When Honda rolled out the CR-Z a few years ago, it hoped to bridge the gap between those who would save the planet and those who would rather burn all of its resources in a glorious cloud of tire smoke. But enthusiasts recalling the CRX of 1980s vintage balked, imploring Honda to ditch the heavy battery packs and electric motors in favor of a lighter-weight, more conventional powertrain. At this point it seems less likely that Honda would do so at one end of the market than Porsche would ditch the hybrid component of its 918 Spyder at the other. But that doesn't mean Honda isn't still cooking up ways to curb the CR-Z's weight. And it had just one such idea waiting for us when we visited its Japanese R&D center at Tochigi last week.

Nestled in between the JDM hatchbacks, powertrain test mules and new technology prototypes Honda rolled out for us sat the experimental CR-Z you see here. While it may look mostly like the hybrid sport-hatch you can pick up at your local dealer (albeit blacked out), nearly all of this prototype's bodywork has been completely replaced, as have its basic underpinnings, with carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. The exotic material is usually reserved for high-end exotics, but like BMW is democratizing its use in the new i3, so too is Honda researching ways to implement the use of carbon fiber on a mass scale. This one-of-a-kind CR-Z prototype stands, for the time being, as the embodiment of that effort.

Driving Notes
  • Ingress and egress in the carbon CR-Z is a bit more challenging than in the stock version. This prototype has been rebuilt on a carbon floor, with high sills and deeply bolstered buckets positioned down low. The door aperture is subsequently higher, prompting the R&D crew to fit a pair of butterfly hatches in the roof to allow those without the physique (or core strength) of a professional racing driver to get in and out without bumping their noggins. Once inside, the lower seating position – along with the visible carbon fiber all around – gives this prototype a feel more akin to a racecar than a mass-market hybrid hatchback.
  • As soon as you get moving (and before even getting used to shifting with your left hand – a first for this writer), the carbon CR-Z feels markedly quicker than stock. Honda insists the powertrain remained intact, which we'll take on faith. But the 30 percent faster 0-62 time they quoted us – now down to 8.3 seconds from 9.5 stock – strikes us as conservative. Just imagine this machine fitted with HPD's supercharger and the CR-Z's mild image would go right out the split rear window.
  • With at least 30 percent less weight and a lower seating position, the carbon CR-Z feels more sure-footed than a hybrid hatchback should. We say "at least" because while the CFRP chassis and bodywork helped Honda trim 30 percent off the stock CR-Z's sprung mass (now down to about 1,760 pounds), that weight reduction also enabled it in turn to lighten up the suspension, brakes and rolling stock. With a center of gravity closer to the ground, there's little body roll to be detected and the prototype grips with tenacity through the corners – evident even on the short handling circuit at Tochigi, around which we were permitted only two laps.
  • Of course with less heft to keep in check, the brakes also felt considerably stronger, grippier and all around more adept at shedding speed coming into the corner than you'd expect of the stock CR-Z. Given this prototype's scarcity, though, we were admittedly more hesitant to push it to its limits of adhesion.
  • Noise, vibration and harshness obviously suffered, as this is a research prototype not a production model – nor even intended to directly preview one, for that matter. The car creaked and pinged audibly the whole way, but we don't doubt that if Honda were to develop it for production, the final fit and finish would be up to the standards you'd expect from a major Japanese automaker.
  • We couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the R&D engineer who had to endure lap after lap of journalists (some less talented behind the wheel than this one, some undoubtedly more) flinging this prototype around the tight circuit. But when we left him and his one-off prototype (developed and built at untold expense), both were still in tact.
