Let's face it, Honda Philippines is still on a comeback run. Their new models have given them a much needed boost in sales after the troubles of the past, but we still have some misgivings about some of their core models like the Jazz, City and Civic.
Last year, Honda Philippines showcased a model at PIMS: the CR-Z. The thought of Honda's popular sport hybrid finally making landfall in the Philippines had many of us excited. Could this be the turnaround model that brings Honda Philippines back to its more sporting, more exhilarating roots?
Only one way to find out.
When you actually think about it, the Honda CR-Z actually has the lineage of the famed (though long discontinued) CR-X. Remember that? The compact three-door hatchback that Honda sold (in other markets) back in 80's that was such a favorite Well, the CR-Z took over that spot in many ways that you could almost call it retro. Almost.
For one, it certainly looks like a natural evolution of the signature CR-X look, especially with regards to the profile. Up front, the CR-Z certainly has plenty of visual impact for such a small car, moreso now that the guys over at Mugen have had their hands on it. Over the standard model, the Mugen version gets extra LEDs on the wide lower grille, far sportier rims and a bodykit from none other than -you guessed it- Mugen. Oh, and did you see the oh-so-loud-and-proud decals?
At least from the inside I can't really see them (except for the one on the hood), but the interior is definitely a nice place to be. Sitting in the pilot's seat, you really get a feeling that this has to be one of the most driver-centric cabins ever and that, in all honesty, is something I really, really like.
Everything feels snug and unusually cozy for a sport compact car. The steering wheel feels right, and I really love the feel of the Mugen shifter in the palm of my hand. The panels for the buttons are angled towards the driver, making for far better ergonomics than Honda's other models. To the right of the wheel are the controls for the audio, climate and the usual suspects, while to the left are the buttons to alter the three different drive modes of the car (more on that later). I like the seats, though I'd have to lose maybe 6 inches off my meager height of 5'6” to be able to fit in the back... and maybe about 70 pounds too.
Firing up that engine, there's an unusual burble... partly because the CR-Z is technically a hybrid and only has a 1.5 liter engine. Well, thanks to the tune up parts from Mugen (again) like the muffler and air filter, the CR-Z makes a bit more than the standard 113 PS and 144 Newton-meters from the 1.5 liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 i-VTEC engine, while the electric motor's 11 PS and 79 Newton meters probably remain untouched. The whole powertrain is completed with a 6-speed manual transmission, and in typical Honda fashion, front wheel drive.
On full acceleration, well, it might be disappointing to those who have gotten used to CR-X's outfitted with B16 and B18 engines... after all, it's just pumping out a bit more than a combined 124 PS. However, once you're moving, it's quite quick, and can easily overtake other cars given its light weight and with Sport mode activated, maximizing the power boost from the integrated electric motor.
Just to be frank, I didn't actually test the fuel economy that thoroughly in ECON mode, a drive mode that generates maximum fuel economy by adjusting engine settings, A/C consumption and other things. All the same, I remember getting around 13 kilometers per liter in the city easily, but that was mostly in Sport mode (1 passenger, moderate traffic). But ask yourself this: is the fuel consumption of a CR-Z with the Mugen treatment really what you want to read about?
So up the mountain we went, the place where we typically test all the performance machines we get our hands on; it's best to keep the road consistent when you're testing cars to showcase the differences in handling. Needless to say, the CR-Z was tuned to impress on the corners, specifically since the shocks and springs are units from Mugen. It's quite hard in the city in terms of comfort, but will deliver the performance you demand on mountain passes and racing circuits.
Again, you don't have much power at your disposal, so you really have to maximize the revs on the uphill, something made easy by the short throw 6-speed shifter from Mugen. Braking has quite a positive feel, as this is still a lightweight car. The CR-Z Mugen is so easy to toss into a corner, and the positioning of the pedals are perfect for heel-and-toe braking while the seats firmly keep you in place. Do be a little careful about vigorously tossing the car around on a mountain pass, as there does seem to be a hint of lift-off oversteer.
So here's the strange part. The CR-Z, Mugen or otherwise, isn't actually on sale from Honda Cars Philippines because as it stands, for the CR-Z to be worthwhile to sell, they would have to price it well beyond what the market would consider “reasonable”. Until the Alternative Fuel Vehicles Act is fully ratified, the CR-Z (and its tamer brother, the Insight) will sadly remain unavailable to local customers. (See update below)
Given my days with this funky and fun little sport hybrid, the CR-Z (in Mugen form) really is the answer we've so wanted from Honda for a very, very long time.
Please, hold the stickers.
Update: Honda recently announced that the CR-Z will be made available to the market in several different variants, and are now accepting reservations. The CR-Z's price tag starts at PhP 1,400,000 while this CR-Z Mugen with the manual transmission retailing for PhP 1,860,000