The CR-Z can be frugal and fun, but maybe not at the same time, says Alastair Sloane
Honda turned to another carmaker that worships at the altar of "light weight equals dynamic excellence" when it sat down to plan its new CR-Z, a "guilt-free" hybrid sports coupe on sale in New Zealand for $44,990.
The project's chief chassis engineer said the CR-Z was inspired by the Lotus Elise, a standout example of how to blend ride and handling to an inch-perfect degree. Terukazu Torikai said his team wanted to create a fun-to-drive sports car featuring some of the driving characteristics of the Elise, as well as the Mini and Volkswagen Scirocco.
"We wanted to realise the agile handling of the Mini and easy-to-drive performance for daily use, which we believe we achieved," he said.
"During the development of the CR-Z, we drove many cars and also bought many cars for comparison and benchmarking: the Mini, the Scirocco but also a Lotus Elise.
"The performance of the Elise kept on inspiring us throughout the whole development process."
The CR-Z is available with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). The manual car weighs 1155kg, the CVT 1175kg.
Torikai said emphasis had been put on ensuring the electric power steering was sufficiently sporty, and that he wanted the car to have predictable control from its Insight underpinnings.
CR-Z project leader Norio Tomobe said the car's hybrid unit and start-stop system would make it a guilt-free sports coupe. He said customers would feel proud of "a car with values you can talk about with others".
Honda claims the manual model has a town-and-around fuel consumption of 5-litres/100km and an exhaust emissions CO2 rating of 117g per kilometre. The CVT version is good for 4.7 litres/100km and 108g/km.
The CR-Z uses a 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine mated to a Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, called Honda's Integrated Motor Assist. Total output is 91kW and 174Nm of torque.
The CR-Z engine is a development of the unit in the Jazz Sport. Honda is committed to IMA technology - the next-generation Civic will have it available.
IMA is all about boosting torque while cutting fuel use. This is more than apparent in the CR-Z, especially in Sport mode.
The two-door carries three electronic modes: Sport, Normal, Econ (Economy). Select Sport and you change the characteristics of the hybrid drivetrain: more torque from the electric motor, sharper throttle response and firmer steering feel.
The effects of the instant electrical assistance are obvious, especially pressing on through a winding road where the car's body stiffness - similar to that of the Civic Type R, says Honda - adds liveliness and enjoyment.
The rack and pinion steering is accurate, well-weighted but dulled somewhat by the electrics. That's the way carmakers are going: electric steering systems save fuel.
The Normal and Econ modes encourage you to nurse the CR-Z along, aided by the appearance of leaves in the instrument panel which grow into a flower as a reward for your frugal frame of mind.
Honda claims that following the economic guidelines can mean fuel savings of up to 10 per cent.
But the CR-Z lends itself to spirited driving. Stay in Normal or Econ on the motorway but switch to Sport mode through the windy stuff.
That way you get the best out of the pretty impressive CR-Z.