  • Although the cost of producing carbon-fiber is always dropping as production methods are improved and streamlined, we're still a long way off from seeing a $20,000 hatchback built out of the stuff. Of course if Honda were to put its buying power and production expertise behind it, we're sure it could get the price down to a more manageable level, but we still doubt that would go far enough and come soon enough to implement on something as mainstream as the next-generation CR-Z. And given the costs associated with repairing carbon bodywork and structures in the event of a crash, we're not sure mainstream buyers would want something so mass-market to be made out of the high-tech woven material, either. But if this prototype is anything to go on, it sure would be fun – for both tire-smoker and tree-hugger alike.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 60 Comments
      icemilkcoffee
      • 1 Year Ago
      0-60 has improved to 8.3 seconds. Sounds like a whole lot of effort, for a very, very unimpressive result.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        [blocked]
      Bugeyed Acura
      • 1 Year Ago
      If we could combine the more affordable parts of this car (like say replacing the regular CR-Z's body and seats with carbon fiber bits) and the new Earth Dreams 1.5, I think it would be a winning recipe for the next CR-Z. Heck, even include the batteries, as long as they earn their keep. I'd be okay with a car weighing 2200lbs that puts out 150hp/150tq, does a 7.5-8sec 0-60 and still gets 40+ mpg.
      jonnybimmer
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Just imagine this machine fitted with HPD's supercharger and the CR-Z's mild image would go right out the split rear window." No, just imagine this machine with the drivetrain swapped out for any of the Civic Type R motors and that'd kill the mild image. Really, any CTR motor, from the B16B to the new turbocharged powerplant they're developing would really make this thing come alive.
        TRAILbrake
        • 1 Year Ago
        @jonnybimmer
        If Honda is really stuck on making the CRZ a sporty hybrid I would love to see an SiR trim with eSH-AWD technology. Pair this with the Earth Dreams 2.0L turbo and they've really got a winner on their hands.
      dennis
      • 1 Year Ago
      I've been driving a CRZ for over a year. My previous cars were MR2 turbos, NSX and 350Z. I get 35mpg driving it hard. I actually get better mileage in sport mode than normal mode. It takes more throttle in normal mode to go the same speed. My CRZ is the first car I've owned with an auto tranny. I'm impressed with the CVT in sport mode, because it works like a manual transmission. It stays in a low gear when you let off the throttle providing engine braking and maintaining higher revs when you get back on the throttle. The CRZ corners pretty well for a car rated at 39 mpg. A Mini Cooper is your only other choice. I absolutely hate the split rear window. The designers should have sloped the roof line down lower to avoid that. But, it's like they had to give it an impractical design to attract weird hybrid people. For me I was just wanting the sportiest car that got good MPG. My wish list is for the electric boost motor to kick in at a lower rpm (more often) since I've never seen my battery charge indicator less than 85%, and I drive hard on the throttle all the time.
      Beni Rose
      • 1 Year Ago
      I am the owner of the gmail account crxlover@gmail.com, and have owned an 88 crx si, and a 91 crx. Let me tell you this Honda, I wont be creating crzlover@gmail.... And I vowed to buy a new CRX if you ever made one, well thank god you weren't foolish enough to fully taint the CRX moniker. If you wanna try and pedal crap no one wants call it a fckin insight, oh wait you have one of those also.. It seems pointless for me to point out the obvious car we all want this to be, I'm sure it has been done on thousands of posts already. Why I am even bothering to give feedback to a company that clearly completely disregards what its loyal customers actually want is beyond me. I would have loved to hear what some of those product planning meetings sounded like in the early 2000s though. "Well guys, we have a stellar reputation for quality and performance, class dominant compact and midsize offerings, and the best most usable and beloved super car ever made, what now? Lets go ahead and take that double wishbone suspension away from the Civic, bloat the Accord so much it becomes a full size, oh and 5 speeds is plenty for the auto, make sure we don't waste any money on that for at least a decade, lets kill that NSX because its getting old we definitely shouldn't follow up that dismal failure, and on that note lets make sure we forget about that other blunder the s2000." But boss wont we be lacking a bit in the performance department with no NSX or S2000 and a freshly gimped civic SI? "hahaha of course not, we are bringing back the most loved model in our history, the CRX, with a hybrid power train and 122 hp!! They are going to love it!" Hmmm ok, and whats the plan for Acura, it looks like Infiniti finally built a car that resonated with consumers with that new g35? "Oh Acura? We have big plans, if Lexus is the Japanese Mercedes, and Infiniti is trying to take on BMW, we will build Acura into the new..." Oooh were going to take on Audi! That's the first good thing I've heard today! "No not Audi, we are going straight for Buick, and we have a killer new bird beak we are going to slather across the entire lineup of soft front drivers, the consumers are going to love it!"
