Text: Brent Co / Photos: Jet Rabe | posted December 18, 2013 17:09
The hot and responsible hatch
Strictly speaking the Honda CR-Z, or 'Compact Renaissance Zero’, is not a new car, having made its world debut at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The model was intended to introduce new fundamentals of compact car design for the Japanese automaker.
In 2012, Honda Philippines held a 'preview' for the CR-Z compact hybrid at the 2012 Philippine International Motor Show, and then finally made its market debut in August of this year. The release delay was due to the arrival of the facelifted and upgraded version of the CR-Z, and now it headlines Honda Cars Philippines, Inc.'s latest offering in the market as part of its Earth Dreams campaign for greener and more sustainable motoring.
The design of the CR-Z pays homage to the venerable CR-X hatchback sold for two generations from 1983 to 1991. Compared to the pre-facelift model, the updated CR-Z features a new front and rear bumper design as well interior improvements. This being the Mugen version, the CR-Z gets an updated body kit compared to the pre-release show car we drove earlier this year. It features a more aggressive front apron, side skirts and a revised rear apron. The rear wing remains the same. Daytime running lights are now integrated on the fog lamp garnish instead of the front grill which looks much better. A new set of multi-spoke 17-inch Mugen wheels is also fitted in place of the 'Mugen GP' wheels found in the show car.
The sport hatchback features a very futuristic driver centric cockpit with an all black interior. The Mugen variant gets red and maroon colored accents on the door trims and seats, Mugen carbon fiber shift knob and Mugen floor mats to add to the raciness of the car.
Under the hood is a LEA 1.5-liter SOHC 16-valve i-VTEC engine capable of 114 PS and 145 Nm of torque. The Mugen version adds a sports exhaust system to give extra oomph and a throatier exhaust note. This is aided by the Integrated Motor Assist, pumping out an extra 22 PS and 45 Nm of torque. The Philippine release features the updated IMA system which added 12 PS and 16 Nm more torque with a 144-volt Lithium battery pack. The new Plus Sport System functions like a 'push to pass' with the 'S+' button on the steering wheel to give a temporary 'power boost' for five seconds. This works when the battery is charged to at least 50% and the car is running over 30 km/h.
At the press of a button, the ECU automatically switches to car from either Eco, Normal or Sport Modes further identified by the ring light on the tachometer which changes from green, blue and red colors. The modes alter the throttle response of the drive-by-wire system and the mapping of the ECU from economical to spirited driving requirements.
On Eco mode, the car feels a bit reserved (bordering on sluggish, actually) with the car optimized for frugality rather than all out fun; it prioritizes economy by restricting throttle response and A/C adjustments. I found it quite a bore, so I switched to Normal for my test, yielding an easy drive around the city with just the right amount of response, gearing, nimbleness, well-tuned suspension that balances handling and comfort. The transmission also has easy clutch engagement with precise short throw shifting, making for driving in traffic more bearable despite being a manual.
Switching on Sport mode gives a livelier throttle response evidenced by a more aggressive exhaust note from the Mugen muffler and a more spirited drive. The mapping of the ECU is also adjusted accordingly along with the electric steering, making it heavier to compensate for anticipated speed and driving.
Up to our favorite mountain pass to fully enjoy the car, the CR-Z did not disappoint to say the least. It handled corners impeccably with its well-tuned suspension coupled with the Michelin Pilot Sport tires. The Mugen suspension on the stickered 2012 CR-Z Mugen was unfortunately deleted from the release version due to cost constraints. There is the slight feel of wanting more power, but it it’s not necessarily slow either as the electric motor kicks in to give some extra juice.
The brakes are top notch, providing impeccable pedal feel and equally good stopping power. It also charges the lithium battery packs for your 'S+' boosts and motor assisted blasts down the straight. Of note is the pedal placement as commended in our previous reviews of the other variants; well optimized for heel and toe like the more performance oriented Honda Civics in the past.
In terms of fuel economy, my weeklong stint consumed a little over a tankful of fuel averaging about 11km/L on the fuel computer with a mix of moderate traffic, spirited driving, and minimal highway driving.
While the Honda CR-Z Mugen may be a fun drive and cool looking car, the PhP 1,860,000 price tag might be a bit of a reach in my opinion. It is a fun (semi) hot hatch and a responsible one at that, being a mild hybrid and all. But paying nearly half a million pesos more from the standard version is a bit of a stretch considering you only get aesthetic parts, since the air filter and suspension were deleted from the package.