It was at first hard to fathom the eye-catching Honda CR-Z hybrid as the successor to the immensely popular and craved for Honda CR-X, which was Honda’s nimble and fast, light hot-hatch of the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. But then, after taking a proper first close up look in the flesh and throwing the word ‘Hybrid’ out of the equation, while referring to pictures of the iconic CR-X through one’s smartphone, these two cars do have quite a few things in common. Both these cars’ have stubby rear ends, two-seater layouts, and quite simply, rather frugal intentions.
When Honda Malaysia finally handed over the CR-Z keys and hence the CR-Z itself to us, even though it was a hybrid, from the get go we throttled the little Honda down both short and long, open roads and went bonkers around bends and corners. The word bonkers is used here to denote that gravity and the rule of physics did not apply when this compact hybrid was thrown into bends and corners. We drove it both fast and hard, and we’re not at all sorry for doing so, as the car supposedly looked the part when speed and performance came to mind, albeit without the word hybrid in the equation. However, the CR-Z just isn’t quite as awesome as it looks.
The now highly sought after Honda CR-X was well known for its lightness and a stripped-down approach, which in turn allowed it to deliver a spirited driving experience and bragging rights whenever in the absence of the force fed induction performance machines. The CR-Z on the other hand is not quite a reincarnation of the CR-X, as instead of being powered by a power-packed B16A 1.6L VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) engine that ably delivered 170hp, much to the delight of the driver at the wheel, The CR-Z on the other hand relies on newer, albeit greener technology in the form a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain to get it moving and going. The difference between the two powertrain paths is great to say the least, especially in terms of power and performance, so conventional wisdom does not apply here.
The CR-Z is not as light as its predecessor, and even though it is slightly heavier in part due to the electric motor, there’s still fun in its simplicity and momentum in terms of its styling. However the hybrid powertrain dampens the fun factor to this car, but on the other hand, it does attract a whole new set of buyers and fans, especially those who are intent on going green in terms of mobility but who don’t want to compromise on style and having a sense of presence. Surprisingly, this hybrid can be somewhat entertaining when coaxed, even as it tries to combine two very different and disparate concepts, sport and efficiency.
Honda proudly billed the CR-Z as the world’s first hybrid sports car, and also the first car of its type to come equipped with a petrol-electric drivetrain that is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. Despite the refreshing and vibrant coupe styling, being a Honda, the CR-Z is expectedly front-wheel drive, and there’s just one engine option, the 1.5L i-VTEC. This 1.5-litre petrol powerplant is assisted by a battery pack and 10bhp IMA Hybrid System which is the electric motor. The compact size of the CR-Z and its two-door coupe styling expectedly sacrifices on interior space, so just as it looks from the outside, inside this is strictly a two-seater, much like its predecessor the CR-X.
Despite looking contemporarily futuristic, the Honda CR-Z actually inherited a fair bit of its design cues and inspiration from the iconic CR-X of the eighties. The CR-Z’s presence and stance is further accentuated by the feature of LED running lights on the front bumper and a sloping glass roof, it will definitely get you noticed. There’s no radio antenna on this car as Honda have borrowed BMW’s idea and replaced the conventional aerial with an all too familiar shark fin antenna.
From the outside, 16inch sports rims and rear parking sensors complete the exterior set-up, while inside, the futuristic design and appeal which resonates from the dashboard will captivate both the driver and passenger while fuelling their imagination. However at a glance through the naked eye, there seems to be too many buttons on the dash and it will take a little time to get used to all the buttons and knobs.
The centre console is angled towards the driver, and it can get quite colourful in the cabin as the dials light up with different colours depending on which driving mode the driver is in. There’s no guessing which mode we were in when the CR-Z was in our hands, 10% of the time it was in Eco mode, another 10% of the time was normal mode, and the rest was well, ‘Sport mode’ all the way!
The 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine neatly tucked in the engine bay ably produces a decent 112bhp, which when combined with the 10bhp and extra torque from the electric motor, helps get the CR-Z moving from 0-100kmh in a rather uninteresting time of 9.9 seconds (which is why Botak’s “Standard” Satria will eat the CR-Z up for breakfast when it comes to century sprints), and on to a decent top speed of a shade, or rather whisker above 200kmh. These are not figures that will make fans and prospective, interested buyers of this car salivate or smile with glee. However, the low-slung suspension and accurate steering make for some pretty entertaining and dare we say it, hair raising handling.
There are no less than three driving modes to choose from – Eco, Sport and Normal – with sport mode supposedly enhancing the sharpness of the steering and improving throttle response. The steering did feel sharp but we needed a couple of spirited runs to somewhat be able to feel the improved throttle response (Hopefully we did not imagine this). The low-set driving position is sporty without a doubt, it gives the feeling of being cocooned in the cockpit of a raging Spanish named, German owned Italian bull, although once moving reality ensures focus is back to driving the little Honda instead of dreaming of Italian thoroughbreds. Thankfully there’s a six-speed manual gearbox which adds to the driver appeal instead of a boring CVT transmission which would rob it of what little performance credibility it has. While the ride is firm it’s never uncomfortable, making the CR-Z a good, two occupant or rather couple cruiser.
FUEL CONSUMPTION AND RUNNING COST
This is where the Honda CR-Z impresses. Its manufacturer figures of 56.5mpg and 117g/km might not come close to the figures of diesels burners around – but are still respectable enough for a car of this type and with what we would like to term as ‘entry level performance’. Therefore hefty fuel consumption bills should be kept at bay even with a slightly heavy and eager right foot. The CR-Z comes equipped with start and stop as standard, which does help to save more fuel. It qualifies more to being a good looking hybrid to be seen in rather than as a performance based hybrid, as although it may give the Tesla a good run for its money in the looks department, its not quick enough to qualify as a performance machine.
The combination of a very low roofline and the set of batteries in the boot limits the CR-Z’s practicality. There’s plenty of room for two adults in the front of the cabin, but the rear seats are incredibly cramped and are only really suitable for very young or small children. Most owners are likely to keep them folded flat, which increases boot space from 225-litres to a more usable 401-litres.
SAFETY AND RELIABILITY
Despite its complicated drivetrain, the CR-Z is unlikely to encounter many mechanical issues. The battery technology is the same system used in the Honda Civic hybrid, which supposedly has had no major problems ever since it was first released. Safety is impressive, as the CR-Z scored the maximum of five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, with a 93 per cent rating for adult occupant protection. Being a Honda, the CR-Z has been built incorporating Honda’s much publicized G-Force Control Technology (G-CON), as well as Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) and Hill Start Assist. The other usual array of safety features such as traction control, ABS, six airbags and emergency brake assist are all fitted as standard on the CR-Z.
The Honda CR-Z is wonderful to look at and even better to be seen in. It is a very nice looking car indeed and it will get its driver and passenger noticed for sure. If you don’t mind driving a good looking, hot hatch of a hybrid that can only accommodate two people, then the CR-Z is definitely the only car out there for you. RM 115,013.50 is the price to be paid for the manual, while the auto will cost RM119,000.00 (On-The-Road Price with Insurance). The CR-Z comes with a 3 year warranty or 100,000km (whichever comes first), and 6 months free service or 10,000km (whichever comes first). Honda Malaysia offers a 5 year warranty or 140,000km (whichever comes first) for the car’s IMA battery only.
words: Azdee Simon pix: Hazwan Najims