CR-Z: A naughty, wicked, evil pleasure, and it’s a hybrid!

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Isn’t she pretty? When I first saw the CRZ in concept drawings, I wondered if something that looked as jaw droppingly delicious would ever make it into production and if it did, would it be any good. The problem with most hybrids and electric cars is their ability induce most people to lapse into a coma with their mind-numbing dullness. I first saw the CRZ in the carpark under Honda’s Sydney office. I knew then there was something special waiting for me even though I wasn’t due to drive her for several weeks. Honda CR-Z Sport SIDE

Doesn’t this shot look like Sound of Music?

Honda CR-Z luxury centre consoleHonda CR-Z luxury dash and seatsHonda CR-Z luxury dash buttonsHonda CR-Z luxury rear and panoramic roofHonda CR-Z luxury rearHonda CR-Z luxury shallow bootHonda CR-Z luxury side viewHonda CR-Z luxury speedo and dashHonda CR-Z luxury speedo in normal modeHonda CR-Z luxury speedo in sports mode

Then the day arrived. It’s was with much anticipation that I clutched desperately at the keys which would either confirm or dash my hopes of a week spent in ecstasy. I usually spend a little time walking around the car when I’m getting into something brand new, but I couldn’t resist the urge to jump in and get going. Most hybrids have a CVT autos so we can deduce they have add something essential to the function of stop/start. Stop/start is the ability of a car to stop the engine when the vehicle comes to a halt, and start it in an instant when it’s time to move off again without the driver having a big panic attack. Imagine looking like a complete tit when your shiny new piece of technology utterly fails to proceed (a Rolls Royce term for breaking down) and you’re holding up the peak hour traffic. After a few kilometres I got used to the fact that there aren’t any gears and that’s because there are no gears. The poor little engine screams its head off when you sink your boot in when you do give it some wellie but she sure takes off. Most hybrids have a distinct lack of excitement in the performance department, CR-Z however has no such anxiety. That’s not to say that the 91kw output is in hot-hatch territory either. Our distinctly un-scientific 0-100 runs measured about 8.5 seconds which some will say is a trifle ordinary for a car meant to be a performance model. It feels faster when you’re behind the wheel and that great sporty engine note is drifting into the cabin.

Outside:

There are definite signs of Honda-ness about the styling. The highset rear end of the wedge houses a split rear window with an annoying bar across the lower section. Because of the angle of the window this bar is exactly in the middle of your field of vision from the drivers’ seat. The Honda people assured me it wouldn’t be in my way, but it is. The odd thing is you get used to it. It doesn’t disappear by any means but it does seem much less intrusive after a few hundred k’s.

Of course if you don’t like wedge shaped cars then you’ll need to move on, there’ll be nothing for you to see here. If you like wedges then you’re in luck. The LED’s across the headlights look great in the day time but it’s the rear treatment I think is particularly successful. The band of glass between the lights gives a glimpse of the traffic coming up on you from behind but from the inside the rear view appears to be much smaller. Is it me, or does the rear vaguely resemble the other Hybrid from Honda, the Insight? Just in front of the shark fin the glass continues onto the panoramic roof . The roof doesn’t open fully although the internal sunshade can be retracted if you fancy a bit of a tan. On a hotter day the heat can be a bit relentless so for my money the sunshade stays firmly shut.

While giving a nod to the fab sporty Hondas of the past, the CRZ looks thoroughly cutting edge. It’s about as far from European same-ism dull-as-dishwater-family-hot-hatch as it’s possible to get. Sticking a leather seat and revved up engine in a family hatch does not make it interesting, it just makes it fast, the CR-Z is interesting from the word go.

Inside:

The Luxury is chock-a-block full goodies. The cabin is snug to say the least and the back seat is only fit for extra David Jones bags, no humans need apply. We managed to squeeze one of the boys into the back seat but he immediately turned into Mrs Grundy and whinged solidly for 15 kilometres. Even a moderately tall driver leaves only enough room between the back and front seats for a magazine to be passed easily between. No, I think you’re better off thinking of CR-Z as a 2 seater with a nicely padded parcel shelf.

