This is the Honda CR-Z Mugen hybrid, and it isn’t a production car… yet. Instead this prototype (valued at over £150k!) is designed to showcase just how far Mugen can push the CR-Z envelope.
Mugen parts for the CR-Z already exist in Japan, but this is a British project by Mugen's European arm, Mugen Euro. Mugen is to Honda what Alpina is to BMW, and there's a similar relationship between Honda UK and Northamptonshire-based Mugen Euro. The pair have collaborated before on the limited-run Mugen Civic Type R, and now this car will test the market for a hotter CR-Z hybrid. We hear there’s the strong possibility of a 180bhp version...
Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Honda CR-Z Mugen hybrid.
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This new Honda CR-Z Mugen looks, erm, challenging…
You’re right there. Max Power might be dead, but when this bronzed beast rolled into the car park at CAR HQ we're sure more than a few members of our publishing company thought the magazine was planning a rebirth. The rather bright hue is officially called ‘Brilliant Orange’, and together with gold wheels, new front and rear bumpers (the former featuring six LEDs around the number plate), deeper side sills, a big rear wing and a shiny exhaust trim it sure stood out amongst our long-term test fleet.
This project might be a one-off, but the some of the parts are already available through the Honda UK Mugen authorised dealer network. The bumpers, grille, skirts and rear wing (all Mugen parts already on sale in Japan) cost £2600 and the exhaust, wheels and suspension are a steep £6500.
Wheels and suspension? So what other tweaks has this Mugen-spec CR-Z had?
Let’s start with the other visual upgrades: that carbonfibre bonnet, together with carbon doors, lightweight forged wheels, Recaro buckets and the deletion of the rear seats saves a total of 52kg. One member of the CAR office pointed out that more weight could be saved by simply junking the whole hybrid system, but we’ll ignore his cynical comments for the moment.
That costly suspension system comprises stiffer springs and five-way adjustable dampers, the golden wheels are wrapped in semi-slick Yokomham Advan A048 rubber, there’s a wider front track, and the front brakes have been upgraded from 260mm items to 320mm vented discs clamped by four-piston monobloc calipers.
There’s more. Beneath that featherweight bonnet is a supercharger (none of Mugen's famed high-rev VTEC trickery here) and toughened engine internals, which work with the standard IMA electric motor to produce nearly 200bhp. The standard CR-Z’s 128lb ft and 122bhp have become 158lb ft and 197bhp, with the former now cresting at 5000rpm rather than plateauing from 1000-1500rpm, and the increased peak power being produced 200 revs higher.
So what’s the Mugen Honda CR-Z like on the road?
Nail it through the first couple of gears and it feels quick, the electronics having to cut in to combat slip despite the track-biased Yokohamas, while your ears are treated to a glorious Megane R26.R-style induction roar.
But tall (and unchanged) gearing means a shift from the limiter in second to third gear leaves you in No Man’s Land just north of 4000rpm, too high for the electric motor to assist, too low for the engine’s extra power to boost you on. Despite Golf GTI-alike power levels, it doesn’t have that mid-range urge to make it feel comfortably quick. You definitely can’t leave it in sixth expecting the torque to help you overtake.
Instead you have to be constantly shifting cogs to find the engine’s sweet spot – no bad thing, mind, with a typically brilliant Honda gearbox. But you need 5000rpm-plus to feel the power and hear the noise, but then the rev limit is around 6500rpm so there’s no manic VTEC rush either. The power band is tiny.
The steering is a little too digital in the first few degrees of turn but after that it gains useful weighting into corners. Ah, corners, and here the CR-Z just grips and grips. Four 215/45 R17 tyres might be small by today’s hot hatch standards, but get those Yokohama hot and they claw into the road. We don’t fancy them in the wet though, and at speed they hum like a Zanussi on full spin.
The ride is firm, very firm, and although the expensive dampers do a great job of counteracting any harshness, you ultimately can’t flow over the roads on which something so small and nimble should excel. The brakes need a shove to make the pads clamp discs too, and the pedal configuration makes heel ‘n’ toeing all but impossible.
You already sit low in the standard CR-Z so the Recaro upgrade wasn’t really necessary, but despite appearances the buckets are comfortable and thankfully wider than the hip-crushing items that were fitted to Mugen’s Civic Type R concept. The driver position is still brilliant, and the standard upright CR-Z wheel remains – small diameter, thin rim, pretty much perfect.
The Mugen CR-Z can play the fuel-sipping card around town in Eco mode (though it’s not a proper, Prius-style hybrid), or go mad at high(-ish) revs, but for life between one-tenth and ten-tenths there’s sadly not enough to entertain. It’s two cars in one, but the Mr Hyde personality is too extreme. What about the majority of life when you’re not concentrating on driving as economically as possible, or going absolutely flat out? In that large chunk of daily life the CR-Z Mugen falls down.
Hopefully any limited-run production version will slot into that middle ground, or you'll be able to pick and choose the parts to create your own ideal CR-Z. Despite the Mugen tweaks, what’s also still clear is what a decent little package the standard CR-Z is, and how desperately it needs a small capacity, forced-induction four-pot motor to truly take advantage of that fact. Perhaps to keep our road test editor happy, Honda needs to throw away that hybrid system too...
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