Honda CR-Z to be built

Published: 24 October 2007

Surely hybrids are worthy but dull? What’s going on with the slinky CR-Z?

The CR-Z is only a concept at the moment, but it’s been given the green light to go into production by Honda president and CEO Takeo Fukui, and what you see here is a very close representation of the finished article. It’s a lightweight two plus two sports car powered by an as-yet unnamed petrol-hybrid IMA motor which should hit dealers globally in 2009. Honda believes that if you’re going to use hybrid technology, it should be in as lightweight a car as possible – opposing Toyota’s view which is to shoehorn hybrids into bigger and bigger Lexus models. Honda thinks that professional young thrusters with little responsibility but lots of environmental awareness, rather than rich middle-aged executives, are the major growth market for hybrids. The CR-Z is smaller than a three-door Civic and Honda thinks it’s on to a winner here, with the small sports coupe served pretty poorly, with the ageing C-class Sport Coupe and forthcoming Volkswagen Scirocco about the only contenders.

So Honda fancies it’s struck gold here?

The CR-Z certainly looks the part with its sparkly ivory paint job, gaping air intake, and icy-blue LED stare. By the time it reaches production the side windows will probably be a little deeper but don’t expect too much normalisation – a radical, sexy model like this could propel Honda ahead of Toyota in the stakes to be seen as the number one hybrid constructor on the planet. While on the outside, once the good-as-useless wing mirrors and expensive LEDs are replaced for something a bit more serviceable, the interior is still on Planet Concept Car with lots of backlit clear blue plastic indented into the cockpit. But there’s more than a hint of the Civic in the deep and watery blue dials, and the effect is very cool indeed.

It looks great, but won't it be let down by an asthmatic, environmentally conscious powerplant and weedy performance?

You’ve got more chance of finding out the technical details of the Roswell UFO than this car. In fact – unless they’ve got seriously good poker faces – most Honda executives say they don’t know what’s under the bonnet/rear seats. Or even what the lightweight body is made of, for that matter. But some assumptions can be made. It is going to be more powerful than the 1.4-litre Civic IMA, and likely to have a different base engine. So assuming that Honda wants to give it some proper performance, it is going to need to weigh about 1000kg and boast around 170-180bhp. Expect body panels such as the wings made of plastic while the rest is lightweight steel, while the engine would need to be 1.6-litres with a battery supplying about 30bhp more to achieve respectable figures. More candid insiders talk of 0-62mph in less than seven seconds - and where the engineers believe they can really get it flying is in the mid-range, where the instant availability of torque from the battery could deliver some serious and immediate shove. One thing we do know is the CR-Z will be front-wheel drive, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem because technological developments mean that engineers can split up the elements of the hybrid system such as battery and motor and spread them around the car, rather than everything lumped under the rear seats, meaning a lower centre of gravity and better weight distribution for sharper handling.

Is this the global hybrid car Honda is talking about?

No, that’s an entirely different, even more highly secret hybrid car. We don’t even know what that looks like. But it’s expected to be smaller than a Civic, with a smaller powerplant, and will be on sale in 2009. Other than that, we’re in the dark. Speaking to Honda boss Fukui about the potential price, it looks likely that it will cost about £13,000. He reckons that the extra cost of the hybrid system should be about the same as that of a diesel engine – around £1000-£1500 – with the extra cost over a normal petrol negated within two years of running it.

The future is looking pretty exciting for green motoring on the Honda stand then...

Apart from the PUYO that is. While the CR-Z is a samurai sword, the PUYO is a big, hydrogen fuel cell-powered snow globe. It’s got four seats, no steering wheel – only a joystick – and a gel body made of soft material that glows to show what condition the vehicle is in. So it glows red if the motor is started, for example. Or blue if it’s cold perhaps. The seamless ‘soft box’ body shell is designed to be pedestrian-friendly and cheer them up too perhaps, by glowing orange at them. In fact the only thing it doesn’t do is rain fake snow on occupants when you shake it.

So a bit quiet on the fuel cell front then?

At the moment. It’s one of Honda’s major areas of development though and on display was the FCX Concept that has been touring the motor shows of the world. Honda has announced that a production version will officially go on sale in Japan and America next year, and insiders reckon there are very few changes to the immensely stylish concept. It will be shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show next year. One of the major stepping stones to getting the car into the showroom has been low temperature running. When a hydrogen fuel stack produces electricity, it also produces water, which in low temperatures unsurprisingly gets frozen. Some clever soul at Honda came up with the brainwave of not lying the fuel stack horizontally; instead they would sit it up vertically, allowing water to run out before it freezes. Hey presto. Problem solved.

No sign of the new NSX then?

No, but deep in the Honda’s bunker a supercar is stirring. The next NSX, when it eventually comes, will have a V10 engine, Mr Fukui confirmed, but it will not be badged as a Honda, much to the disappointment of Honda Europe. Instead, it will be an Acura throughout the world, as the parent company tries to gain a foothold for the US premium brand in its home market. However, the design department is rethinking the Acura ASC concept (above) that received a lukewarm reception at this year's Detroit show. Part of the disappointment, apart from the fact that Acura has no presence in the European market, and so will have to be sold in some dealers as a standalone car, is that there was a long discussion before the Civic was launched about changing its name to something more dynamic. The decision was made that if you could change buyers’ perception of what Civic stood for, then it would prove a massive fillip for the Honda name too. The radical new hatch has managed to do that, but fears are that buyers might see the expected halo car in another badge and assume the decision was the Honda brand isn’t sexy enough to support a supercar. Speaking to CAR, Mr Fukui denied that would be the case and hinted that Honda may yet get its own ‘halo’ sports car. With the Honda price list topping out at the £40,000 Legend, a £45,000-plus model could well shed a little sparkle on the Honda range...

No sign of the new NSX then?

No, but deep in the Honda’s bunker a supercar is stirring. The next NSX, when it eventually comes, will have a V10 engine, Mr Fukui confirmed, but it will not be badged as a Honda, much to the disappointment of Honda Europe. Instead, it will be an Acura throughout the world, as the parent company tries to gain a foothold for the US premium brand in its home market. However, the design department is rethinking the Acura ASC concept (above) that received a lukewarm reception at this year's Detroit show. Part of the disappointment, apart from the fact that Acura has no presence in the European market, and so will have to be sold in some dealers as a standalone car, is that there was a long discussion before the Civic was launched about changing its name to something more dynamic. The decision was made that if you could change buyers’ perception of what Civic stood for, then it would prove a massive fillip for the Honda name too. The radical new hatch has managed to do that, but fears are that buyers might see the expected halo car in another badge and assume the decision was the Honda brand isn’t sexy enough to support a supercar. Speaking to CAR, Mr Fukui denied that would be the case and hinted that Honda may yet get its own ‘halo’ sports car. With the Honda price list topping out at the £40,000 Legend, a £45,000-plus model could well shed a little sparkle on the Honda range...

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

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