Mean and green - Honda's hybrid CR-Z

Honda set out to prove that hybrid cars can be sporty and the CR-Z is the result. Steve Walker reports

Do environmentally friendly vehicles have to forgo any semblance of excitement? Honda says no and backs up its opinion with the CR-Z coup�. Back in the annals of Honda history, the CR-X was a fun-packed little sports car that captured the hearts of UK buyers in the ’80s and carried more than a passing resemblance to the CR-Z of today. With its compact dimensions, two-door layout and wedge-shaped profile, the CR-Z looks for all the world like a CR-X for the modern era. Honda is pitching the CR-Z as a coup� that combines vibrant looks and thrilling handling with affordability and a real green conscience. 

The Honda Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid powertrain in the CR-Z is based on a 1.5-litre petrol engine with Honda’s free-revving i-VTEC variable valve timing technology and 112bhp. It’s assisted by a 14bhp electric motor and together they produce maximum power of 122bhp at 6,000rpm with 174Nm of torque at just 1,500rpm.

Where the CR-Z starts to get really clever, though, is with its 3-Mode Drive System. This is basically a way of adapting the IMA hybrid technology according to the driver’s preferences. There are Sport, Normal and Economy modes that are selected through rocker switches next to the steering wheel. They change the parameters of the IMA system, the throttle mapping and the power steering assistance to give greater performance or efficiency as required. The CR-Z is also unusual in that it matches its hybrid powertrain to a six-speed manual gearbox and anyone who’s driven a Civic Type-R or an S2000 will appreciate Honda’s record when it comes to great manual shifters.

The CR-Z is loosely based on the chassis and drivetrain of the current generation Honda Insight hybrid but with a series of significant changes. It’s shorter and lighter but with a wider track and a wheelbase that positions the wheels right out at the corners of the car for extra poise and balance. The suspension features aluminium components and damper settings aimed at achieving a firm ride that doesn’t become harsh over the bumps.

The CR-Z is being touted as a ‘2+2’, but the rear seats aren’t much use to full-grown adults. They work better with their backs folded down to increase the 225 litre boot to 410 litres. The car sits you low down and presents you with an array of instruments that could have been lifted out of a spaceship. There’s a tactile Honda steering wheel and deeply sculpted door linings incorporating chrome pulls and storage bins. The CR-Z is available in three trim levels, from S, through Sport to GT. Even the basic car gets features like heated mirrors, daytime running lights, climate control, Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist technology and six airbags. At the very top of the range, there’s a hands-free telephone kit, a panoramic glass roof, xenon headlights, heated seats and full leather trim.

Volkswagen’s Scirocco and Peugeot’s RC-Z are pricier alternatives, while a Mazda MX-5 and Renault Wind are broadly similar in price. The Honda’s trump card in attracting buyers will be its hybrid technology and the resulting low running costs.

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As well as assisting the petrol engine, the IMA system incorporates regenerative braking to charge the batteries using recaptured kinetic energy. Unlike in some hybrid cars, the braking is always done primarily by the CR-Z’s powerful hydraulic brakes with the regenerative braking system assisting. This means no reduction in stopping power or brake feel when the system is operating.

As a compact sports coup� that also happens to be a hybrid, the CR-Z represents an intriguing move by Honda that promises to push hybrid technology further towards mainstream acceptance. If you would like the opportunity to test drive the Honda CR-Z, why not take a trip to the Howards Honda showroom in Taunton on 5 June, when they will be launching the model.

FACTS AT A GLANCECar: Honda CR-ZPrices: �16,999-�19,999 on the roadInsurance group: 12 [est]CO2 emissions: 117g/kmPerformance: Top speed 124mph/0-60mph 10.1s  Fuel consumption: (combined) 56.5mpgStandard safety features: Six airbags, VSAWill it fit in your garage? Length/width/height (mm) 4080/1740/1395

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