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Honda unveils supercharged CR-Z, 2014 Civic Coupe at SEMA

Tue, 05 Nov 2013

Hard to tell, but the supercharged tomato you see above represents a fundamental shift within Honda: it is the first car from Honda Performance Development with parts that actually make your car go faster.

Honda Performance Development: "We're not just body kits and lowering springs anymore!"

After two decades in actual racing development, perhaps it was time. HPD has built engines and chassis for IndyCar, American Le Mans Prototypes, Formula Atlantic, and the Continental Sports Car Challenge. Seven out of the 15 teams in this year's IndyCar season use Honda engines, the other being Chevrolet. (For a while, it was the only engine supplier in the series.) With a 10,300 rpm-attaining Honda naturally-aspirated V8, 2013 champion Scott Dixon helped propel Honda to its 200th IndyCar victory. At this rate, one would imagine that developing a supercharger for a hybrid would be a cakewalk.

Ah, but the quixotic last-minute event-to-event rule-flipping of a racing series is no match for CARB regulations. Honda worked closely with Jackson Racing, purveyors of Honda superchargers since time immemorial, to develop a compact centrifugal supercharger that actually met fifty-state emissions. The endeavor netted both parties an Executive Order, meeting aftermarket emissions standards, available on a neat little plaque on the intake manifold. It's no hand-built AMG plaque. But cherish it anyway, owners. Embrace it.

What HPD added to the CR-Z was a supercharger of the centrifugal type, selected for its compact size and traction drive integration. The supercharged motor is good for 187 horsepower at 6,300 RPM, and 171 lb-ft of torque at 5,150 RPM.

Tick the Supercharger Kit box at your local Honda dealer and it will also include high-flow injectors, an intercooler, and a high-flow air filter. A limited-slip differential and a sports clutch are options. HPD made it explicitly clear that the Supercharger Kit is only available for manual transmissions -- understandable, given the sporting intent. It comes dealer-installed, or one can choose to install it oneself if he or she is good with directions.

We drove the HPD CR-Z and found that while its power output is no longer lagging, those expecting instant rocketship transformation will need to temper their excitement. It revs a bit higher, promising a sufficiently techno-fied simulacrum of the Civic Si's frantic upper-ranging nature. Surprise of the day: the supercharger barely makes any noise, rendering the CR-Z's power as unobtrusive and unnoticeable as to betray its outside looks. Body motions were far superior to a regularly-dampened equivalent. But with nearly 50 more horsepower, the CR-Z now feels like a car that can dice it up with freeway traffic instead of turning every onramp into a life-reaffirming adventure.

Last year Mugen introduced a hyper-limited, Japan-only supercharged CR-Z, of which it built just 300. HPD did analyze their kit during development. But the Mugen supercharger is smaller, said HPD's chassis development manager Philip LaPointe, on account of it using the stock fuel injectors. It therefore produced just 174 horsepower instead of our HPD's 187.

But it did look fast. And what's more, LaPointe was quick to note: during their testing, the CR-Z's mileage actually improved with the supercharger. Highway mileage shot up to 45mpg, the team calculated, compared to a regular CR-Z's 38 mpg rating. City mileage, on the other hand, fell by a bit.

This car won't be a limited run -- any CR-Z from 2011 and up can be retroactively refitted. Some owners, perhaps inspired by the Mugen, may spring for the Chassis Kit -- and it is worth noting that both Supercharger and Chassis Kits can be ordered piecemeal, if one is so inclined. The kit includes the understated bumper and spoiler package pictured above, four-piston brake calipers -- red, natch -- wrapping 300mm ventilated rotors, dampers and lowering springs, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires in 215/40-18 size, and an optional center-exit sport exhaust and diffuser which is just as flashy as anything Mugen can provide. Sometimes the big boy dances just as well.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe and Si

Blake Z. Rong
The 2014 Honda Civic Coupe is very red.

The entire Civic coupe lineup gets new styling changes for 2014, the likes of which we shall see at the LA Auto Show. Just a few weeks more, be patient. But Honda picked SEMA to unveil the Si model, which gets modest style upgrades and the promise of more power.

The new Si's bodykit is readily apparent: aggressive front intakes and a beefier rear spoiler bookend the new car. It now gets 18-inch wheels standard, replacing the outgoing 17s. A revised suspension comes with new dampers, higher spring rates, and a stiffer rear swaybar. Inside, the Si gets red seat inserts to brighten up the all-black cavern it used to be. And a new array of colors is, as Honda dubiously claims, "A classic take on old muscle car colors." Orange Fire Pearl, new for 2014, kinda sounds as cool as Mopar's Header Orange.

Powertrains are carryover, but the Civic Coupe gets a boost of three horsepower and 1 lb-ft of torque, which is 143 horsepower and 129 lb-ft for those of you playing along at home. The Si gets an Apocalyptic Horsemen's increase, by four, and a new exhaust adds 4 more lb-ft of juicy, delicious torque. We'll find out more details about interior and technology upgrades at the Los Angeles Auto Show, creeping up on us in just two weeks.

About the SEMA Show

SEMA — short for Specialty Equipment Marketing Association — is the biggest aftermarket auto event in the world, held in Las Vegas each fall. The show fills multiple convention halls and shows off everything from high-performance OEM specials to custom wheels and graphics from local shops. Get the full rundown on what automakers and suppliers are up to at the industry's biggest trade show at our SEMA Show home page.

By Blake Z. Rong