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Honda CR-Z 1.5 IMA GT Navigation 3-dr Coupe

Click to view picture gallery“To prove that mainstream model
  hybrids — not just the executive
  high-performance Lexus types

 
need not be boringly efficient,
  Honda have gone sporty and edgy
  with their CR-Z 2+2 Coupe
...”


HONDA ARE ALREADY IN THE PETROL-HYBRID MARKET with their five-door, five-seater Insight 1.3-litre C-segment hatch (which will find around 5,000 UK customers this year) and their Civic 1.4-litre four-door family saloon, which will attract around a 1,000 customers. These sell against the Toyota Prius and the new British-built Toyota Auris Hybrid. For the record, a Honda Jazz hybrid will be added in 2011.

Prices for Honda's recently-introduced sporty CR-Z hybrid start at 16,999 and range up to 21,749. There are four levels of trim and equipment: S, Sport, GT and GT Navigation. The new model has just received a Euro NCAP 5-star safety rating and Honda expects to see around 3,500 UK sales in a full year.

The CR-Z's distinctive looks ensure it stands out from other affordable 'green' hybrid cars. It combines an angulated front-end (closely resembling a Honda Civic) with a crisply edged, dual-window rear hatch (as used for the Insight hybrid), and displays a wedge-shape side profile. Wide, sharply defined wheelarches give the CR-Z a muscular stance and at the same time accommodate the wide front and rear tracks that contribute to its good stability and cornering grip.

“Thanks to the agile
chassis, good driving
dynamics, direct steering
and a low driving
position, the CR-Z Hybrid
is fun to drive
...”
However, there is a price to be paid for the eye-catching looks: rear-quarter and rear visibility are both very poor. The good news is that thanks to the agile chassis, good driving dynamics, direct steering and a low driving position, the CR-Z hybrid is fun to drive. The six-speed sports gearbox features a short-throw change and the electric motor element brings a very useful boost of torque in the low to mid range — much more than could be expected from a conventional 1.5-litre, normally aspirated petrol engine.

Generally speaking, non-executive hybrids with their CVT auto transmissions are most at home in urban environments; the CR-Z, however, is quite capable of coping with the cut and thrust of driving on motorways and busy country roads. Expect city and town dwellers to be the early adopters, especially Londoners or commuters into the capital, because as a hybrid it is currently exempt from the Congestion Charge. But that might change next year when it is likely the charges will be based purely on CO2 emissions rather than the engine under the bonnet.

Whether the CR-Z owner is a retail buyer wanting the latest technology wrapped up in a sporty looking bodyshell, an environmentally concerned motorist or the business driver promoting their company's green credentials, the low-ish 117g/km exhaust emissions mean cheaper road tax, 0 for the new VED First Year rate and then 30 a year thereafter. Company car users will also enjoy the 10 per cent Benefit-in-Kind tax levy.

The CR-Z uses a 1.5-litre petrol unit, taken from the American versions of Jazz in conjunction with a six-speed manual gearbox. There is not a CVT auto option as with other hybrids. Honda says this is to give the new model a sportier driving feel as well as extra performance. Top speed is a very respectable 124mph, 0-62mph takes 9.9 seconds and the official Combined Cycle fuel economy is 56.5mpg.

“In Econ mode, driving in
a realistic and sensible
manner while keeping up
with the traffic,
the consumption was
56.8mpg — a shade
better than the official
figure.
In Norm mode, the figure
was 48.7mpg; and
in Sport, 44.7mpg
...”
During an earlier — but quite brief — first test drive at the introduction of the CR-Z on Millbrook Proving Ground's City Route, the CR-Z returned 42.8mpg; that test included plenty of stop-start driving fully utilizing the Coupe's standard-fit Stop/Start system. But, unlike some other hybrids, the CR-Z has no selectable electric-drive-only mode so the vehicle cannot be used in a zero emissions city zone.

