A dozen modified 2011 CR-Z sport hybrid coupes occupied Honda’s corner of the 2010 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show floor in early November. The two most eye-catching, arguably, were courtesy of Honda Performance Development Inc. (HPD), the automaker’s North American racing company.
The two concept vehicles—the CR-Z Hybrid R Concept and the HPD CR-Z Racer—are not intended for sale, but HPD wanted to demonstrate the vehicle’s potential for both street and racing performance. Both vehicles share many performance enhancements, most notably a higher output IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) hybrid system including a combined turbocharged, intercooled 1.5-L engine. The result is an estimated combined 200 hp (149 kW) and 175 lb·ft (237 N·m)—a significant bump up from the production version’s 122 hp (91 kW) and 128 lb·ft (174 N·m).
BorgWarner worked with HPD to incorporate its new EFR (Engineered for Racing) Series turbocharger, which features Gamma TiAl (titanium aluminide) turbine wheels, ceramic ball bearings, stainless-steel turbine housings, and internal wastegates activated by BorgWarner’s compact brushless actuator.
Other upgrades include a performance clutch, limited-slip differential, “circuit-tuned” suspension, upgraded brakes, and aerodynamic components.
HPD plans to run two CR-Z Racers at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill endurance race in December.
“This is a real racecar that pushes the limits of both the gasoline engine and the IMA hybrid system,” said Marc Sours, General Manager of HPD, at the SEMA reveal. “When the CR-Z went on sale, HPD saw an opportunity to spark a whole new competition class—hybrid racers. Since the CR-Z starts out as an affordable, well-balanced car, HPD anticipates that quite a few will end up in competition.”
The Technical Director for the racing organization, Roger Griffiths, explained to AEI that the modified electric powertrain is not only more efficient and powerful, but it also runs longer. “It’s a little bit more than just tweaking” the IMA hybrid system, he said. “It’s a higher-output motor, it’s different control strategies, it’s different battery management technology.
“With all these other tuner cars out here, everybody can address the styling, everybody can lower them, everybody can put a great sound system in it, but really Honda [engineers] are the only people who can play with the hybrid system because it’s such an integral part of the vehicle and the technology is so closely guarded. Even for us it was challenging,” he said.
HPD works with many outside companies to achieve its goals for engineering and timeline targets, Griffiths noted. On this project the company consulted with Mission Motors due to the nature of the requirements. “Their expertise in battery management was used to tie in with our engineers’ targets for a higher performance hybrid powertrain,” he said.
The HPD engineering team did not begin the project until May or June, according to Griffiths. “These cars were finished just days ago,” he admitted at the Las Vegas event. The group also developed a third car, its “test mule,” which has been running laps around Willow Springs Raceway in California to get ready for the endurance race.
“We would hope so” was Griffiths’ response when asked if these changes will find their way into future production cars. “If we can convince American Honda and Honda Motor in Japan that this is what the future should be, then that’s great.
“The nice thing about the turbocharger is it’s a bit more efficient than just, say, putting the 2.0-L twin-cam engine in it—more in line with the philosophy of the CR-Z concept," he continued. "It’s not quite the same power level, but I’m not sure this vehicle would really need 230 hp. The car’s quite light.”
HPD considered using carbon fiber for components such as the hood, roof, and rear tailgate, “but ultimately we had a budget—not only how much money we could spend to build these cars, but also we had a target price for the racecar,” Griffiths shared. “We could build a $75,000 racecar, but then who’s going to buy it? Our target was ‘Can we build a $35,000 racecar?’ That was our mindset.”
HPD built the CR-Z Racer at its own facility in Santa Clarita, CA, with its own associates, according to Griffiths. “It was our very first attempt to build a racecar,” he said, noting that the Civic racecar built earlier in the year for the World Challenge was done with outside support. “Our associates showed that we have a remarkable pool of talent within HPD.”
The CR-Z Hybrid R Concept was styled by the Honda R&D Design Studio in Los Angeles. “This concept is meant to show how much additional performance potential there really is for hybrid technology in sporty cars in the future,” Sours said.
“The Type R has always been an historical thing for Honda,” Griffiths added. “If there was ever to be a resurrection of Type R, what would we think it was? This is our interpretation of a Type R-type vehicle. It’s a little bit more radical than perhaps you put on the road as a true production vehicle, but it gives some direction.”
A 2011 CR-Z equipped with Mugen accessories was also on display at the SEMA Show. In the spring, Honda plans to begin selling a limited-edition Mugen accessory kit for the vehicle (pricing TBD). Limited to 300 complete kits, the package includes a full Mugen body kit, a front grille, a rear wing spoiler, 17-in “XJ” aluminum wheels, sport mats, a unique black aluminum shift knob, and a billet aluminum oil-filler cap. After purchase, each owner will receive a unique serial-number plaque.
Mugen, under license by M-TEC Co., Ltd., of Japan, has long been associated with Honda in the design and manufacture of racing and performance components.
In addition to a CR-Z featuring currently available Honda Genuine Accessories and two special-project CR-Zs, including a Los Angeles Auto Show project car, Honda invited six independent vehicle tuners to “push the limits” with their hybrid concepts at SEMA: Bisimoto Engineering, DSO Eyewear, Eibach Springs, Fortune Motorsports, Konig Wheels, and Wraptivo.