Can Honda's hybrid coupe deliver a sporty drive?

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.

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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.

Peter Lyon

Join the debate

Add a comment…
andrepaul999 22 August 2010

Re: Honda CR-Z

The CR-Z is a refreshing sight on the roads, and looks great in white.

Deserves to do well, looking forward to the new Civic too....

The Apprentice 22 August 2010

Re: Honda CR-Z

I was back in my local Honda dealers for quite a long while last week and the CRZ's were on a non stop loop of demos. Whilst the Autocar loyal may debate the technicalities and performance and handling of the car, I saw a clear demographic of customer. The comfortably affluent middle class ladies were in and out of them like musical chairs. Really if you haven't done so go into a dealer and have a look/sit in a White one (guarantee they will have a white one) its a fantastic feeling. These 30 to 50 year old lady customers are the sort bored with the Mini, yawn at an A3, don't want a convertible and this car is not too big, not mumsy, not girly, sexy, sporty, modern and perceived as premium with the bonus of coffee morning bragging about ecology. Honda are really very clever.

Simon4059 22 August 2010

Re: Honda CR-Z

This is my first post here so please be gentle I work for a large honda dealer in Blackpool and have a crz as my company car. I think it is great. The Mpg figures as usual are a work of fiction however you tell me a car that can do it's maker officials. I find the car fun and planted in a safe way. What I mean by that is, I loved the s2000 in every way (apart from fuel but company paid). But the car was scary I was scared to really (and i mean REALLY) push it as that back end wouldn't think twice about doing a pirouette jane torville would be proud of. Maybe the £2000 yes £2000 insurance excess worried me). The crz I feel is planted on the road and I am not scared to test it to the limit. Granted the limit isn't in. The same ball park as an s2 but thanks to the EU and next years euro 5 emissions spoiling our cars for the rest of our lives (euro 5 means all car makers must have an average co2 output no greater than 130 grams per km, that means if we sold a civic type R we would have to sell 17 jazz's to offset the co2 to be below the threshold (big fine if over 130gms). Hence why CTR is being discontinued at end of 2010 and why Aston Martin will soon give away a toyota IQ with every purchase (one 400gms Aston +90gms IQ = 245gms average a loophole but these fines are hefty My crz is as fast as the civic 1.8 140bhp and handles better. And. Most importantly it's available in white