Honda CR-Z hybrid combines fun with efficiency

  • 21-Jan-2010 03:09 EST
2011 CR-Z exterior_NAIAS.jpg

The sleeker, sportier 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe delivers 24 hp (18 kW) more than the Insight hybrid sedan and adds a Sport driving mode. (Ryan Gehm)

Shown in concept and prototype forms at previous international auto shows, the final production iteration of Honda’s sporty CR-Z hybrid coupe finally debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The 2011 CR-Z—set to go on sale in the U.S. in late summer—introduces sleek styling and sporty handling to the hybrid segment, according to John Mendel, Executive Vice President of Sales for American Honda. “It’s the first hybrid designed to maximize style and fun, in addition to efficiency and economy,” he said at the car’s January unveiling.

The fun comes from a larger-displacement (compared to Honda Insight’s 1.3-L), 1.5-L i-VTEC engine integrated with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid-electric system. The four-cylinder engine combined with the IMA system’s dc brushless electric motor delivers an estimated peak output of 122 hp (91 kW) at 6000 rpm and 128 lb·ft (174 N·m) at 1000 to 1500 rpm with the standard six-speed manual transmission (MT). Models equipped with the available continuously variable transmission (CVT) deliver 123 lb·ft (167 N·m).

The 10-kW electric motor not only assists in acceleration but also captures energy during braking and coasting to recharge the 100-V nickel-metal hydride battery pack.

As with the Insight, cost was a major factor in the development of the CR-Z, the car’s Chief Engineer, Norio Tomobe, told AEI just after the unveiling. Other than a few minor differences, such as the length of wiring due to the CR-Z’s shorter frame, the hybrid system is “basically carryover from Insight, increasing the numbers to bring down costs,” he explained. “The IP [intelligent power] unit is the same, put right in from the Insight…So we tried to develop it in-line with the Insight.”

In addition to larger displacement, the four-cylinder engine in the CR-Z employs a modified i-VTEC system as well, according to Tomobe. “We had to increase the combustion efficiency, and we wanted power. In order to get that balance, there’s a mechanism in the VTEC system that stops the inlet valves. If it’s [above] 2300 rpm, it switches over for high output,” he explained. “So when you’re cruising or driving in the city, one valve [is closed] and you get more swirl in the chamber so that it increases the combustion efficiency. Then if you floor it to go above 2300 rpm, it can switch to a high-power engine” by opening both intake valves.

Compared to two driving modes available with the Insight—Normal and Econ—the two-passenger CR-Z adds a Sport mode. The three-mode drive system is driver-controlled via three backlit buttons to the left of the steering wheel.

Sport mode enhances multiple vehicle systems for performance, including the electric motor power assist, the engine throttle responsiveness, and electric power steering effort. The inner ring of the tachometer illuminates red in Sport mode.

During Econ mode operation, the engine’s responsiveness is tuned for optimal economy, the electric motor assist gives priority to fuel efficiency, and the A/C system can reduce its overall load on the engine. The inner tachometer ring transitions between blue and green in Econ mode, with green representing more economical driving.

Normal mode provides standard settings for steering, engine response, motor assist, and A/C, and the tachometer ring remains blue. As with the Insight, the CR-Z offers Eco Guide and Eco Scoring features to help drivers track their driving styles.

Preliminary EPA fuel-economy estimates for CVT models are 36/38/37 mpg (city/highway/combined). MT models are expected to achieve 31/37/33 mpg.

No details were provided on the CR-Z platform, but Honda spokesman Chris Naughton told AEI that for most of Honda’s new light trucks and cars, the platform is “modified enough that it is really its own platform.”

The front MacPherson strut suspension and rear H-shaped torsion beam suspension settings are said to be tuned for sporty and dynamic driving—characteristics that are enhanced by a low center of gravity, according to Honda, due to the car’s low vehicle height and placement of the battery and other hybrid components beneath the rear cargo area.

All models are equipped with 16 x 6 in aluminum wheels with 195/55 R16 86V tires. Accessory 17 x 7 in alloy wheels with 205/45R17 84V tires are available.

Safety-related features in the CR-Z include Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, six airbags, active head restraints, Vehicle Stability Assist, and a pedestrian-injury-mitigation design up-front.

Inside, a midship console behind the front seats optimizes cargo space. A hard-shell separator can be closed to create additional hidden storage.

Pricing of the new CR-Z will be announced closer to the on-sale date.

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