As probably the only participant in the test drive event to have driven both the Jackson Racing CR-Z and the HPD version, I was at a distinct advantage in having an idea of what to expect from the engine. And since this was on my home turf (my shop is only 7 miles from Honda HQ, my home not much further), I knew exactly what roads to take to challenge the suspension of the HPD car and see if they'd been able to improve on the shortcomings of the stock setup.
For the drive I was teamed up with Aaron Bonk, who many of you probably know from Honda Tuning. He actually writes for many of the automotive enthusiast magazines and has been around the industry for a long time. Between the two of us we were probably over 400 lbs of cargo weight (and I'm the majority of that), which meant we were going to be testing the suspension more than a single, lightweight driver would. All the better in my mind. I took the first stint behind the wheel and headed for the 405 freeway and one of my favorite on-ramps.
The first thing that I noticed was that the power curve feels nearly identical to the JR CR-Z. That shouldn't be surprising, but for two separate packages to end up so close is always interesting to me. I did notice a difference in throttle mapping though. The HPD CR-Z seems to open up the throttle more in the first half of the pedal travel, leaving the final 20-30% of foot action feeling a little flat. Nothing that couldn't be changed, but I prefer a more linear throttle myself. Acceleration was classic Rotrex supercharger. Minimal gains down low with an ever increasing rush as rpms build, leaving you wanting an even higher redline. And, as is also typical with these setups, you must push them all the way to redline to avoid dropping too far down the powerband when you shift. While we didn't perform any official acceleration testing, this HPD package should return a high 6/low 7-sec 0-60 time in most tester's hands. Other than that, if you want to read more about how the engine feels, just read our test of the JR kit. Seriously, it's that close.
More important to me was the chassis behavior, and it was evident in the first 100 ft that things had changed dramatically. First of all, the steering was different. While it felt slightly heavier (bigger, stickier wheels/tires), it was far more direct and responsive. I found myself consistently turning in too much for the first 10 minutes of driving. Part of this can be attributed to the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, and even LaPointe acknowledged that they are a huge part of the handling transformation of this car. But tires alone do not make a car handle and the suspension package that HPD has crafted is really quite excellent. While the stock CR-Z did not have a great ride, there is very, very little ride degradation with the new setup. Sure, over massively bombed out roads it is far more jittery and bumpy, but over 95% of surfaces you might find in LA, it's just a bit more firm.
So how did they accomplish this? LaPointe tells me it's really down to damping. They did stiffen the springs somewhat, but where they really spent the time was tuning the new Showa shocks on the car. They went through a variety of valving combinations and found that dramatically stiffening up the compression damping made the biggest difference. The springs do change the balance of the car somewhat though. Actually, more than somewhat - this car actually rotates now. Not only is understeer on turn in dramatically reduced, but lift throttle induces some serious rotation. Enough that the first time I experienced it, fortunately on a corner I know well, I let out a verbal exclamation. After that, I actively sought it out and had a lot of fun with it. And contrary to what I would expect, the suspension changes actually made the car better over mid-corner bumps.
To say that HPD performed miracles with the chassis of the CR-Z would by hyperbole, but not by a whole lot. I genuinely liked the handling of the HPD CR-Z, enough to make me smile and laugh out loud. When I got out of the car LaPointe approached and I told him, "You nailed it!". But I told him I had bad news too. I said, "I hate to do this to you, but your chassis is so good, the car really needs more power......"