        Brian
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Beni Rose
        Another clueless person. This ISN'T a CRX. It's a CR-Z. It's a sporty fun hybrid, NOT a gas-engine sports car. I sold my 430 HP BMW M3 for my 2013 CR-Z and I'm having a blast in it (and getting 49+ MPG).
      bwana343
      • 1 Year Ago
      "But the 30 percent faster 0-62 time they quoted us – now down to 8.3 seconds from 9.5 stock – strikes us as conservative.".....Not conservative, just bad math, 30% is down to about 6.3 seconds. As long as there is that much CF in it, why not an integral CF/Steel tube Cage ?
      mitytitywhitey
      • 1 Year Ago
      First paragraph is stupid. Electric cars will not save the planet. Carry on.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mitytitywhitey
        No car will save the planet. But in the meantime, electric is better... ;)
          mitytitywhitey
          • 1 Year Ago
          @2 wheeled menace
          When did I say electric cars were worse? All I said was the first paragraph is stupid because electric cars will not save the planet. Why does anyone assume more than that?
      max
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hey Honda, you know what would make this fat ass go even faster? Taking that piece of **** hybrid drive (batteries and all) system out of the car entirely and placing one of those new turbo engines you've promised us. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm pretty sure the fun to drive factor would increase dramatically, and b/c it would be a light car it would still get great mileage, stop screwing around with all this nonsense.
        CoolWaters
        • 1 Year Ago
        @max
        Yea, with Peak Oil just around the corner, let's burn it faster, it's drill another Deep Water Horizon well.
          edward.stallings
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          I have old chemistry textbooks with assurances oil would be essentially depleted by 2000.
        sirvixisvexed
        • 1 Year Ago
        @max
        It isn't the fact that it is a hybrid that makes it suck, it's a horribly executed hybrid. There are cars a lot bigger and more powerful than the CRZ that get right around the same mileage.
      BraveLil'Toaster
      • 1 Year Ago
      "But if this prototype is anything to go on, it sure would be fun – for both tire-smoker and tree-hugger alike." Why? The Chevy Spark Electric is already getting better 0-60s than this prototype. Oh sure, the suspension still blows and the brakes are weak for a track car, but still. Chevy's green grocery getter makes a better sports car than this sports car that's being marketed as such.
        Pinhead
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BraveLil'Toaster
        Yes, because sports car = straight line.
        CoolWaters
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BraveLil'Toaster
        If GM can build the Spark, So to can Honda build this in Electric.
      King of Eldorado
      • 1 Year Ago
      " But the 30 percent faster 0-62 time they quoted us – now down to 8.3 seconds from 9.5 stock – strikes us as conservative." 9.5 sec. x .7 = 6.65 sec., no? What am I missing?
        CodyV
        • 1 Year Ago
        @King of Eldorado
        My thoughts exactly. This is only 12.6% faster. Nice math Autoblog!
      AcidTonic
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't get it..... It's just a gutless car to begin with. No potential at all.... so why modify it to go even faster. (When faster is still an 8 second 0-60). It's not really impressing anyone at anything it does. Pure hybrids are better at mileage, pure sports cars are better at performance. You should see the way the young kids in a CR-Z stare at me when I'm in the Evo. They always seem to be wannabe sports car owners who just can't get one. Every once in awhile I get revs at a stoplight from a CR-Z as if their 9 second 0-60 has a chance against a car that runs high 4's to 60 stock.
        Seal Rchin
        • 1 Year Ago
        @AcidTonic
        BR-Z is not that fast, yet it sells. This is beyond people like you, in your world sports means 0-60 and nothing else, i am sure you would take an SUV over this car if it went faster.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @AcidTonic
        It's a poorly executed hybrid with a motor that is already blase'.. Honda dropped the ball on this car really bad.. as an example, the new Accord hybrid is rated for 50/45mpg, does 0-60 in under 8 seconds and weighs ~3500lbs.
          Seal Rchin
          • 1 Year Ago
          @2 wheeled menace
          Accord is the most important car Honda has, it has a HUGE R&D budget, it has parts that are made with Accord in mind................CR-Z is not that way.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
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