Now I have had another chance to drive the CR-Z 2+2 Coupe GT, this time on public roads. Real-life fuel economy figures are critical for all drivers; especially so for would-be hybrid owners who are likely to be buying on the grounds of economy. My CR-Z results are as follows: in Econ mode, driving in a realistic and sensible manner while keeping up with the traffic, the consumption was 56.8mpg — a shade better than the official figure. In Norm mode, the figure was 48.7mpg; and in Sport mode, 44.7mpg.

But these figures are no better than a new-generation 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine and, in many cases, the diesel unit will deliver lower CO2 emissions and better mpg. Take for instance the Volvo C30 DRIVe three-door Coupe, priced from 17,690 — its official Combined Cycle fuel consumption is 74.3mpg with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km and a 13% Benefit-in-Kind tax rate.

Then there's the new 1.6 TDI engine in Volkswagen's less sporty looking but far roomier Golf BlueMotion three-door hatch. It, too, offers 74.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 99g/km and BIK tax at 13% — and it costs 18,100.

Both the C30 and the Golf are better than the CR-Z for fuel economy and CO2 emissions and both cost less to buy. There are also new-generation direct injection petrol engines which have closed the gap in the advantage that petrol-hybrids had over conventional engines in terms of fuel economy and emissions.

Going the hybrid route needs significant thought — there are other less radical ways to reduce your motoring costs and vehicle emissions by opting for the latest generation petrol and diesel engines.

For the technically-minded, the CR-Z uses a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine linked with an electric motor using Honda's proven IMA hybrid technology including energy capture. The engine produces 112bhp at 6,100rpm; the electric motor 13bhp at 1,500rpm. Total peak power available is 122bhp at 6,100rpm.

The power delivery is
pretty seamless and
with a manual gearbox
there isn’t the usual
hybrid issue
where the CVT
transmission absorbs
power and makes
the engine seem dull,
lifeless and noisy
...”
As for torque, the 'grunt' that makes the car responsive, the petrol engine has 106lb ft at 4,800rpm and the electric motor 57lb ft from just 1,000rpm giving a total peak useable torque of 128lb ft at 1,500rpm.

It is this torque that swiftly moves the CR-Z from standstill and helps during overtaking at low to medium speeds. The power delivery is pretty seamless and with a manual gearbox there isn't the normal hybrid issue where the CVT transmission absorbs power and makes the engine seem dull, lifeless and noisy.

The CR-Z driver has the choice of three driving modes selected by push buttons. All three are self explanatory: Sport, Econ and Norm. There is also an Eco Assist driving guidance setting which is used in Econ mode where the space-age controls show the driver, through changing instrument colours, whether or not they are driving economically.

If you are attracted by the sporting good looks of the CR-Z, you will be impressed even more by the 'Starship Enterprise' control and instrument display. It takes time to learn, but it all works. The CR-Z has more driving character than other current family-sized hybrids and its looks and feels sporty. And you do get usable boot space: 215 to 389 litres.

Specification is high for all models and the GT Navigation version had all the 'goodies' I would expect. They include a navigation system, climate control air conditioning, cruise control, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, alloy pedals, a good sound system, integrated Bluetooth hands-free system, front, side and curtain airbags, on-board computer, electrically-operated door mirrors and windows and folding rear seats.

On the plus side you get eye-catching sporty exterior styling that's even better inside — a real Starship Enterprise instrument layout. It's also fun to drive and agile with sure-footed handling and livens up the dull image of hybrids. Downsides include very limited rear seat legroom, poor rear and rear-quarter visibility and significant road noise intrusion. Economy-minded motorists should be aware that some new-generation diesel-powered models offer less CO2 emissions and significantly better mpg; and they cost less to buy. — David Miles

Honda CR-Z 1.5 IMA GT Navigation 3-dr Coupe | 21,749
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 49.8mpg
Power: 122bhp | Torque: 128lb ft | CO2 117g/km