Honda CR-Z Review

Honda CR-Z Review


Hybrid cars are all well and good if you’re
trying to save the planet, but aren’t they all a bit… well, boring? And don’t they
always have those CVT gearboxes that make them sound like they’re suffering from permanent
clutch-slip? Honda doesn’t think it needs to be this way,
and in 2010, they launched this, the Honda CR-Z. It’s a sporty two-door coupe that draws
a not insubstantial degree of inspiration from the legendary CR-X, and for 2013, it’s
received a range of revisions to boost power and tweak the styling.
It’s a handsome package – pert, even, particularly at the rear, with a subtle rear diffuser and
a shallow sloping roofline that drops to the tailgate via a split-level window.
From most angles, there’s a wide and low look on display, enhanced by the flared wheel-arches,
while the curved windscreen blends into the side glass thanks to blackened A-pillars,
creating a look that’s not unlike a mini Koenigsegg. Our test car is a GT model in a particularly
sparkly shade of pearlescent white, and features 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and HID
headlights. Co-habiting under the bonnet are a 121PS 1.5-litre
four-cylinder petrol engine and a 20PS electric motor. The two join forces to deliver 137PS
at 6,600rpm, but also 190Nm of torque peaking at 1-2,000rpm. That’s about the same as a
Civic Type-R, but a lot lower in the rev range. Inside, there are a pair of sportily-sculptured
front seats with a rather ambitious-looking pair of rear seats behind, but realistically
the CR-Z is a 2+2. The front seats offer a wide range of adjustment – certainly more
than enough even for tall drivers – and the steering wheel is adjustable for both reach
and rake. There are some interesting materials in here,
from the funky ring-pull door openers to the grab handles that wear a finish created from
evaporated metal. The controls are mostly arranged around the
steering wheel in a pair of ‘wings’ with the climate functions on the left, and switchgear
for the mirrors, Sport, Normal and Econ modes on the right. But more on those later.
The stereo kicks out 240 Watts from a multitude of speakers, including a sub-woofer in the
boot, and features a USB port that conveniently tucks away into its own cubby hole where you
can store your phone or iPod. The instrument cluster is dominated by a central
rev counter with a digital speedo in the middle of the dial. Either side are bar graphs for
the state of the battery, fuel level, current MPG, a charge/assist indicator, and a shift
indicator. There’s also a separate display that can show a variety of trip data, plus
an Eco Assist display that grows ‘leaves’ the more economically you drive. Switch off
the engine at the end of your journey, and this display rewards you with a report of
how efficient you’ve been. While the boot is home to a stack of lithium-ion
batteries, replacing the previous nickel metal hydride cells, there’s still 225-litres of
cargo space, although this can be increased to 401 litres by folding the rear seats.
But that’s enough of the practicalities. What’s it like to drive?
First, there’s a touch of theatre, as the dials execute a little dance when you insert
the key. Press the start button, and the engine springs to life almost imperceptibly.
Honda call their hybrid system Integrated Motor Assist, and the electric motor’s role
is to provide additional power during acceleration, rather than drive the car directly. There’s
no electric-only mode in the CR-Z; instead, the IMA system allows Honda to use a smaller
engine, and it’s this approach that leads to the bulk of the efficiency gains.
Although the CR-Z shares components with both the Insight and Jazz, much of what lurks beneath
the floor has been fettled and honed. Compared with the Insight, it’s 310mm shorter, with
a 115mm shorter wheelbase, making it much more agile. The track has been widened, too
(by 20mm at the front and 25mm at the rear), while the suspension makes use of lightweight
components as well as unique springs and dampers. Honda say the CR-Z’s platform is as stiff
as a Civic Type-R’s. This stiffness hasn’t arrived at the expense
of the ride quality, thankfully, which while firm, remains composed even over rough tarmac.
There is a higher degree of tyre roar on some surfaces, but it’s not enough to prove wearing.
And, while we’re nagging, rearward visibility is hampered by the tailgate spoiler.
The brakes have an appealing sense of urgency, with an almost complete absence of free-play
in the pedal, while the six-speed manual gearbox has a beautifully short throw and a slick
shift action, together with a set of extremely well-judged ratios.
While much of the dash normally glows in a cool blue, drive economically and the instruments
glow green. While some may dismiss this as a gimmick,
we found it added a pleasurable extra dimension to the task of driving. The eco-symbolism
of the dashboard never crosses into the realms of nagging, preferring instead to remain polite
and helpful. Honda say there are efficiency gains of up to 10% to be had if you respond
favourably to its delicate coaching. We never tired of setting ourselves little
personal goals, like how quickly can I recharge the battery? How much of the journey can I
manage without losing more than one battery segment? It’s a great cure for road-rage.
Of course, if all this eco-mentalism is rather too much for you, the CR-Z has another side
to its personality: Sport mode. Engage Sport mode, and the instruments turn
red, the throttle response sharpens, steering assistance is dialled back, and the electric
motor now provides greater assistance during acceleration. On the face of it, these changes
should yield little more than a mild tweaking at the edges of the driving experience, but
in practice the CR-Z’s whole character seems to change.
The chassis displays eager turn-in and confidence-inspiring flat cornering that will have you zinging
from corner to corner with little thought for how many ‘leaves’ your dashboard is growing.
There’s even a modest rortiness to the exhaust note to help back up the sporting encouragement.
The official figures reveal a 9.1 second 0-62mph time but, as you rifle your way through the
ratios, the CR-Z feels quicker than that. Sure, it’s no track day weapon, but it oozes
a peppy character that’s difficult not to fall for.
The surprises don’t end there. Arrive at your destination having overtaken everything in
sight, remove the ignition key, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy set of leaves and
a warm glow from being shown that, likely as not, you still managed to achieve a mid-40s
mpg figure (the official combined cycle figure is 56.5mpg).
With the CR-Z, Honda set out to create a sporty coupe with, in their words, “a healthy respect
for the environment.” We’d say they’ve gone further than that. The CR-Z is genuinely engaging
in its own right – not just as a hybrid, but as a sports car.
Rather than be saddled with a truculent automatic gearbox and low rolling-resistance tyres,
the CR-Z flouts convention with a slick-shifting manual and an enthusiastic demeanour to cornering.
Even on a rainy Monday morning commute in heavy traffic, the little Honda is ready with
party games in its dashboard and a sense of fun that’s impossible to resist.
Hybrids, it seems, were not all created equal.

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