Let's clear the air right away on this crazy SUV called the Honda CR-V Hybrid Racer. It's a one-off build incorporating multiple departments within the automaker, spearheaded by the engineers at Honda Performance Development (HPD). But it is a one-off, so sadly you won't see a widebody CR-V with a ginormous wing and a screaming engine at dealerships. But you will see it at select IndyCar events this year.
That's because this family SUV is really a race car hiding beneath CR-V body panels, and even then, Honda isn't trying very hard to keep it a secret. The lower half of the racer is all carbon fibre, punctuated by massive wheel arch flares and butterfly front doors that open to a racing interior. A custom tube chassis serves as the foundation, but the upper portion of the SUV is still a sixth-gen CR-V steel body. Except for the universe-sized rear wing, that is.
The rear doors don't open – at least not as you'd expect. They are fixed to an articulating clamshell, hinged at the back which opens to reveal the real reason you clicked this article in the first place. That's where an Xtrac six-speed paddle-shift transmission resides, connected to a twin-turbocharged hybrid V6 IndyCar engine mounted where you'd normally see second-row seats. It's not a carbon copy of the forthcoming 2024 Honda IndyCar powertrain, but it does offer a preview of what's to come.
Specifically, it's a 2.2-litre Honda V6 tuned to run on Shell 100-percent renewable race fuel and yes, it's a hybrid. HPD President David Salters confirms it's an 800-bhp package, though a specific breakdown of power for combustion and electric systems isn't mentioned. Instead of batteries, the CR-V Hybrid Racer actually uses a supercapacitor storage system not entirely unlike what you find from Lamborghini, enhancing overall power with short-term bursts and improved fuel mileage.
"The specific reason it has supercapacitors is power," explained Salters during a media preview for the special CR-V. "They are really good at high power; also in this application, they are inherently safe. You can't really do anything bad to them, But it's really also for us to learn."
And that's the crux of why this bonkers CR-V exists – to learn. Honda has no qualms about calling the whole experiment a "rolling laboratory," built to explore different aspects of performance and how electrification can fit into the equation. Lessons learned with the CR-V Hybrid Racer could be applied to future racing endeavours, though for now, Honda has no plans to take its super SUV to specific venues like Pikes Peak.
Not that it wouldn't do well on pretty much any course. The tube frame holds front suspension and 15-inch Brembo brakes sourced from the NSX GT-3 race car. At the rear, you'll find Dallara IR-18 Indy suspension with 14-inch Brembos. The wheel arch flares are filled with 305/35-series tyres at the back and 285/35-series at the front. They are mounted to 20-inch wheels that measure 10.5 inches wide in front, and 11 inches at the rear. The massive wing works with a special front splitter for prolific downforce, and while there's no mention of performance, we'll go out on a limb and say this bonkers CR-V is fast.
Gallery: Honda CR-V Hybrid Racer
"So right now, its focus is to investigate electrification, energy management, all these things with a view for racing, and also, for potential road car use, so we will try and use it as a lab for the moment," explained Salters.
Yes, of course we asked whether "road car use" means Honda might consider a high-performance production CR-V, maybe not as radical as this but something in an Si or Type R flavour. The automaker gave us a very clear response: no comment on future products regarding the CR-V. Whether that changes as folks see the Hybrid Racer up close, we'll just have to wait it out.
And people will definitely have a chance to see it. Honda will take the CR-V Hybrid Racer to several 2023 IndyCar events for display and demonstration purposes, starting on March 3 at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Florida.