FIRST DRIVE: Honda Hybrid CR-Z GT
“It doesn’t know what it’s trying to be, what’s it meant to be? Too schizophrenic for me.” These are the words of a fellow scribe who has also just spent the last 90 minutes in the East Midlands countryside driving Honda’s new hybrid offering – the CR-Z.
I personally don’t agree with this assessment, though even Honda themselves admit there’s no real competitor to its Honda Insight successor. Nevertheless, curious and intrigued by a car whose chassis designer claimed the Elise partly inspired the CR-Z, I popped along a week ahead of its UK launch to see what all the hype was about.
Since Honda showed the CR-Z Concept in 2007, a red hot public response saw them rush the car from concept to reality and four years on we finally get to drive it. Dubbed proudly by the Japanese marque as “the world’s first sporty hybrid”, there’s no denying that the wedged shape appearance of the CR-Z is eye-catching and unique.
The big marketing point of the car though is that it’s a hybrid via a petrol-electric combination. A 112bhp 1.5 litre i-VTEC motor (lifted from the US Honda Jazz) is mated to a 13.5bhp electric motor to give a combined 122bhp when the two are working simultaneously. Honda has branded this technology as Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), but for all intents and purposes it just means hybrid.
The engine also features changes to the valve timing to allow for one intake valve to be deactivated at lower speeds which Honda claims creates and additional swirl effect for faster combination and higher exhaust gas circulation. Or in simple speak, better fuel consumption and fewer emissions.
On the topic of emissions, the CR-Z puts out 117g/km of CO2 and on a combined cycle should achieve 56.5mpg. Honda admits that whilst they are by no means bad figures, they don’t leap off the page in the context of hybrids. One would imagine most potential customers would be sold on the fact the CR-Z is heavily branded as a hybrid and the feel good factor that this generates, rather than the underlying ‘detail’ of precisely how green it is. Honda is targeting the CR-Z at 25-35 year old urban based professionals, so it’s up to them to find the CR-Z something they can agree on both stylistically and philosophically.
From the first moment we saw the CR-Z it definitely fitted the description “eye catching”. Personally I’m a big fan of the shape from all angles. It looks mean and purposeful without being too aggressive and going outside of Honda’s remit of providing sensible cars for sensible people.
One of the most notable features of the car is a shallow split-roof that gives a flat appearance to the CR-Z. It looks even better in reality and one wonders about the cost of mass producing such a sculpted design – as with Peugeot’s RCZ, so hats off to Honda for getting this in a production car priced under £20,000. Elsewhere there are huge cuts into the front of the car to give it an aggressive look, with the steeply angled back front windscreen adding to the sporty feel of the CR-Z.
The CR-Z sits on 16” wheels which help accentuate its tough and sporty appearance and there are plenty of other neat finishes to the final design, such as the discreet door handles that don’t spoil the lines and classy daylight LED running lights – all touches usually seen on much more expensive cars.
The first thing you notice when sat behind the wheel of the CR-Z is the neon glowing dashboard, jam packed with digitally presented information about the car’s present state. It’s all neatly laid out and not confusing at all, allowing you to focus on the driving instead of learning the various ergonomics. To your right by the door handle are three buttons – Sport, Normal and Econ.
They’re all pretty self explanatory, with Econ mode leaning earlier on the battery at lower speeds, whilst Sport noticeably tightens up the steering and sharpens throttle response, for when you fancy making brisk progress. Another nice touch is a glowing halo ring around the digital speedometer that changes colour from blue to red the harder you squeeze the right pedal.
In the GT model we tested you get leather seats that are reasonably sporty – they hug your hips and ribcage more than a standard no-frills car but equally not like the full wraparound experience you get from an Impreza or Evo, so just right for the market the CR-Z is after. A large SatNav dominates the central area and whilst not as pretty graphically as a TomTom, it’s reliable and will do the job for most customers without issue.
Another immediate thought when sat in the car is the sheer wealth of buttons on display, which could be overwhelming for some. It doesn’t ruin the get-in-and-go experience, but it could feel cluttered to some, especially around the steering wheel and dashboard area where one can’t help but think buttons like “KPH/MPH” would be best toggled as a software rather than button hardware option.
Now to one major issue with the CR-Z. It’s been marketed as a 2+2 but I’d have to say even Ronnie Corbett would be asking for the driver to push his seat forward a little. There really is no room whatsoever for anyone in the rear despite the presence of seats. Whilst this isn’t a complaint at Honda – most 2+2s are anything but – perhaps it would have been best to make the EU CR-Z a pure 2-seater outright with more luggage space like it has in the US.
Conversely, up front the seats are very low slung which adds to the sporting feel and as someone who is 6”4, I can confirm that despite the shallow roofline and wedge shape of the car, there is excellent headroom available inside in the cabin.
So what’s it like to drive?