First Drive: Honda CR-Z Mugen

Honda CR-Z MugenIf there’s one small problem with the green revolution occurring in the motoring world, it’s that excitement and enthusiasm feature quite low on the priority list. Understandably of course, as headline figures of carbon dioxide emissions and combined cycle miles-per-gallon are what everyone is interested in but if you happen to be a keen driver and a keen greenie too, compromise is your only option.

That was until Honda introduced the CR-Z, the first proper attempt at building a hybrid sports car and it does a fine job too considering fuel efficiency and performance are almost mutually exclusive. By Honda’s own admission it was more about feel than outright punch: the lightweight body made it agile and fun while the brisk performance meant it could still hit over 50mpg.

Now Honda has had a go at pushing the CR-Z as far as it will go thanks to the independent Mugen division. This company has a long association with Honda particularly in motorsports, but its most recent effort was the fantastically capable Mugen Civic Type-R, and a similar approach has been adopted for the CR-Z.

Honda CR-Z MugenMany of the parts on this one-off example are straight from the Mugen shelf: the uprated suspension is near race-specification, as are the mighty brakes and delicious forged alloy wheels. It also receives a major visual fillip with a Mugen-design body kit, with a deeper front bumper, side skirts and a huge rear wing which looks much better in the flesh than you might think. Get on the phone or the Internet and you could have your standard CR-Z converted to this specification for around £8,000.

But the real hard work has been done in the engine room and by adding a supercharger to the 1.5-litre petrol motor Mugen has boosted the power output by over 60% to 197bhp while the already generous torque figure is up by 23% to 215lb.ft. That’s good figures for a hot hatch, but the Mugen CR-Z weighs a slight 1,080kg.

Once installed in the close fitting bucket seats, firing up the CR-Z brings a racing car-like rasp from the exhaust – something which would certainly be toned down a little in a production version. Just like the standard car there are three driving modes, but the Sport mode is replaced with Mugen mode and brings with it full access to the extra power.

Honda CR-Z MugenHowever, set off in Eco mode and aside from the much stiffer suspension and hilariously unruly racket from the exhaust, there’s very little to distinguish it from the regular car. It will potter along happily, sipping fuel and encouraging you to be thrifty with the green monitor in the smart instrument display awarding you ‘leaves’ on your digital tree for consistent eco driving. Because of its prototype status official figures have not been calculated, but Honda’s tests reveal that 50mpg is still perfectly possible – no compromises on that front then.

But five minutes in Eco mode is enough to confirm that it still works: instead you need to punch the Mugen button and find out what it really can do. Honda had kindly laid on some track time at Rockingham Motor Speedway, and it was the perfect venue to explore its full capabilities.

Even though race circuits have a habit of masking the true performance of even the quickest cars, the response and the consistent acceleration of the CR-Z Mugen is a real pleasure. The slick gearchange helps to keep the engine singing and it revs right around to 7,000rpm with ease. Perhaps even more impressive is the handling and grip, allowing it to swoop through bends ever more quickly and instilling huge confidence in the driver. Add in the unshakable brakes that stood up to dozens of hot laps without complaint, and you have a remarkably entertaining package for a car with proper eco credentials.

So where’s the catch then? Well truth is you can’t go and buy this car, yet. This prototype is a one-off, and because of all the development work that went into it, it is effectively worth £150,000. And although Honda firmly says there are no plans for production, they added the caveat that they will listen to customer feedback before making any further steps.

Honda CR-Z MugenThat means it’s down to you. If you like the idea of having a modern, stylish and innovative coupe that costs pennies to run but will still attack a twisty back road with glee, you need to get down to your Honda dealer and start badgering them relentlessly. With a good deal of the parts available off the shelf, it would only take a reasonable amount of interest to make it a viable production reality. Then even the eco warriors would be able to raise a smile.

Honda CR-Z Mugen, £25-30,000 (estimate)
Engine: 1.5-litre supercharged petrol and electric motor producing 197bhp and 158lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 135mph (est) 0-62mph 6.6 seconds (tbc)
Economy: 50mpg+ combined (est)
Emissions: Below 130g/km CO2 (est)

By Matt Joy

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