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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.

beachland2 22 August 2010

Re: Honda CR-Z

Reducing CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles

CO2 and CarsLatest news - the legislation on CO2 from passenger cars is now officially published in the form of Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the Community's integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles.

Some key elements of the adopted text are as follows:

  • Limit value curve: the fleet average to be achieved by all cars registered in the EU is 130 grams per kilometre (g/km). A so-called limit value curve implies that heavier cars are allowed higher emissions than lighter cars while preserving the overall fleet average.
  • Phasing-in of requirements: in 2012, 65% of each manufacturer's newly registered cars must comply on average with the limit value curve set by the legislation. This will rise to 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014, and 100% from 2015 onwards.
  • Lower penalty payments for small excess emissions until 2018: If the average CO2 emissions of a manufacturer's fleet exceed its limit value in any year from 2012, the manufacturer has to pay an excess emissions premium for each car registered. This premium amounts to €5 for the first g/km of exceedance, €15 for the second g/km, €25 for the third g/km, and €95 for each subsequent g/km. From 2019, already the first g/km of exceedance will cost €95.
  • Long-term target: a target of 95g/km is specified for the year 2020. The modalties for reaching this target and the aspects of its implementation including the excess emissions premium will have to be defined in a review to be completed no later than the beginning of 2013.
  • Eco-innovations: because the test procedure used for vehicle type approval is outdated, certain innovative technologies cannot demonstrate their CO2-reducing effects under the type approval test. As an interim procedure until the test procedure is reviewed by 2014, manufacturers can be granted a maximum of 7g/km of emission credits on average for their fleet if they equip vehicles with innovative technologies, based on indepently verified data.

The Commission has made this statement (pdf 11KB) when the Council and the European Parliament agreed on the Regulation.

Commission proposal on a Regulation to reduce the CO2 emissions from passenger cars

On 19 December 2007, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to reduce the average CO2 emissions of new passenger cars which account for about 12% of the European Union's carbon emissions. The proposed legislation is the cornerstone of the EU's strategy to improve the fuel economy of cars and ensure that average emissions from the new passenger car fleet in the Community do not exceed 120 g CO2/km through an integrated approach.

The Commission's proposal will reduce the average emissions of CO2 from new passenger cars in the EU from around 160 grams per kilometre to 130 grams per kilometre in 2012. That will translate into a 19% reduction of CO2 emissions and will place the EU among the world leaders of fuel efficient cars. The proposal will also benefit consumers through important fuel savings. It will further improve energy security, promote eco-innovations and high-quality jobs in the EU.

The draft legislation defines a limit value curve of permitted emissions of CO2 for new vehicles according to the mass of the vehicle. The curve is set in such a way that a fleet average for all new cars of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre is achieved. From 2012, a manufacturer will be required to ensure that the average emissions of all new cars which it manufactures and which are registered in the Community are below the average of the permitted emissions for those cars as given by the curve. That curve is set in such a way that heavier cars will have to improve more than lighter cars compared to today, but that manufacturers will still be able to make cars with emissions above the limit value curve provided these are balanced by cars which are below the curve. Manufacturers' progress will be monitored each year by the Member States on the basis of new car registration data.

Under the legislation, several manufacturers will be able to group together to form a pool which can act jointly in meeting the specific emissions targets. In forming a pool, manufacturers must respect the rules of competition law and the information that they exchange should be limited to average specific emissions of CO2, their specific emissions targets, and their total number of vehicles registered.

In addition, independent manufacturers who sell fewer than 10,000 vehicles per year and who cannot or do not wish to join a pool can instead apply to the Commission for an individual target. Special purpose vehicles, such as vehicles built to accommodate wheelchair access, are excluded from the scope of the legislation.

The proposal will provide manufacturers with the necessary incentive to reduce the CO2 emissions of their vehicles by imposing an excess emissions premium if their average emission levels are above the limit value curve. This premium will be based on the number of grams per kilometre (g/km) that an average vehicle sold by the manufacturer is above the curve, multiplied by the number of vehicles sold by the manufacturer. A premium of €20 per g/km has been proposed in the first year (2012), gradually rising to €35 in the second year (2013), €60 in the third year (2014) and €95 as of 2015. Most manufacturers are expected to meet the target set by the legislation, so significant penalties should be avoided.