Avid Honda-heads across America rejoiced when the Japanese firm announced that the CR-Z would be going on sale state-side in August of 2010. It had been nearly a 20 year drought since the fuel efficient CRX had been put down, and enthusiasts everywhere were clamoring for a reboot. But when the long awaited successor to the oddball CRX finally made it to our shores, the cries of “Hey!” turned into “Meh…” as millions of Americans discovered that the CR-Z was just a shadow of what it could be.
Don’t get us wrong. This is truly a solid little car; it’s just that Honda made the grave mistake of not releasing an Si model of this little guy to go along with the fuel-sipping hybrid version. Back in the day, the CRX came either in a HF trim-base that literally got over 50 miles per gallon, a regular model that still got stellar mileage, and an Si version, that came with all manner of sport tuning in the handling and braking departments to balance out a slight bump in horsepower. So when Honda announced that the CR-Z would only be made available with today’s equivalent of the old HF motor, everyone got pissed off and interest immediately took a dive for the worst.
Sure, the economy was totally in the crapper back in 2010, but in the past five years very little has improved for the little four-banger since you can’t market a car as a modern day reincarnation of the CRX without at least giving buyers an Si option. It wouldn’t have been all that hard to do either; this article from Honda Tuning Magazine shows how LHT Performance made their “KR-Z” look like it was OEM from day one. Honda Performance Development (HPD) even built a fantastic performance package for the CR-Z, but Honda refused to aggressively market this 200-horsepower, big-brake shod, sport-tuned suspension version, and sales continued to slump as a result. Even the YouTube video for the HPD CR-Z hasn’t even cracked 40,000 hits after almost two years.
One of the most interesting things about the CR-Z is its peers — because it has none. This car drives around in a strange limbo that exists somewhere between compact sports cars and full-blown green machines, and maybe that’s why it hasn’t sold well. It’s too feisty for most environmentalists, only getting 39 miles per gallon on the highway, and sports an unsportsmanlike engine that can only crank out 130 horsepower (so performance enthusiasts laugh it off as being anything worth considering). Throw in the fact that it only seats two people and that Car and Driver gave it an abysmal rating, and boom, you’ve got a full-blown flop on your hands.
But Honda’s new president, Takahiro Hachigo, has a genuine affinity for Honda’s racing heritage, and with him at the helm there has been a flurry of performance activity in the last half year alone. This leads us to the CR-Z you see here, because while it may look like it hasn’t gotten more than a bit of a facelift and some shiny new rollers, this compact commuter car is beginning to show its teeth, and if Honda sticks to its guns this could be the predecessor to something truly great.
Automotive News reports that a revamped version of the CR-Z will go on sale in Japan this October, and is “expected to hit U.S. showrooms sometime the following month.” Supposedly, our update will also get the more aggressive nose, that “wing-like lip that cups the grille and flares around enlarged fog lights,” and 10mm-wider hindquarters in order to put even more funk in the CR-Z’s trunk.
The interior will get an electric e-brake so that an armrest can finally be utilized, a touch-panel audio screen will make its debut, and active noise cancellation technology will come into play to reduce road noise. But that’s when things head south; the CR-Z’s new 360-watt, seven-speaker audio system is reportedly getting hooked up to an engine amplifier so that combustion noise may be experienced in full surround sound while driving. Since the powerplant is not getting upgraded, drivers will now be treated to an earful of 130 horses being pushed to their limits, which may end up hurting sales more than helping.
On the bright side, Honda of Japan’s information on the refresh tells of engineers giving the car larger disc brakes, along with bigger brake master cylinders and calipers for more firmness all around. There also is talk of two-tone paint schemes, keyless ignition, re-tuned sport suspension, and fresh sets of 16 and 17-inch alloys to showcase the beefier brakes. Chief Engineer Terukazu Torikai says these upgrades show Honda’s commitment to the sluggish CR-Z, even when it remains Honda’s slowest seller behind the Insight and the Ridgeline, both of which have been discontinued this year.
So if this car sells so poorly, why hold onto it and keep dumping funding into it’s life support system? “It basically has no competitors, it’s the only sports hybrid,” Torikai reaffirms. But while he tries to assure everyone that the CR-Z has a “small but fanatical following,” the word ‘small’ fails to resemble the word profitable and if it doesn’t sell well, the plug is going to get pulled on that life support system.
According to Automotive News’ study, U.S. sales of the CR-Z have dropped 34% this year and were down to just 1,562 vehicles through July — easily outsold by both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. Torikai doesn’t appear to be too concerned though, saying that he hopes this refresh will keep annual U.S. sales of the little sport-hybrid in the droll 3,000 to 5,000 unit range. Honda only sold 3,562 CR-Zs in the U.S. last year, so doing things like omitting LED lights on the American overhaul but giving them to the Asian market in order to keep costs down may not be the wisest move for the Japanese giant.
Regarding a naturally aspirated Si motor, Torikai said that “there are no plans for that whatsoever,” which is equal parts disappointing and expected. Despite Honda continuing to boost its interest in turbocharged small engines, this decision probably wouldn’t bother Americans one bit, just as long as the CR-Z continues to be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, that amazing interior, and can get some love from the guys over at HPD, who prove that even boring Accords can become turbocharged monsters.