A few months ago, I was invited by Honda UK and Mugen to put the CR-Z Mugen concept car through its paces around Rockingham and provide my feedback on the car. A few other people would be there from other Honda forums, some lucky Facebook winners, the press and some full on Honda nuts that have a close relationship with Mugen due to their M20 orders.
For those who don't know what the CR-Z Mugen is, well, its Mugen taking Honda's much loved CR-Z, and giving it the Mugen treatment. It would be easier for me to list what hasn't been changed on the car than what has, Mugen have really gone to town on it. They've taken the standard 1.5 litre engine and rebuilt it, with custom internals, blueprinted of course. Then, they've added a Rotrex supercharger and tweaked the IMA assist system. This whole new family of parts is called the Mugen iCF system, standing for Integrated Centrifugal Forced Induction. During the presentation I was interested to see if the engine and power delivery would remain smooth due to all these new parts and all of them working together.
They haven't just fettled with the engine though, the Mugen monoblock 4-pot calipers as seen on the M20 return, along with Mugen suspension, a custom exhaust system and Mugen Forged wheels. Since new parts (and weight) have been added under the bonnet, including of course the Rotrex unit and the intercooler, weight saving has been achieved by means of ripping the back seats out and putting lightweight Recaro's up front. In addition, there's a carbon bonnet and carbon doors. The paint matching on the doors is pretty poor, but the car has JDM paint on it and the UK bodyshop are having issues matching it, this is a work in progress as is the whole car. Mugen goodies are throughout the cabin, including a nice gearknob and Mugen assist meters. Bodykit wise, Mugen did a U-turn from the M20, as they had lots of customers wanting M20 parts on their car but they were bespoke to the M20. This time round they've only added the kit that can be seen in the Mugen catalogue, so you can create your own lookalike CR-Z Mugen if you wish.
The car is of course a concept, so a lot of the specification is constantly changing as the project moves on. In current guise, the engine delivers around 200bhp and 215NM of torque, however these figures are constantly changing and if (it's a big if) the car goes into production, I would expect to see different numbers. The suspension was also put on for the track thrashing the car was going to be going though so it was a more race orientated setup than normal. Performance wise, Mugen's aim is to be on par with the FN2 Civic Type R, and my impression is that it isn't far off. The car retains the three modes off the standard car, and returns 50mpg+ in eco mode and around 35mpg in Mugen mode (unless off course you're thrashing it) and costs nothing to tax. 200bhp, 50mpg, supercharged petrol and no road tax? Sounds bloody good to me.
Whether or not the car goes into production remains to be seen, Mugen do not know yet and there are 100's of variables in the equation. A lot depends on the cars reception over the next few months and of course the reaction at the public unveiling at Goodwood FoS. No prices have been confirmed as you can't put a price on an unfinished and unconfirmed product.
Shortly after the briefing, I was taken track side and given the usual drivers briefing. I wasn't allowed my camera with me as there were other events happening track side and there was a few media types around, so the photos in here are ones supplied to me by Honda.
After the briefing I jump in the driver's seat, with a Rockingham instructor next to me. The driving position is pretty much perfect; the cabin is very focussed much like that of the NSX or S2000 with everything set up right for the driver. Unfortunately it had been raining, and with the car and semi slicks and Rockingham having a pretty nasty reputation for being a poor wet surface, we had to take a careful wet line. After 3 sighting laps the instructor gave me an option to go alone or carry on with him in the car. I chose the latter, like a big fairy, mainly due to the fact I was uneasy about the levels of wet traction and the last thing I want is a massive fail in a concept car. I carried on for around 5-6 laps before the instructor called us in.
The first thing about the car I noticed is that it is pretty loud, I'd say Spoon N1 backbox loud, even Colin from Mugen mentioned this in the briefing, that he didn't like it on the way to the track. The track was greasy and the car was pretty good but forgettable, but I really enjoyed myself. Lap times were pretty slow but the car was really well behaved throughout the laps. Power wise it felt quick, on par with an FN2 but the delivery was very linear and not exciting like the K20's delivery. After I was called in, it was time for a cup of tea before going out later on. I returned to the hospitality suite where BTCC driver Matt Neal was chilling out, so I had a chat with him, of course asked him how his brakes are and gave my feedback to Mugen.
