What is it?
The CR-Z is an unlikely hero for Honda, the car that could restore at least a little of its sporting image after its withdrawal from F1 and the axing of both the NSX supercar project and the S2000.
The CR-Z is a sports hybrid coupe, the first car with this type of powertrain to get a six-speed manual gearbox. Its styling has strategic cues from the CR-X of the early 1980s, but it also looks modern. In fact, what's appealing about this coupe is that it looks like nothing else on the road; it's instantly recognisable as the CR-Z.
Sitting on a slightly shorter but wider Insight platform, the CR-Z uses a wheelbase that’s shrunk by 115mm, while it has also lost 30mm in height and is 44kg lighter.
The CR-Z does not just employ a revised version of the Insight’s platform, its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system and a modified Insight rear suspension set-up. Wanting to enhance performance, engineers replaced the Insight’s 1.3-litre petrol engine with the 1.5-litre i-VTEC motor from the Jazz, then mated that to a revised six-speed manual transmission lifted out of the European-spec 1.8-litre Civic.
The combined power output of the CR-Z’s hybrid system is 122bhp at 6000rpm, while combined torque is 128lb ft at 1500rpm. Our Japan-spec car offered a combined 58mpg. Oh, and by the way, the CR-Z still employs nickel metal hydride batteries.
What's it like?
Slip into the driver’s seat and you'll sense how much lower you sit in the CR-Z than in an Insight. There’s plenty of headroom for driver’s up to 194cm, but forget the rear seats, which would struggle to hold a 12-year old. Interior trim and quality are superior to the Insight's, and the instrumentation boasts more design flair. Flatten the rear seats and you create 401 litres of luggage space, enough for a couple of suitcases or two golfbags.
The IMA system offers three driving modes: sport, which uses the electric motor to aid acceleration, and normal and econ, which retard throttle response to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions.
The first thing you notice is the CR-Z’s beefy bottom-end torque. With maximum torque on tap from just 1500rpm, the coupe jumps from rest and reaches 60mph in 9sec, as you clear the 6300rpm redline in second. It's noticeably faster than the Insight.
Keep the engine spinning between 4000rpm and 6000rpm and the CR-Z will reward any right-foot extension, while the specially tuned throatier exhaust adds to the all-new sporty hybrid experience.
After trying all three modes, we found ourselves leaving the CR-Z in sport; it offers quicker response at both low and high speeds and suits the characteristics of this car perfectly.
With world-beating manual gearboxes like those in the S2000, NSX and Civic Type R, the CR-Z had a lot to live up to. And thanks to some inspired revision on the European Civic’s gearbox, the CR-Z’s six-speed delivers deliciously short throws and a firm, precise linkage action.
Honda paid special attention to steering too. It's superbly weighted, has excellent feel and turns in on a penny. Combined with enhanced rigidity throughout the chassis and bodyshell, a significant revision to the torsion bar set-up on the rear suspension is another reason why the car handles and rides so well. The CR-Z is stiff but compliant.
The CR-Z’s main braking system is hydraulic, and it uses the regenerative braking only as an ‘assist mechanism’. The result is refreshing; unlike the current crop of hybrids, which deliver a somewhat synthetic feel, the CR-Z offers sure-footed stopping power every time.
Should I buy one?
Honda is convinced that it has launched this coupe at the right time, and it may have a point. With its low-slung, sporty looks, high interior quality, good performance and fuel economy, great gearbox and low price, the CR-Z should spice up interest in hybrids, and force a wider cross-section of the motoring public to pay attention to this type of vehicle. Watch out for the high performance Mugen version in 2011, too.