffler is equipped with an exhaust tip that points down, and unless you’re really looking, you can’t see it from the rear. The HKS unit, though very compact, is much more visible at the rear of the car. Installation requires only basic tools and can be done in your driveway. However, having access to a lift makes life so much easier.

Htup 1105 02 o+crz engine interior upgrades+hks hi power exhaust system Photo 3/29   |   Project CR-Z: Engine And Interior Upgrades

HKS intake
To complement their new exhaust system for the CR-Z, HKS also designed a high-flow intake kit and heat shield. Based on their race-proven, classic air filter, the kit includes everything you’ll possibly need for the installation, including hardware, clamps, and hoses. When laid out on the floor, the HKS unit looks like a lot of individual parts for such a short intake, and beyond that, the instructions are in Japanese. However, if you’ve ever installed an intake on a Honda before, getting this one to fit your CR-Z won’t be very difficult at all.

Htup 1105 03 o+crz engine interior upgrades+hks hi power exhaust oem muffler Photo 4/29   |   The HKS Silent Hi-Power cat-back exhaust system next to the OEM muffler. Note the sub-muffler that sits atop the HKS canister, used to bring down the decibels and avoid “droning.”

RS*R Ran Up - oil optimizer
Also on hand to witness the dyno testing was RS*R. They suggested we try their Ran-Up oil additive, which they’ve been working on for a number of years. Rigorous long-term testing both on the street and during competitive race events have produced a product that they claim reduces frictional resistance. This frees up the engine’s moving parts, resulting in increased power and fuel economy. Import Tuner has previously tested the additive on a Civic DX and an S2000, and did in fact find a few horsepower. Installation is as simple as adding the contents of the bottle to your oil and driving a few miles to allow the lubricant to work its way through the motor. Skeptical at first, we were shocked to find that not only did the Ran-Up additive pick up a few horsepower and some additional torque, but the CR-Z’s mileage did in fact increase as well.

Road test
With the new HKS exhaust system installed, a more pronounced, deeper exhaust note could be heard the moment the car was started. On the road, even under full throttle, the sound was very mild with no signs of drone, rattling, or an obnoxious burble at stoplights. HKS definitely did their homework with this kit as it’s proven to be perfect for a daily driver. Under full throttle, the sound of the intake is definitely noticeable, though not overpowering. The slight increase in power and torque offers at least a little hope with all of the negativity surrounding the CR-Z’s 1.5L powerplant. Averaging 36.5 mpg the week prior to the dyno session, the week following the dyno and install session resulted in an average of 39 mpg.

Htup 1105 10 o+crz engine interior upgrades+inlet Photo 11/29   |   On the stock intake, air from the front of the car is channeled to the OEM airbox via this rubber elbow. We were hoping to utilize this inlet to help feed fresh air to the HKS kit, but it ended up being too long to cooperate, so it had to be removed completely.

ARK Design and Sparco
After making changes to the engine and exterior, the interior was next on the list. Though the factory seats are comfortable (for the most part), they don’t offer as much lateral support as an aftermarket seat. Thoughts of installing non-adjustable bucket seats popped up first, but that idea was quickly shot down as visions of climbing in and out of a fixed-back seat day in and day out seemed a little annoying. Adjustable, bottom-mount seats are typically more user-friendly, while still offering a big improvement in holding power when compared to the OEM seats. ARK Design offers their Road Warrior model Sparco adjustable seats at an unbelievably affordable price, and the seats just so happened to be black with stitching that matched our CR-Z’s interior perfectly. The thigh and side bolster areas are massive compared to the stockers, which I knew would pay off during Super Lap Battle. Due to their full adjustability, daily driving with these buckets would be a breeze. With the seats acquired, a huge problem reared its ugly head almost immediately. Because the CR-Z is so new, finding seat brackets was pretty much impossible. Sparco sliders and hardware would of course work perfectly with the ARK seats, but getting them to mount to the chassis was a different story. With less than a week to go before SEMA, we turned to Louie Contreras of L Con Race Cars, and begged him to fabricate a set of brackets to make everything work. He readily agreed to solve the problem for us, not knowing what a massive pain in the ass the whole process would turn out to be.

