PRODUCT EYE: Honda CR-Z
As well as a subtle styling update, the CR-Z gained lithium ion batteries at the time of its first facelift
It isn't often that a three-year old car, albeit one that was facelifted not long ago, attracts admiring glances in car parks. Glenn Brooks was surprised to learn that few people know what a Honda CR-Z is.
You know that list you keep in your head? The one where you record cars that intrigue, cars that you intend to one day find a way to drive? This little Honda has been on mine for a long time.
I had even begun to wonder if we weren't meant to try each other out for size - a CR-Z was delivered to me on the very day that a large dump of snow arrived in southwestern England some months back. There it sat, parked atop a steep hill that my council failed to grit, for a week. I ended up putting about fifteen miles on it, from memory, as the snow and black ice thawed on the day it was due to be collected. Not to worry, said the cheery lady from Honda, we'll send you another one in the Spring.
See Are Zed Number Two turned out to be the sexier looking GT model grade, finished in Premium White Pearl with some beautiful blue filters in the headlights and LED rear lamps.
Including the GBP450 for the paint, it costs GBP23,500, which isn't too pricey considering all the gear it comes with. That includes 17-inch alloys, Bluetooth, heated leather-faced seats, a glass sunroof, electrically retracting mirrors, and washers for the HID headlights. SatNav is one of the few available options for the GT.
The lower-spec trim is called Sport and it too has all sorts of niceties such as heated mirrors, rear parking sensors, cruise control, climate control A/C, alloy pedals, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear shifter and an air conditioned glove box.
When Honda revealed this little petrol-electric coupe at the 2010 Detroit motor show, it called it the world's first sporty hybrid. There's no point in arguing with that label and indeed, one of the reasons I had wanted to try the CR-Z was simply to experience any sort of hybrid with a manual gearbox. Prius, Infiniti M, CT 200h - you name it, all the ones I've driven have had a standard CVT.
The six-speed manual in the Honda turned out to be as good as you'd expect from a company that is deservedly famous for the quality of its powertrains. Not sure why anyone would want a metal gearshift knob (you don't want to touch it when the car's been parked overnight in the cold, or conversely it wouldn't be ideal in the summer months) but there you are - I guess it makes for super-fast shifts in extreme weather.
The frustrating thing about this car is it's almost too good. You keep forgetting it's a hybrid as it's so great to drive. Little body roll, strong road holding and that fun button ('Plus Sport S+) which provides a short burst of power. On A-roads it brings a smile to your face but alas it doesn't last: you'll find yourself wanting more power than the 137PS on offer.
The powertrain consists of a 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine in combination with a 10kW electric motor. Versions with a CVT have a slightly lower torque output than the manual car's stated 128 lb-ft. Incidentally, the CR-Z was the first Honda hybrid to be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The car is manufactured in just one plant, Suzuka, in Japan's Mie prefecture. That's the same factory where the legendary NSX supercar was built all those years ago. Now, most of Honda's hybrid models are made there, including the much-admired but sadly slow selling Insight. Another low volume car is the new-ish Fit EV, but lest you think Suzuka is a small-scale operation, it is also the build location for multiple other vehicles such as the Fit/Jazz hatchback and Fit Shuttle B-segment MPVs plus the hybrid derivative of each, the larger Freed and Stream MPVs, the Civic hybrid sedan, plus all of Honda's highly successful N Concept microcars such as the N-Box.
If you're wondering what's ahead for the successors of some of these cars, Honda provided certain clues in November last year when it began to talk about its forthcoming Sport Hybrid Intelligent Dual Clutch Drive system. This is to be a lightweight and compact one-motor hybrid system, which the company says will be employed by certain future small vehicles.
For so-called mid-sized vehicles such as the Accord, a two-motor powertrain will feature (Sport Hybrid Intelligent Multi Mode Drive), while full size sedans such as the Acura RLX and the future Acura/Honda NSX will be fitted with Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling - All Wheel Drive), a three-motor system. The last of these allows independent control of torque distribution to both right and left rear wheels, in combination with a dual clutch gearbox.
Back to today's CR-Z, though. The UK market model is a 2+2, which means you get somewhere to stash your gym bag or groceries without having to lift the heavyish tailgate. The Japanese and European market models have that format, whereas in the North America, it's just two seats.
A few things you notice over the course of a week's living with this car: it can be hard to see out the back after a light shower of rain has dried on the near-horizontal glass – it needs a tiny wiper like the old C4 three-door, a car which shared the idea of an upper glass hatch supplemented by a lower vertical pane. You cannot criticise the driving position, however, it's first class. The seating position is low and the seats grip you well.
The interior was much to my liking - it reminded me of an early ‘80s Japanese luxury car such as the Mazda 929L I'm slightly ashamed to admit I lusted after as a teen – all those buttons! There is even one for the headlight squirters - you get so used to these being automatic on other cars.
The instruments are blue-lit, while a circle around the tacho glows the same shade, but changes to green if you drive with a light foot. Back to this being paradise for button-pressers: the powertrain has Normal, Sport and Eco modes and, you guessed it, there is a switch to select each one.
There was one serious flaw, but perhaps it was just the test model. Stop-start can be dangerous in certain conditions: several times I put my foot down and the car failed to surge forward. I cruised up to a junction and then attempted to pull away but it took a heart-stopping second for anything to happen. Not a nice feeling.
Economy averaged an indicated 42.8mpg overall, and I did 500 miles (in and around the small city where we dwell, to rural Devon and back, north to the Cotswolds), which is impressive for a petrol engine that just wants to rev. The sound made by the little 1.5-litre motor was just a joy too. Honda quotes its power as 121PS, with torque of 146Nm, plus 20PS and 78Nm for the electric motor. The combined torque output is said to be 190Nm. It isn't as fast as it sounds or feels - zero to 100km/h takes 9.1 seconds for the Sport or an extra 0.4 for the GT. Top speed for both is 124mph.
Would I buy a CR-Z? Mmmm, maybe. I just wish there was a convertible. One was rumoured to have been in the pipeline but Honda supposedly killed it when The Great Recession hit the US, the car's main global market. Could I also request the chief engineer developing the next generation model consider fitting it with at least the option of a screaming VTEC engine? Like those people in my local Sainsbury's and others at a motorway services in Devon, I love how the car looks. Just wish it had the extra power its superbly-sorted chassis could easily cope with.
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