Honda Motor launched its new CR-Z hybrid sports coupe in Japan on Friday (26 February, 2010). It’s both the auto industry’s first hybrid sports coupe and the first petrol-electric hybrid offered with a manual transmission (automatic is optional). The CR-Z combines a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine and Honda’s own Integrated Motor Assist (IMA)hybrid system.

Honda said CR-Z is an abbreviation of ‘Compact Renaissance Zero’ which its “commitment to go back to the point of origin (zero) to take on the challenge to create a new compact car without being bound by the values of traditional coupes.”

The CR-Z also has a new three-mode drive system, which enables the driver to choose sport, normal or economy modes depending on driving style and driving situation (city, motorway or winding roads).

A six-speed manual transmission is standard and the optional CVT automatic comes with steering wheel paddle ‘manual’ shift levers as standard.

The petrol engine can idlie one of each cylinder’s two intake valves at low speeds and Honda claims that, supplemented by the IMA hybrid system, the engine can accelerate as a quickly as a conventional two-litre petrol-only unit but has more low-speed torque.

A drive-by-wire system links powertrain, transmission, electric power steering and air conditioner

The sport mode in the manual model noosts petrol engine response and IMA motor assist. With the CVT transmission, it selects ratios that raise engine speed and acceleration response. On both versions, sport mode quickens the electric power steering response “for a sporty steering feel and enhanced performance on winding roads”, according to Honda.

Normal model is a compromise between performance and fuel efficiency and “leverages IMA’s ample torque in the low rpm range to pursue ease of operation for everyday driving. EPS response is similarly balanced, and feels smooth and agile”, Honda said.

‘Econ’ – for enhanced real-world fuel economy – reduces throttle response, optimises motor assist, controls the air conditioning efficiently and lengthens idle stops for maximal fuel economy.

Providing real-time feedback in normal and economy drive modes, the ambient meter (speedometer ring) turns from blue to green when the driver engages in more fuel-efficient driving practices. In sport mode, the ring glows and remains red.

Cruise control is standard or optional according to trim level and, if economy mode is selected, delivers higher fuel economy by limiting throttle response and open/close frequency.

The Honda HDD InterNavi System, optional in Japan, comes with a new ‘Linkup Free’ service, claimed to be the auto industry’s first free car navigation data service. Any CR-Z owner with an InterNavi Premium Club membership will receive free renewal of this service when registered at an authorized Honda dealer at the time of each vehicle inspection required under Japanese law, for as long as he or she owns the vehicle.

The system used the WILLCom PHS data network to transmit InterNavi Club information only; customers pay for for hands-free conversations and data transfer using cellular phones and other telecommunications devices.

All CR-Z versions are eligible for Japan’s new preferential tax scheme for environmentally responsible vehicles (reduced automobile acquisition tax and automobile weight tax) and subsidy for environmentally responsible vehicles, introduced in April 2009.