Honda CR-Z Sporty Hybrid [Review]

CR-ZLast year, Honda’s new CEO announced that the CR-Z, a sporty hybrid concept, would be going into production for general sale. The initial photos looked great and I was pretty excited by the prospect. Later photos sort of dulled my expectations a little, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I road tested the CR-Z myself.

I’d been made even more suspicious by the number of times the CR-Z had been referred to in press releases as “sporty looking”. Hmm, was this going to be a case of mutton dressed as lamb?

Hey, good looking

First thing I noticed about the CR-Z is that it actually looks good. I don’t know if I’d just seen it from a dodgy angle before but my expectations were well exceeded. A friend commented that it looked like a smaller version of the Insight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been designed by the same team. However, it’s also low and when you look at the position of the driver’s seat you realise you’re sitting quite far back in the car. All this gives it quite a different look to many of the other cars out there and, I think, it looks great.

I’m liking how Honda tend to hide exhausts on their cars too… think of the exhausts on the Civic being built in to the bumper. I couldn’t see the exhaust on the CR-Z until I realised it was tucked under the bumper, just out of sight. I think not having the exhaust on show gives the rear of the car a nice clean look and makes the geek in me wonder where the exhaust gasses are going.

Just another hybrid?

On getting into the CR-Z the family resemblance was immediately obvious: it has the same colour-changing speedometer background as the Insight, designed to give you a visual cue as to how efficiently you’re driving. There’s also that lovely big red start button which just feels much more exciting than turning a key.

The major difference between the CR-Z and the other hybrids I’ve tested is that the CR-Z has a manual gearbox. No flappy-paddle nonsense, and no automatic gearing mollycoddling you to make sure you always stay within the most efficient rev range… you get to pick which gear you change into, and when you do it. The gearbox is light and gives a good positive feel when you change gear, letting you change quickly and telling you it’s happened.

Another new inclusion is the “sport” mode, which turns the speedometer red to let you know you’re about to be uneconomical. It also makes the throttle more responsive and generally makes the car feel… well… tighter. You can almost feel the car stiffen. My favourite demonstration of the difference sport mode made was to be accelerating in “Normal” and, without moving my feet, switch to “Sport”. The CR-Z would accelerate away as the new throttle map and engine settings took over.

Sport mode certainly makes the CR-Z quick and great fun to drive, while normal and economy modes are great for saving fuel on longer journeys. On a trip to Aberdeen (240 miles in total) I averaged 50mpg, while in town I still averaged 45mpg. Great stuff. Add in a 0-62 time of 9.9 seconds (which definitely felt faster than that) and suspension that gives a sporty feel without breaking your spine, and you’ve got an impressive mix of sporty and sensible.

So, what’s not to like?

I did notice a few things while driving the CR-Z that were a little awkward. The cruise-control controls were a bit different from the Insight and Civic. In those cars the controls are very tactile and the set/resume switch is a sort of rocker affair. In the CR-Z it looks like an effort has been made to have these a little more flush with the wheel. I have no doubt some people will prefer that, but I found it difficult to find and operate the correct control without looking down at the wheel.

The automatic headlights are a great feature but I’m wondering if they might be a bit sensitive. I was surprised more than once while driving under some trees by the lights coming on. Actually, that’s not what surprised me. I also had the dashboard brightness turned down for night driving and the ambient light under those trees was sufficient to make it look like everything had switched off when the lights came on. The simple solution is to turn the brightness up a bit, but it certainly confused me the first time it happened.

Other than those, and the fact that if you leave the heated seats on for too long you’ll really know about it, there’s really not much else to complain about!

Is it a 2 or 4-seater?

The CR-Z has four seats. Does that answer the question? What do you mean, “No”? OK, the rear seats are, there’s no other way to say this, cramped. I have fairly long legs so there’s no way an adult could have sat behind me while I was driving. I wouldn’t have liked to see an adult try to get in the passenger side rear seat either. Children… yeah, you could fit car seats in if you wanted, and the CR-Z does have ISOFIX anchoring points.

A friend I showed the car to said it was a bit impractical but my thinking is this: if you’re after a practical family car, buy something else! Seriously – the Insight is bigger and cheaper. But if you’re after a fun car and aren’t too concerned about putting people in the back, the CR-Z is a great option. I had a great conversation with the driver who came to pick the car up again when I’d finished with it and we agreed that, while there’s a degree of flexibility in having those rear seats, it would have made a little more sense to enlarge the boot slightly and make the CR-Z a true 2-seater.

Conclusion

The Honda CR-Z is a great little car. It’s quick and responsive enough to have lots of fun with, but uses hybrid technology to save on fuel costs without intruding on the driving experience. Its angular and distinctive looks stand out and it has the flexibility of back seats, albeit not for adults. If you’re looking for a sensible, flexible family car… this isn’t the one for you. But if you’re looking to have some fun without paying through the nose for petrol, the Honda CR-Z could be just what you’ve been looking for.

The Honda CR-Z is available from £16,999 on the road. Further details can be found on Honda’s official website.

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