Before I start babbling about the Honda CR-Z let me give you a little history lesson on the model and its roots.
Back in the mid-1980s Honda developed the first CR-X, a compact two-door, two-plus-two coupe which was marketed alongside the Civic, aimed at making the name a bit more exciting.
Appropriately, CR-X stood for Civic Renaissance Experiment and indeed, renaissance it was.
The second generation CR-X was born at the turn of that century, but sadly the ideology of the CR-X was lost in the ensuing Del Sol model of the early nineties, and the name was almost lost forever.
But now, in the second decade of this millennium, Honda revived the idea and the CR-Z was born, and if you park it next to the old CR-X, you really can see how the two cars are related (see below). Honda’s engineers were told to reincarnate the CR-X and they have done a fantastic job. The iconic wedge shape, the two-plus-two seating layout and the sporty driving dynamics – all are characteristic of the CR-X and were the features that made the car special and loved by enthusiasts all over the world.
However, what the new CR-Z most definitely doesn’t share with its uncle is its drivetrain. The last version of the CR-X was powered by a high-revving, bulletproof 1.6-litre 4-cylinder, which put out plenty power and was easily the car’s greatest attribute. This time round a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine is being used, and it’s basically lifted straight out of the Jazz. And that’s fine, because it’s economical, free-revving and similarly bulletproof. However, in case you didn’t know, the CR-Z is a hybrid. In fact, it’s the world’s first “sports hybrid”, according to Honda, and before you fall asleep or chew your fingers off in boredom, let me explain…
A hybrid is simply a car that makes use of two different power sources to move you along. Thanks to the Toyota Prius, your idea of a hybrid is probably one of a boring family box with ugly styling and no coolness whatsoever. But that’s where you’re wrong. Because the CR-Z is well and truly a sports hybrid, and shares as much with the Toyota Prius in hybrid-ness as a tooth fairy shares with Jabba the Hut. But how can a hybrid be sporty, you ask?
For starters the CR-Z is the first hybrid vehicle in the world to have a (6-speed) manual gearbox. Big deal? Well yes, because with basically all other hybrids being fitted with CVT automatic gearboxes, they tend to be lazy and sluggish. So from the start, so to speak, CR-Z had my thumbs up. Without getting too technical, Honda’s hybrid system is different to most others, and for this reason they are able to squirt a little Tabasco into an otherwise boring green salad. The electric motor is simply “sandwiched” between the engine and the gearbox and is an integral part of the drivetrain. On its own it produces about 10kW.
The interior has been designed like a true sports car; with semi-bucket seats, sporty pedals and a perfect driving position. And then you need to feel how incredible the chassis is – it is so well designed and so true to sports car ideology that you just can’t help but drive the CR-Z like it’s a Lamborghini!
The chassis is better than a Civic Type-R – a car I’ve spent plenty of time in – and you can quote me on that. Understeer is minimal and there is the perfect amount of lift-off oversteer, too. Chuck the car into a corner, feel the grip and then beam with excitement as the backside does a little flick-flack. It may sound dangerous, but if Honda’s VSA system (Vehicle Stability Assist) is left on, even a monkey could do it. And if you turn the system off, instinctive opposite lock will keep you out of trouble. It is sublime!
I know you are probably saying “yes but what about the boot and the back seats?” and I know, those two areas are not something your Honda dealer is going to focus on but then you have to stand back and realise that this is by no means a family hatchback. The boot is shallow but decently-sized and if you fold the rear seats forward the available luggage space does increase quite substantially but, let’s face it, you definitely won’t be using this for a DIY trip to Builder’s Warehouse. And the back seats, well I wouldn’t call them back seats unless you are the proud owner of an infant. And you have the patience to get him or her in and out of the back. Honestly, nothing taller than a four-year old will be comfortable back there, so just forget about it.
If you enjoy figures, then here goes: the powertrain (petrol engine and electric motor combined) puts out 91kW and 174Nm, which may sound like a little too little, but with the electric motor’s immediacy, the torque is available basically from the get go, so responsiveness is very good. It actually feels like the CR-Z has a low-boost turbo fitted. Fuel consumption is claimed at 5.0-litres per 100km, which may sound dreamy but I managed an average of 5.9, which is pretty good by any means. You’ll see 100km/h from rest in 10 seconds and top out at 182km/h. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it never feels that slow, really.
The car’s techno-wizard systems will also have you enthralled. The space-age instrument cluster is awash with readouts and dials and graphics that tell you a whole host of things about your driving and the car’s efficiency. Most notable of all these systems is the CR-Z’s driving modes: ECON, NORMAL and SPORT. And to cut a very long story short, they change the car’s driving characteristics to provide a more economical or sporty drive.
ECON basically turns the car into a sluggish eco mobile with very delayed throttle response and more efficient use of the air conditioner, for example. Perfect for cruising (and for saving fuel). The rev counter also alternates between a blue or a green glow, depending on how efficiently you are driving. NORMAL is well, normal, but SPORT is where the spice comes in.
Throttle response is vastly improved, the steering puts on some weight and the electric motor is used to its full capacity to provide maximum power. The exhaust note also gets a bit more sporty and the rev counter turns red. Good luck driving in the other modes once the SPORT bug bites! And this all ties in perfectly with the design – CR-Z is a mean-looking street machine, and looks particularly awesome at night, with its LED front and rear lights on.
The hybrid system also employs an automatic start-stop function (in all driving modes), and it is by far the best I have experienced. With the lack of a starter motor due to the electric motor’s design, re-starting the petrol engine is instantaneous and you cannot catch the system out.
The features list is rather lengthy in typical Honda tradition, and includes amongst other items cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, iPod/USB/MP3 compatibility (the sound system is brilliant, and includes a sub-woofer), LED daytime running lights, climate control, automatic folding mirrors, rear parking sensors, six airbags, and all the usual electronic safety aids.
The CR-Z isn’t cheap (R299 900), but if you are in the market for a similar type of car – like a MINI or an Alfa MiTo or a Citroen DS3 – then your budget isn’t shoestring anyway. Plus you don’t pay carbon emissions tax with this car. The price also includes Honda’s 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 5-year/90 000km service plan. My advice is that you test drive the CR-Z before making any decisions, because it is really brilliant as a