Our Ed. has tested the Honda CR-Z before and decided it’s neither an ideal hybrid, nor an ideal sports car, but could prove to be Honda’s next performance legend with a little added ‘spark’. Ray Leathern blamed the CR-Z for the demise of the iconic NSX and S2000 sports cars, but decided to clear his head of his prejudices and give the CR-Z another chance. Ray says he has finally worked out the Honda CR-Z hybrid, “think of it as a Japanese Mini Cooper”.
I’ll tread carefully here because all car fans love small, sporty Hondas or any small, sporty Japanese cars in fact – myself included. Perhaps they have visions of Keiichi Tsuchiya slinging round the Touge or Initial-D videos playing back in their heads, but it’s become brutally difficult to tell JDM fans that Japanese cars aren’t really the simple, sporting joys they were decades ago. I had an irate reader try arguing that the Lexus CT200h was like a modern day Hachiroku, pah… this is the level of desperation these JDM-er’s have reached since the demise of the S2000. Let’s see if the CR-Z lifts their spirits a bit.
What the CR-Z definitely is, is a futuristically styled coupé that houses the hybrid powered drivetrain (IMA – or Integrated Motor Assist as Honda call it) from the Honda Insight, but with a manual gearbox in the middle. Think of it as a small, simple sports car that just happens to have a hybrid drivetrain, rather than a simple, normally aspirated unit one might have got a decade ago. Styling wise, with pseudo-LED’s on the front of its flat, low riding, nose it almost has a retro 80’s sporting coupe look to it. The sharp, distinctive lines running towards the rear, that in the opinion of this writer, make it look like a crustacean, signify it as the genetic follow-up to the old CR-X coupé. The rear styling is a little more eco-centric than sporty with the glass house of the boot sitting quite tall and the rear wheels looking ever so slightly lost against the body work. With that said it is a head turner thanks to its low-slung, diminutive proportions.
What you get under the bonnet is also diminutive. Underneath lies a 1.5-litre, 8-valve engine making 84 kW and 145 Nm. It isn’t much, let’s be honest, but its electric motor can make an extra 78 Nm when fully charged and called into action by the IMA. Zero to 100 km/h still only happens in 10 seconds though, so it’s very nearly outrun by a three-cylinder Nissan Micra. No kidding, the ultra-light Nissan Micra gets to 100 km/h in 10.4 seconds. It’s the eco-credentials of the Honda CR-Z that buyers are likely to boast more about, however, which are: average fuel economy of 5.0 L/100km and 117g/km of CO2. So the CR-Z draws no extra emissions tax as it sits on the showroom floor.
One of the CR-Z’s unique draw cards is its eco-centric, colour changing dials, which are good fun to behold, especially at night from the comfortably positioned driver’s seat. Red for Sport, blue for Normal and Green for eco as the colour spectrum relates to modern driving of course. The colour is unlikely to overcome the wet-blanket feel of the 84 kW drive train, but thankfully the CR-Z sports some compact dimensions, a firm suspension setup and crisp steering response (when in Sport), so there is some driver appeal here JDM-ers. What isn’t so good is the feeling of weight over the rear axle due to extra batteries and IMA goodies under the boot. Despite the car being low to the ground, the centre of gravity feels quite high over the rear axle because of that taller-than-necessary glass house, which all makes for unwanted shifts in weight when you drive spiritedly. It is totally conceivable that you could get the ‘arse’ out in this little, front-wheel drive, sports car when changing direction quickly. Yay, the JDM fans might be thinking, but trust me, it’s not all that pleasant when the grip from the eco focused tyres is mostly mushy. The damping performance of the rear suspension is also a little off. The extra weight needs to be contained and it isn’t, if anything it makes the rear end a little springy over imperfect roads.
Overall, it doesn’t deliver anything like the performance its spicy exterior promises and, unfortunately, when it comes to economy driving, the firm ride, crisp steering and stirring gearbox keep you too involved in the drive to keep your cool. One can’t just leave the car alone and let it dawdle to its destination economically. I didn’t realise it before the Honda CR-Z, but one could argue that the world is best served by hybrid and eco-cars that are not fun to drive, best leave the driver out of the equation and let the microchips bare the burden of saving the planet in my opinion. The CR-Z felt responsive to drive, so I drove it, and averaged 6.5 L/100km in the process – not the figure Honda claim.
At R310 500, it’s on the pricey side for what you are getting in the real world of practicality and performance. There is another way to think about this car tough, which dawned on me as I was humming through town, getting a bit of attention from the locals. You can think of the Honda CR-Z as the Japanese Mini Cooper. What it is, more than anything, is a retro-styled triumph over its own substance (just like the Mini) and while it’s down on power, it still delivers a switched-on driving experience. All Honda have done is swop the Mini’s Mayfair and Camden cutesy-ness for some Japanese hybrid tech and luminous binnacle lighting.
Why then does it cost so much when a Mini Cooper costs R228 600? Even if you add some toys to the Mini Cooper (the very nub of the ownership experience), the price will still fall below R250 000. In the sporty stakes, the Cooper gets to 100 km/h a full second faster, while using less fuel at 5.7 L/100km and, in essence, provides a cleaner, crisper driving experience. It doesn’t quite add up for the Honda CR-Z I’m afraid. If you want performance first and foremost, with surprisingly good economy, consider the Renault Twingo RS or Suzuki Swift Sport. If you want economy, with surprisingly good driving dynamics, look at the Polo Blue Motion TDI from Volkswagen or the Mini Cooper as mentioned.
When the CR-Z hybrid first launched some time back, I felt like I had to have a personal vendetta against it. I said it was the car that killed off the S2000 and NSX, and I asked the question: for what? Some time has passed and now that the buzz of its launch and its eco-worthiness has also passed, I can drive the CR-Z with a clear mind, appreciating its good points, but still recognising its shortfalls, but I’m afraid the balance still tilts towards the latter.
What we like…
- A modern-take on 80’s sports car looks.
- Well-equipped, detailed interior.
What we would like…
- Ditch the IMA, eco tyres and put something really gutsy under the bonnet.
- Honda not to call it a 2+2. It’s closer to a 2-2.
- A R80 000 cash back offer.
|Base Price||R310 500|
|Warranty||3 year / 100 000 km|
|Service Plan||5 year / 90 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||1 497 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, in-line|
|Power||91 kW @ 6 100 r/min (incl. IMA)|
|Torque||174 N.m @ 1 500 r/min (incl. IMA)|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 10.0 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||200 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||5.0 l/100km (claimed combined)|