A couple of photo's of me with the car:
After my cuppa, I was taken track side again. This time round, it was dry, the sun was shining and I was given the option of going out alone. Mugen's engineer gave me a brief that I might see some warning lights on the water and oil temperature gauges on the Mugen assist meters, but not to worry unless the dreaded oil pressure light came on. I strapped in again and off I went. I really started to open the car up and I've got to say, it felt completely different to my first time round. I obviously felt more confident in the dry and the feedback from the car was superb, almost like that of the DC2. Balance wise, the car is very neutral edging on understeer on the limit, being helped a lot by the LSD (which incidentally, is the only addition or modification to the running train). Unlike the DC2 however, the back end of the car remains well behaved, but once or twice I noticed that it has a tendency to step out a little which could of course mean that instead of breaking away progressively like it would on a DC2 or other tail happy FWD car, it could snap. I would like to see what the car is like with normal road tyres as opposed to the semi slick Advan AD048's that were on it.
The red line is lowly 6200rpm, some 2000rpm short than what I'm used to, so that took some adjusting. At first I found myself shifting early, in fear of bouncing of the limiter, but this put me too low down in the rev range, and due to the very linear power delivery of the engine, left me feeling a bit annoyed waiting for the revs to build along with the power, a little like shifting out of VTEC, only no VTEC ). Once I got used to it I found myself shifting at around 6000rpm, hitting the limiter once or twice, and it was much better. If on a straight, and going up the box, there is a slight delay in power as you select a new gear. Colin did mention afterwards that if you change just before 6000rpm that you can hit a spot at 4000rpm where there is a slight pause of power delivery. I'm sure he will be along to provide a technical answer as unfortunately I didn't catch his answer clearly (mainly due to Matt Neal talking about this seasons BTCC).
The pedals are well placed for heal and toe, this combined with the nigh on perfect seating position, meant you really feel part of the car. The car turns in very sharply, like my DC5 used to with the aggressive fast road setup, however without the twitchiness in a straight line.
I carried on for a couple of laps and really settled in the car. The amount of feedback gave me huge confidence and I was really starting to push the car very hard. I could hear the tyres rubbing on the arches, Mugen fitted the biggest semi slicks to the car they could as well as lowering it far lower than intended which meant that under extreme suspension load, contact was made with the arches. Overall the CR-Z felt very go kart like, probably one of the most checkable cars I've driven on track and due to the well-mannered nature of the chassis, you could get away with being ham fisted behind the wheel as well. Just as the oil temperature reached around 140 and the water temperature light come on I was called back into the pit for the end of my second session.
My only real gripes with the car (apart from the paint finish as mentioned earlier) is that it seems to lack top end grunt which was noticeable on Rockingham's longer straights and the gearbox isn't as slick as the K20's box. Finally, the gearing remains the same as the road car, which is very very long. I would say it needs a short shifter (Mugen are already looking into this) and shorter gearing as in my opinion, the engine is somewhat hampered by the ratio's of the box which is a shame.
I have to say, I really enjoyed myself, more so than I expected. After driving the quite mental M20 Concept I was expecting the same sort of animalistic behaviour from this car but it didn't deliver. But then when I think about what this car actually is, a 50mpg hybrid that's exempt from road tax, and I've just been hooning around Rockingham with a grin as wide as I would be wearing in an EP3 or FN2, I have to say once again, it's job well done Mugen.
M20 Owner Chris behind the wheel (who has a few other Honda's in his garage, including the only Mugen RR in the country):
M20 Owner Paul (another Honda nut, NSX owner and NSX Club GB member)
Mugen Euro CEO Hiro with the CR-Z:
Matt Neal joins the two lucky Facebook competition winners for a photo:
Photo's courtesy of Paul Harmer.