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Honda CR-Z 1.5 Sport

Click to view picture gallery“When Honda launched the original
  Insight hybrid back in 1999, it felt
  like the future had landed. Hybrid
  technology clearly had all sorts of
  benefits, and it seemed only a matter
  of time before hybrids took over
  the world
...


FAST FORWARD FOURTEEN YEARS and they haven't taken over the world. But they certainly have taken over Japan. There, the top three spots in the best-seller list are occupied by hybrids, and Toyota has now made five million of the things. Even the idea of the 'performance hybrid' has taken off, with Porsche and Lexus offering very powerful models with electric motors to boost acceleration.

So where does Honda's CR-Z sit in all this? Pretty much on its own. Since launch in 2009, it's been the only small sports car with hybrid power. Now for 2013, the CR-Z has been updated, with a new battery pack, more power, sharper performance, and a fresh look inside and out.

Let's start with the look. The CR-Z has always had utterly individual styling, with a wedgy profile that ends in a split-screen tailgate that harks back to the 1980s CR-X. The 2013 facelift is pretty mild though, giving the CR-Z a revised front bumper and grille and some shocking new colours like violet and yellow.

“The electric motor does give a decent slug of boost and makes overtaking easy while minimising the need for gear changes — and when you need to use the gears, you’ll find the change action is crisp enough...”
The petrol-electric hybrid powerplant (a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine assisted by a 20bhp electric motor) now has 13bhp more power, so peak output has gone up from 122bhp in the old model to 135bhp in this new one.

Fuel efficiency has always been a CR-Z strong point, and it remains impressive by sports car standards, averaging 56.5mpg in the official test. However, diesel rivals do now beat it: the MINI Coupe Cooper SD averages 65.7mpg and the Volkswagen Scirocco 2.0 TDI does 62.8mpg, although neither of those can match the CR-Z's impressively low 116g/km CO2 emissions.

These oil-burning rivals are also quicker than the CR-Z, whose relative lack of speed means it really can't be described as a performance car: these days zero to 62mph in 9.1 seconds is a figure beaten by mundane diesel hatchbacks — and the CR-Z is supposed to be a sports car.

That said, the electric motor does give a decent slug of boost and makes overtaking easy while minimising the need for gear changes (and when you need to use the gears, you'll find the change action is crisp enough). However, the fact that you have a dashboard indicator to tell you when to change up gear shows you the CR-Z's priorities: saving fuel rather than shaving tenths off the 0-60 time.

For those who do value performance, there's a new Sport+ button on the steering wheel that gives you up to 10 seconds of increased acceleration. You need to have a certain amount of battery power in reserve to do this, so if you're low on juice it won't activate. But frankly, even when it does, the difference in performance is pretty hard to discern.

While the handling is tidy, it's not quite in the same league as the MINI and VW Scirocco. The suspension settings are stiff, meaning you certainly feel those potholes in the CR-Z. On the plus side, it does also mean there's very little body roll through corners, and helped by direct and quick-acting steering, it's neat through the twisty bits. You can even induce a bit of oversteer if you're really trying hard, but it's nowhere near being in the same league as, say, Toyota's GT-86.

The brakes are typical of hybrids — in other words, a bit odd at first as they not only use mechanical braking but also energy recuperation from the electric motor. They can feel sharp at times but they are extremely effective.

“I do like the CR-Z’s
cabin. It has a sci-fi edge
to it and, if you
re
a lover of pressing
buttons you
ll love its
banks of angled
switchgear
...”
I do like the CR-Z's cabin. It has a sci-fi edge to it and, if you're a lover of pressing buttons you'll love its banks of angled switchgear. If, however, you're into Zen simplicity, the overwhelming mishmash of shapes and styles may short-circuit your aura of peace.

No review of the CR-Z can fail to mention visibility. That wedge-shaped rear-end looks great but it's darned awkward to see out of, especially with the spine of the split hatchback obscuring most of it. Since the electric motor's jiggery-pokery sits in the tail, boot space isn't huge, either.

Another thing I really can't fail to mention is passenger space. Up front, there's no problem at all in terms of legroom and headroom; but the rear 'seats' are pretty pointless. Not only are they almost impossible to get into but headroom is severely compromised, and if you have the front seats in a comfortable position, legroom in the back reduces to virtually zero.

In isolation, the CR-Z works well. Trouble is, priced at £21,200 for the entry-level Sport and rising to £24,720 for the top-spec GT-T model, it's living in a fiercely competitive world — Toyota GT-86, anyone?

Isolation. That's what the CR-Z needs… and you could argue that's what it has already because there's no other choice of hybrid sports car.
Chris Rees

Honda CR-Z 1.5 Sport | £21,200
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 9.1 seconds | Average MPG: 56.5mpg
Power: 135bhp | Torque: 140lb ft | CO2 116g/km