Glance casually out of your window today and the chances are some rootin’ tootin’ high-performance hybrid car will flash by, whether in huge SUV form, practical estate shape or some sort of lithe and expensive executive saloon.
It was not always thus. In the early days of the hybrid car, the Toyota Prius reigned supreme, and only the original and wonderfully clever Honda Insight provided any sparks of joy for the enthusiast still not sure if this newfangled mode of motion was the way we actually wanted to go.
In a bid to appeal to more mainstream buyers, Honda’s second stab at the Insight was a five-door hatch almost as anodyne to the petrolhead as the Prius. To placate them, in 2011 it used the Insight’s platform to produce this tiny 2+2 coupé, the Honda CR-Z. This little jewel was very much in the mould of the firm’s CR-X sports cars, the earlier examples of which did so much to make the 1980s and 1990s a better place for the keen driver.
It was never going to be quick, though, this CR-Z. Under the bonnet was a 112bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine linked to an electric motor that lifted the total output to 122bhp and, perhaps more interestingly, 128lb ft of torque. That electric supplement produced most of its oomph at around 1500rpm, so the CR-Z was never short of low-end push, even if its on-paper performance (0-60mph in 9.1sec with Sport mode engaged) wouldn’t worry a Porsche.
But it was brisk enough to be fun, especially when allied to a neat chassis, decent steering, lively responses, a low-slung driving position and a slick gearchange, all of which put you firmly in the mindset of a sports car. It changed direction with zeal, rolled very little, had decent body control and all in was very good fun on a winding back road. Its official economy figure was 56.5mpg, to boot. Anyone who had ever driven one of the first two generations of CR-X would have wept with delight, for it not only looked like a more modern take on one of those but it felt a little like one of them, too.
Of course, purists would have said that it would have been even more delightful still if you’d thrown away all the hybrid gubbins and the accompanying weight of all that and installed a more powerful engine, but that wasn’t the point. With the CR-Z, Honda was attempting to show us what could be possible – what could still be, in fact, if some manufacturer had the nous to produce a similar compact coupé today.