The CR-Z is a sporty coupé that's fun to drive and cheap to run. If this is the future, then it works
Sunday 18 April 2010
Those of a planet-saving tendency and those who enjoy fast, fun cars tend not to be each other's greatest fans.
But even climate change deniers accept that cars must be more energy efficient because hydrocarbon fuel supplies are not limitless. So, hybrids make sense to everyone. Even supercar makers are mindful of EU legislation designed to make them produce less profligate cars. At the recent Geneva motor show, Porsche showed its 918 Spyder and Ferrari its 599 Hybrid. Both combine staggering pace and economy and are likely to enter production.
Meanwhile, Honda has quietly been making hybrid cars for the past decade. They are less complex than their Toyota rivals, but they undoubtedly work. Now there's a new hybrid Honda, a little sports coupé called the CR-Z. Its style is clearly inspired by the CRX of the 1980s but reworked for the modern world. It looks exactly like a racy Honda should: low nose, low windscreen, wedgy profile, chopped-off tail with the rear window wrapping over it from near horizontal to vertical. There is a rear seat but it's minimal. Behind that seat and under the boot floor is the lithium-ion battery pack that powers, and is recharged by, a 14bhp electric motor positioned between its 1.4-litre, 114bhp petrol engine and a six-speed manual gearbox.
Working at their peak, the engine and motor meet their combined optimum power outputs at 124bhp and 6,100rpm. And you can bask in a 117g/km official CO2 output and a zero congestion charge if London-bound.
You sit low in the CR-Z but with a panoramic view over that low nose. The view aft is not so good, intrusively bisected by the bar between the window panes, but directly ahead is an instrument panel of exciting futurism. Priced from £16,999, it is reminiscent of the Insight, on whose power units and understructure the shorter, wider and lower CR-Z is broadly based, but that takes nothing away from the eeriness of the solar-eclipse glow which emanates from behind the circular, digital speedometer.
There are three driving modes. Econ, which maximises efficiency by reducing the petrol engine's contribution and is ideal for heavy traffic. The stop-start system works well, though, with the engine restarting seamlessly the instant you move the gear lever towards first. But the only real driving interest comes from trying to keep a green tinge to the ghostly glow, because if it starts to turn blue you are not driving frugally enough.
This light show continues in Normal mode, but otherwise the CR-Z now feels almost like a normal car with a proper accelerator response. Here is where all that low-speed pulling power is felt. This energy at low engine speeds is the key to the CR-Z's mix of economy and entertainment, because there's little point in revving the engine hard. A gauge tells you how much the system is charging the battery, typically when slowing, braking or cruising gently, or how much charge it is taking when it is helping the engine's efforts. Full power up a long hill will soon exhaust the battery, but by then the engine is in its stride.
Finally, there is Sport mode, which maximises the electric motor's efforts and gains its regeneration from the harder braking that such a mode encourages. In Sport, the CR-Z feels like a credible, if relatively tame, sports car, and you can enjoy its steering and agile handling even if neither is quite up to the standards of a good, hot hatch.
Here's the pay-off, though. In my time with the car it used less fuel than the sporting diesel hatchback I also had on test, to the extent that its fuel thirst in traffic was approximately halved. If this is the future, it's a rosy one.
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