L Con Race Cars
When I arrived at L Con in Garden Grove, California, I was a little overwhelmed. First off, I was immediately greeted by a well designed showroom featuring exclusive DTA apparel flanked by glass cases full of high-end spray paint and Spoon Sports product. Just beyond that is an iron gate that separates the showroom from a tattoo shop. Walking through the single door entryway to the massive garage, I found three different shops in operation sharing space under the umbrella of the Flagship Society. A full-service custom motorcycle shop by the name of Suicide Machine occupies a corner of the facility, and shares a wall with Ballade Motorsports, who specialize in all things Honda. As for Contreras, his ongoing projects include everything from a stripped down and acid-dipped S2000 chassis, to a ’70’s Honda with an F-series swap and plenty of cage work, and what looked to be a full race EP. Well aware that his welding and fabrication skills aren’t limited to the motorsports world, I took a seat on, of all things, a rock-solid dance stage that Contreras had recently been contracted to build.

Htup 1105 14 o+crz engine interior upgrades+sparco sliders seat mounts Photo 15/29   |   Sparco sliders and seat mounts

With the factory seats removed, he began taking measurements and compared them to the Sparco sliders and seat mounts, then gave me the look that I hate to see. Because the seats are bottom mount, the job would prove much harder than a traditional side mount used for non-adjustable bucket seats. I was hoping Contreras wouldn’t throw in the towel, and luckily, he didn’t. From the car to the welding table over and over again, he searched for the right combination. After a few hours, the passenger seat was finally mounted, and with the trail now blazed, he worked quickly through the driver-side seat and belt. Both seats sit even, share the same exact height, and slide back and forth without interruption. A job well done, but not one that I’d expect Contreras to jump right back into anytime soon.

Honda OEM Armrest
With the new seats firmly planted inside Project CR-Z, I felt like a center console and armrest would make things a little more comfortable. Honda offers an optional armrest/storage console that I’d been eyeing online, and since I was completely out of time, why not add yet another install to make my life a little more difficult? The Honda console looks innocent enough, but installation is much more complex than you’d expect. You’re required to essentially disassemble the forward center console and shifter surround, along with the plastic that runs between the seats and around the emergency brake. I was able to track down the instructions ahead of time by searching online and also found a lot of people complaining about the install. In reality, it’s not that bad, people were blowing it way out of proportion, but it did take over an hour to complete the process. Also, you have to drill a few holes and if you don’t want to break anything; you’ll definitely want to take your time. An adjustable length padded elbow rest is easily retracted and extended based on your seating position, and if you want the console out of your way completely, it can be tilted upright where it will perch behind the seatbacks. Storage space is somewhat shallow, but enough to hold essentials, like pens, business cards, garage remote, MP3 player, etc.

Htup 1105 23 o+crz engine interior upgrades+center console folded Photo 25/29   |   Not yet bolted down, here is a side view of the new console in its proper position. The ability to extend the elbow pad adds another level of convenience.
If you’re in the market for an armrest/storage console, there is a non-OEM option also available. Zeta Products ( offers their drop-in armrest for the CR-Z. We previously tested a very similar piece with our long-term Project Fit in 2009 and were very impressed. Much like the Fit version, installation is as simple as dropping the unit into the rear cup holder. That’s it. Under the padded cover is a much deeper storage area compared to the optional Honda piece, and there’s a tray that can be used to separate the top and bottom sections. The upper section has coin slots and because it’s simple to remove, it can be cleaned quite easily. For some, OEM parts like the center armrest will always trump the aftermarket, while others are less concerned. Pricing on the Zeta Products armrest is much lower than the OEM version, however, Honda’s console matches the interior plastics that surround it. A tough decision, but it’s nice to have options.

Htup 1105 24 o+crz engine interior upgrades+zetaproducts armrest Photo 26/29   | offers this optional armrest that requires nothing more than simply dropping it into the rear cup holder. Storage space is deep, and the price is exceptional.

Honda OEM optional console

  • Factory fit and finish
  • Adjustable length elbow rest
  • Ability to swivel completely out of the way
  • Rock-solid mounting aftermarket console

  • Massive storage space
  • Removable tray
  • Simple installation
  • Extremely low price


Los Angeles, CA 90061
Sparco USA
Irvine, CA 92614
L-Con Racecars
Placentia, CA 92870
ARK Design
Anaheim, CA 92806
Raceline Development
Temple City, CA 91780
American Honda
Torrance , CA 90501
Zeta Products
Union, NJ 07083



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