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on the sidewalls review – Honda CR-Z

Can you make a carrot taste meaty? Think about it – because it’s a tough and incredibly pertinent question. Would you even want to? Aren’t carrots and meat better off in harmonious, balanced diet co-existence? Or would life be easier if you could get a meat hit and vegetably goodness from one crunchy stick? It’s a tricky one. And so is the new Honda CR-Z… because it throws up the exact same quandary.

Honda call their new coupe the world’s first ‘sporty hybrid’ – a juxtaposition of words just as awkward as ‘meaty carrot’. At the £16k to £20k price level of the CR-Z, hybrids have always been about economy, economy and a little bit more economy. Very much carrot cars. So, has adding some sporty meat diluted the purity of the carrot or made it a more widely desirable dish? Is it good?

Against all odds, yes. As long as you manage your expectations. The engine, for instance is very much carrot – a 1.5 litre, 112bhp version of the Insight’s 1.3 petrol unit, which together with the Insight’s 14bhp electric motor can muster a peak of 122bhp. Which gives the CR-Z the performance of a car that isn’t fast.

But thanks to a grunty exhaust note and decent 128lb ft wedge of torque from a low 1,500rpm, it still feels meaty enough to call itself sporty – and the 9.9 sec 0-62mph time sits well with the combined 56mpg and 117g/km of CO2. Only just squeezing under the 10 second 0-62mph mental block might sound weak, but let’s get back to the CR-Z’s price again – it’s at entry level Scirocco and mid-spec Volvo C30 money. Of the three S, Sport and GT trims, Honda expect to the £18k Sport to sell the best – an £18k Scirocco 1.4 TSI is just two tenths quicker to 62mph, but 10mpg worse off. The Scirocco TDI is £3k more, half a second quicker but no more economical. An £18k Volvo 2.0SE will crack 62mph in 9.4 secs but won’t even do 40mpg.

It all adds up to an enticing package for real life humans who want a rorty sound, angular metal and a decent chance of not being forced into poverty at every BP visit. Honda have clearly worked hard on giving it a proper exhaust note too.

It’s a similar menu of well-judged finesse for the chassis – a lower, stiffer and wider version of what you’ll find under the body of a Jazz supermini or Insight hybrid. The forgiving, easy nature of the Jazz is tangible, but bolstered with a keener to turn, sharper attitude. Carrot shaped Jazz with beefed up geometry. There isn’t an endless meaty bucket of grip, or an overdone attitude to firmness and roll control – just an intelligent balance between fleet footed fun and soft edged compliance.

The alertness of the Scirocco is missing, but so is the occasionally crashy ride, while it both corners and cossets better than the C30. You just can’t quite shake off the feeling that an extra 30bhp would transform it from incredibly enjoyable to proper fun. There’s always the rumoured Mugen version…

What it does better than either Scirocco or C30 is look a little bit special, inside and out. The first glimpse most people had of the CR-Z was at the Detroit Motor Show last year, where it look under-wheeled, awkwardly angled and slightly bulbous of the bonnet. In the flesh, on the streets, it now looks spot on. And it gets better on the inside. Some of the plastics that make up the lower half of the dash feel like they’d crack on a sunny day, but the top half and touch points all feel posh enough, with a genuinely fresh feeling to the design and layout. The decently snicky 6-speed manual (the first time such a box has been bolted onto a hybrid powertrain) deserves mention too. Meaty, but not erm… too fatty or stodgy. Hmm.

So, there’s just enough meat to the way it sounds, corners and goes to justify Honda’s apparently contradictory placement of the word ‘sporty’ next to the word ‘hybrid’. This carrot got meat. And, bizarrely, all of the hybrid electronics actually add to this sporty feel – not just in the way that the electric motor pushes you along with a hint of turbo like torque, but in the way the workings of the powertrain are presentered to the driver. There are three driving modes; Normal, Eco and Sport, all of which feature their own mini-technicolour dash show and appropriate dynamic tweaks.

In Sport mode, the throttle response is sharper, steering weightier, electric motor more keen to assist and instrument binnacle light a constant red. Hit normal and the throttle softens off, steering eases up, electric motor holds itself back and the instruments glow to reflect your driving style – green is good, blue adequate and red bad (otherwise known as fast). Eco mode softens things up so far as to be offensive and even weakens the car’s air con to keep fuel efficiency up. As well as the mood glowing lights, the CR-Z also shows five LED trees which either shed or grow leaves depending on your driving. Trying to make them all fall off as quickly as possible is clearly the best game to play, but attempting to nurture them back again does at least provide the opportunity for fun when you’re not driving like a robber.

These little gimmicks help you realise you’re not just driving a slightly underpowered coupe – you’re driving a car that lets you choose between class-beating economy and class matching performance. Instead of questioning whether you can make a carrot taste meaty, or how much the world really needs one, the CR-Z has a wide enough spread of talents to let you just accept it for what it is – a good value, fun to drive, comfortable and smartly resolved coupe. It might not look great on the menu, but Honda have made the world’s first meaty carrot. Very well done.

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i like the medaphor. kind of like the tofu steak that top gear came up with haha

im glad to hear that all the reviews are saying that the handling is very good. it is slightly underpowered but that can be bumped up a little

im excited that the stock exhaust apparently gives a good deep tone. that means a good aftermarket exhaust will make it sound awesome (even tho its slow). thats exciting because i'll pull up next to someone at a stop light and then that sound would just disappear ! haha. they would be like wtf ?
 
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