In the midst of Honda’s recent woes, few cars illustrate the company’s lack of focus better than the CR-Z. Introduced as a concept in 2007, the futuristic-looking sports car looked like it would be a sure-fire hit for the company, who have a long history of building performance-based daily drivers. Inspired by the iconic Honda CR-X of the 1980s, the CR-Z promised to be a lightweight, affordable two-seater with a standard six-speed manual transmission and a modern hybrid drivetrain. When it hit showrooms in 2010, it became clear that the CR-Z was anything but a sports car. The car’s aggressive styling could barely conceal the fact that it borrowed its engine from the Honda Fit, and shared its platform with the sedate Honda Insight hybrid. Performance was virtually non-existent, as it’s hybrid powertrain mustered a combined 122 horsepower, and it hustled from zero-to-60 in around nine seconds – only 0.8 seconds quicker than a Toyota Prius.
Five years after its debut, the CR-Z lies in a strange void; it’s too slow to be considered a sports car, and it’s cramped two-seat interior makes it too impractical to be an economy car. The car’s best American sales year came in 2011, when 11,330 CR-Zs found buyers. In contrast, the company sold 31,213 Civics in March 2011 alone. By 2014, U.S. sales had trickled to a paltry 3,562 cars, and after Honda announced that the car was being discontinued in Europe at the end of the year, rumors of the car’s imminent demise began to swirl stateside. But in a surprising twist, Road and Track announced that sources inside Honda say that the CR-Z will be back for a second act in 2017, and it will finally become the affordable sports car it was always meant to be.
Sources inside Honda’s Research and Development center in Tochigi, Japan, say that the next-generation CR-Z will be based on the Civic platform and share its engine with the upcoming Civic Type-R performance car. Honda’s new hot hatch has become one of the most anticipated new cars of late, and the company’s revelation that a pre-production Type-R has become the fastest front-wheel drive car to ever lap the Nürburgring (and beating the old record by nearly four seconds) has only added to the car’s allure. After months of deliberation by Honda, it looks like the Type-R probably won’t reach American showrooms, but there has been speculation that its engine would eventually find its way into a U.S.-spec Civic and/or CR-Z. With this latest leak, it looks like the rumors of a hot new CR-Z are real, and it could be as close as we’ll get to the Type-R stateside.
If the Type-R powerplant makes its way into the next-generation CR-Z, the little car will be transformed from pretender to bona-fide sports car almost overnight. Sources say the engine will be slightly detuned from the Type-R’s 306 horsepower, but the U.S.-bound turbocharged 2.0 liter VTEC inline-four is still expected to make “more than 280 horsepower” – more than enough to make the anemic 130 horsepower hybrid mill found in the current CR-Z a distant memory. With all that power going to the front wheels, the Civic-based CR-Z should also get a host of Type-R suspension upgrades, including Honda’s new “Dual-Axis Strut” front end and heavy-duty limited-slip differential to prevent catastrophic amounts of torque-steer.
After years in the wilderness, it looks like Honda is finally ready to embrace its performance heritage and return to what it does best. The company reformed its racing partnership with McLaren for the 2015 Formula One season, and with the 2016 Acura NSX, its returning to the supercar arena after being absent for more than a decade. As the Type-R hits showrooms in Europe and Asia by early 2016, and with the potential for the hot CR-Z in the U.S. by 2017, Honda has shown that it’s committed to bringing real sports cars back to Honda lineup. With future models like these, it looks like Honda is on the cusp of a new performance renaissance. Welcome back, Honda.
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