Continuing on with our current Honda theme for this month I’d like to take a look at a car that has helped me further realize the importance of well-executed tuning. Like we saw with the Spoon NSX-R GT, Ichishima-san knows a thing or two about extracting the full potential of a vehicle, but after having had the chance to sample various versions of Honda’s sports hybrid, the CR-Z, I was very skeptical of what could really be achieved with this car.
Call it modern and forward thinking, you can even commend it for bringing back some of the design cues from the fun little CRX of the eighties, but the CR-Z lacks one very important thing, power. The car’s contained weight serves up pin-sharp handling, and the hybrid system is great for minimizing fuel consumption, but I have never come away from a CR-Z thinking it’s a sports car, because simply, it isn’t. So short of dropping in a K20 and ripping out the hybrid assist motor and heavy batteries, can it really be made to perform?
As we have seen over the last months since the Tokyo Auto Salon a good deal of tuning shops have been extremely busy trying to turn the fuel efficient CR-Z into the performance car it so obviously could be. Turbo kits from HKS can get you anywhere from 200 to 300 HP, while superchargers can safely boost power of the 1.5L LEA engine. But that isn’t exactly what a Honda is all about, at least not to the purists out there.
Which is where Spoon Sports come in. Their demo car is unlike anything that has so far been attempted with the CR-Z, again focusing on the simple things and performing something that can only be described as fine-tuning.
Lift the lightweight carbon fiber hood and you are met with the pretty stock looking 1.5 LEA. Most of the work has been done to things you can’t see which include taking the whole motor apart, finely balancing the pistons, conrods and crankshaft and then putting everything back together with Spoon low-friction bearings. Combustion chamber volume was also checked and equalized along with the valve train and rocker arm clearances. Exhaust headers and a full N1 race exhaust system help give the rather quiet CR-Z the engine note it deserves, while more air is allowed to enter the engine through the 21% larger throttle (up from 50 mm to 56 mm).
The Spoon ECU is programmed to get the best out of the engine focusing more towards performance than fuel efficiency. The red line has also been upped to 8,500 rpm. In the engine bay you can also get a good look at the Motor Rib, a sort of extended tower bar that acts as a rib cage over the front of the chassis massively improving rigidity. Spoon now offers this for an every increasing number of applications.
So how does it feel out on the fast and challenging corners of the Toyo Tires Turnpike where the test was held? Nothing short of phenomenal!! I was simply blown away at the transformation, and from the first moment I floored the throttle I was grinning all through the drive. The extra 22 HP that the engine now develops mated to the IMA electric motor combines to give a total of 150 HP, which may not sound much but they really do make a difference. The engine note alone makes you feel like you are driving at twice the speed you are actually doing! But this car isn’t about straight line performance, it’s about the whole package and for me the most satisfying aspect had to be the handling.
Behind those yellow Spoon 17-inch CR93 wheels hides the fully adjustable race suspension, set up for heavy-duty track work but of such a high quality that it functioned superbly on the, admittedly smooth, tarmac of the Turnpike. It was like the car kept asking me to pile on more speed through the corners, the dampers taking in everything I kept throwing at them making the best of the high levels of grip the Potenza RE11s develop. The Spoon 1.5 way LSD feels great through the steering, tightening up when you power out of corners intensifying the overall communication to the front wheels. Traction is never an issue, even when the IMA system comes in to boost the low to mid rpm. And then the braking, courtesy of the Spoon 4-pot monobloc calipers, which shaved speed off violently at every prod, but offered racecar-like adjustability and modulation.
The simple interior is set up with pleasantly low-mounted Spoon carbon-Kevlar bucket seats and the ergonomically designed Spoon steering wheel. There are no additional instruments, not even an audio system, all ripped out along with the speakers.
The tiny rear seats are of little of no use so Ichishima-san keeps the folded flat to keep the center of gravity of the car as low as possible.
What makes this CRZ so much fun and rewarding to drive is its weight, or lack of it rather. Spoon has managed to shave off a total of 135 kg from the car, bringing the weight down to 995 kg. On top of the carbon fiber hood…
…and the new Spoon LED-type side mirrors the CR-Z will soon be getting carbon doors which will help shave an additional 45 kg, bringing the weight down to 950 kg! Who needs power when you keep shaving weight off!
A series of roof fins help create vortices to smooth airflow over the long, uniquely styled hatch.
Once again Ichishima-san proves how fine tuning can dramatically improve a car’s behavior, in the process allowing me to enjoy one of the most fun and surprisingly rewarding test drives I’ve ever had. Power definitely isn’t everything!
-Dino Dalle Carbonare