Could Honda be planning a more economical -- but just as much fun -- offshoot of its next-generation Civic Type R, which has just blasted around Germany’s famed Nurburgring in less than eight minutes, crushing the Renault Megane RS 265 Coupe’s front-wheel drive production car lap record?
Something like a redefined CR-Z, perhaps?
All indications from a source close to Honda point in that direction.
But before we get to the inside story on the next CR-Z, it’s worth updating what’s happening with the new Civic Type R, which is a totally new model compared to the current Euro-spec Type R.
Because if a new CR-Z is in the pipeline, as we are told, then we can expect it to incorporate the new Type R’s architecture.
The existing Euro-spec R is based on the current Jazz platform with its signature central tank layout – old technology -- while the new Type R employs Honda’s new global platform, which will underpin the company’s worldwide Civic line-up.
In Europe and ASEAN countries including Australia, the new Civic Type R will take on the flagship role, but what about Honda’s biggest market, the US?
While the American line-up did get a marginally tweaked Civic like the Mugen-tuned Civic Si, the sportier Civics offered in the US were no match for the Type R’s razor-edged footwork or power.
And the sharp-looking CR-Z hybrid has the lines and dynamics, but fails to impress in the power department, leaving Americans indifferent with Honda’s sporty compacts.
Another critical factor that turned American eyes away from the CR-Z and tuned Civics was the launch of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ last year.
“The raw driving experience, good power, sporty look, low price and sizeable global sales figures sent a shockwave through Honda’s R&D section,” says our insider.
Within just two months of the 86/BRZ’s launch, Honda’s Tochigi R&D centre north of Tokyo took the unprecedented step of green-lighting a souped-up CR-Z prototype packing the current Type R’s 2.0-litre engine.
That story was leaked, leading to international press naming it the ‘CR-Z Type R’. But the concept soon vanished from Honda’s plans as it lacked viability and relevance on an outgoing platform.
That’s why Honda of America is taking the next-generation global Civic platform so seriously. Like the Type R in Europe, it too wants an image-leader for its own Civic market.
Type Rs have never been offered in the US due to homologation and crash test regulations (so we are told) and the Civic is seen as an entry-level car, but a hotter, sportier, redefined CR-Z could be just what the doctor ordered.
But it cannot be a coupe with the $40,000 sticker price of its European brother, when exchange rates are taken into account. It would have to be priced a long way south of that.
At Honda’s R&D division, a new CR-Z prototype sits on a shorter-wheelbase version of the new Type R platform with a body similar in size to the current CR-Z’s.
It is expected to employ a turbocharged 1.5-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine mated to an updated version of the current CR-Z’s hybrid system and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A manual will not be offered.
Total system power will peak at around 165kW, while the turbo-hybrid combination will help to generate better torque, improved fuel consumption and cleaner emissions than the Toyota or Subaru. That’s nearly 70kW more than the current CR-Z and matches the output of a 2.5-litre petrol four.
So given the CR-Z will be lighter and more powerful than the 86 and BRZ – as well as incorporating a milder but still potent version of the new Type R’s suspension -- we can expect big things from the new model, even if it won’t be rear-drive.
Production, we are told, will take place in the US, which will help keep prices under $40,000.
Our sources also tell us the new CR-Z is due in showrooms around a year after the new Civic debuts in 2015 – around the same time upgraded versions of the 86 and BRZ are expected.
Let’s hope Honda’s rediscovered mojo, as evidenced by its F1 comeback and the born-again NSX, translates into a strong competitor for the super-successful Toyota and Subaru coupes.
Image: Holiday Auto magazine
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