IN the ’80s the Honda CR-X was the must-drive choice of car guys—particularly those in the US—who could afford more than the usual Civics and Sentras but were too poor to drive a 3 Series. Because Honda’s hot hatch of the big-hair decade dished out sporty fun at relatively affordable sticker prices, the CR-X secured for itself icon status.
With the present CR-Z, it seems Honda intends to replicate this status. Although the route the carmaker is taking to get there is an entirely different one.
For starters the CR-Z gets a hybrid power plant, or two sources of propulsion. One is a conventional internal combustion engine and the other is an electric motor that Honda calls the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). Together—and when combined with a seven-speed continuously variable transmission—the two make 133 horsepower at 6,600rpm and 171 Newton-meter of torque around the 4,500rpm mark, with the four-pot, 1.5-liter, i-VTEC engine’s grunt supplemented by the electric motor’s 14-horsepower and 79-Newton-meter output.
But, interestingly, the IMA—true to its name—is not connected to any of the CR-Z’s wheel, unlike, say, in the Toyota Prius’s case, the poster boy of hybrids. This means the IMA does not, at any point, propel the car regardless of the amount of juice stored in its lithium-ion battery pack. The CR-Z runs solely on its engine all the time. . . well, all the time you have it switched on. Rather, what the IMA does is supply a bit of additional oomph, and only for a few seconds, provided the battery is fully charged, when the CR-Z’s throttle is floored.
Frankly, if exhilaration is all you want, IMA is pretty useless. That’s even if the funky S+ mode button on the steering wheel is pressed. What IMA is handy at is in supplementing the CR-Z’s engine with electrically produced horsepower, which in turn comes as a by-product of some of the engine’s spinning parts—energy that would have otherwise gone to waste. It’s all symbiotic, this, and the result is vastly reduced fuel consumption, thanks to the added boost doled out by the electric motor. In several days’ worth of driving the CR-Z, a mix of city slog and expressway blast, the car’s computer registered fuel-use of more than 17 kilometers to a liter of unleaded. That, let me stress, is amazing.
To further help in saving gas, Honda fitted in the CR-Z (as well in most of its present models) an Econ button, which waters down the car’s throttle response and makes the transmission shift to a higher gear as soon as possible. Two other settings, Normal and Sport, deliver their own characteristics. To monitor one’s e-conscience, some colored lights on the instrument panel “coach” sensible driving. Drive frugally and the light goes green, amusingly and red glows.
Now for people who care about such stuff as emissions, they’ll be happy to know the CR-Z does not make much of these—well, it’s rated as a partial zero-emission vehicle in California’s strict air standards.
For people with better things on their mind, they’ll immediately notice the CR-Z’s kickass styling, a thoroughly sporty rendition of a compact coupé that’s at once futuristic but still reminiscent of its CR-X daddy. On the road, the car commands stares from the discerning set. The apparent Honda fan boys in their decade-old Civics and Jazzes, meanwhile, simply die of envy.
The CR-Z’s futuristic, sporty looks continue in the cabin, with the car showing off a dashboard festooned with contours and intersecting lines, lots of buttons for the multimedia and climate controls, and trick blue lighting for meters that sport fancy fonts. The car does not lack room for the occupants in front, although as a 2+2 the rear seat is best reserved for luggage or people who wouldn’t mind cutting their legs off. It’s a fair trade though (the lack of room in the backseat, not legless people) as the boot, accessed through a hatch, offers a respectable amount of usable space, especially if the backseat is folded down. The CR-Z’s front buckets, meanwhile, are supportive and the seating position encourages athletic driving.
Which isn’t exactly one of the car’s strong suits. Yes, the CR-Z brakes excellently and it rolls on 17-inch alloys with meaty rubbers, but its responses are not that sporty, with a vague electric-power steering, a power plant that needs to live up to its definition, and suspension damping that’s needlessly on the stiff side. Maybe the version with the six-speed manual gearbox feels more dynamic, but in any case Honda is correct in billing the CR-Z (priced from P1.390 million for the standard variant with manual transmission to P1.950 million for the Mugen-accessorized variant with CVT) as a sporty coupé—not a sports car.
For the e-conscientious enthusiast with an eye on style though, it’s perfect.