Honda decided a “teenaged gamer” inspired dashboard would give the hybrid a touch of youthful appeal, and it works spectacularly well. There are elements of fun such as the pale blue LED lit lines which run across the dials and can only be there for decoration and I love it for that. The lower left LCD can be scrolled through to display various modes of information but most mesmerising is the power usage diagram. It reminds me of the Starship Voyager showing ships’ functions. Most hybrids do it but CR-Z does it surrounded by enough LED’s to put Vegas to shame. It can be quite hypnotic and as fun to watch as the Satnav is. On the subject of Satnav, unlike many infotainment systems, the CRZ uses one which isn’t fully integrated into the cars’ systems. It includes a DVD player so much fun to be had for your passenger on a long trip. Sadly we don’t have street names mentioned in the voice instructions. Very few systems manage it and it’s something I would have thought would be ubiquitous by now. Rather cleverly, the system flashes a 3d graphic if on multi lane roads to ensure you take exactly the correct route. It’s a thoughtful touch which helps when you’re faced with 6 or 7 lanes in each direction as you are the north end of the Harbour bridge.

The infotainment module which includes bluetooth streaming is easy to come to terms with. I like a friendly system which doesn’t require an advanced degree in electronics to make simple functions happen. Pairing your phone is straight forward and using the Music Streaming is as simple as selecting your device. It will start playing wherever you left off and pause/fwd/rwd can be done from the screen but changing albums or playlists has to be done from the device itself. I also used the voice dial in the phone rather than trying to get the contact list stored on-board. This is something you could fiddle with given time but I simply don’t have the hutzpah to be bothered trying. The speedo seems to be in the form of an HUD (headsup display) in the centre dial right in front of the 3-colour lightshow, but I defy you to fathom how it works. Green for sensible driving, blue for normal driving and red for “I don’t give a rats about the environment” driving which in my opinion only further tempts you to leave it in sports mode.

On a non-technology note, the interior has real metal highlights. This makes a pleasant change from the plastic tat usually served up in sub-50k cars and most of the rubbish EuroTrash hatches. The leather is good quality and the front seats are well padded to ensure you don’t slide too violently in corners.

All in all, a comfy cabin if a little on the cosy side, with the dash well laid out in an xbox/WII/PSP kind of way. Honda’s quality and eye for detail proudly exhibited in a cutting edge show of thoroughly modern auto design.

I love it.

The Drive:

This is where most hybrids fall flat on their faces. They have the performance of a kitchen sponge and the handling of a blancmange. If we must have electric power steering it may as well be sharp, and the CR-Z is that. Parking speeds provide oodles of boost but on the road you just point your nose and the car follows. The ride is firm but not uncomfortably so and the handling is brilliant for a hybrid. It can get pernickety if you meet a bump in a tight corner though it never loses grip which is quite important in a car meant to be thrown into corners with gay abandon.

The combined power amounts to a modest 91KWs. Normally you don’t associate 91KWs with hot-hatch performance and our decidedly un-scientific 0-100 test indicated 8 secs to 100 kph which sounds leisurely but felt much quicker behind the wheel. We are told to expect 4.3 l/100k combined but as is usually the case with claimed fuel figures we were not able to get within cooee of it.

As per usual the Grand Pacific Drive test yielded a rewarding afternoons’ entertainment. Most folk will prefer the “sports” option, where everything comes to life just as much as being in “economy” causes more than a little gloom to descend on the proceedings. I confess most CVT’s leave much to be desired. Because there are no gears as such the poor engine screams its tits off but doesn’t change tone as the speed picks up. Imagine you’re at a set of lights and your engine has switched itself off, so there you are with only your inner thoughts for company. You will eventually wonder if the flame will re-light when the time comes but by the time your foot has moved from brake to accelerator the engine has leapt into life and bobs-your-uncle. You press your Nike into the carpet and the old girl shoots forward and you’re away. About 8 seconds later you’re at 100kph. The torque is helped no end with the assistance of the electric motor. Electric motors have an inherent torque which helps CR-Z get a wriggle-along.

I know it’s not rare these days but the inclusion of auto headlights and wipers is is welcome and for a change work extremely well. The other touch I loved was at my usual vantage point high above the boiling surf and jagged rocks, I was able to reach into the glove box and pull out a coke chilled by a sensibly placed air cond outlet. How cool is that? I’m sorry, it had to be said.

I’d describe the drive as stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable and even, quite unusual for a hybrid, engaging. I love it for all its quirks.

Conclusion:

Hybrids have a well-deserved reputation as being dull dull dull. CR-Z is not that. It has killer looks, a great interior and drives like a proper sports car. If pressed you can shove an extra person in the rear for a quick airport run, something you can’t do in a two seat car. The handling is fab and the performance great especially for a hybrid. The Luxury is a trifle on the pricey side at around 44k but after a week in the saddle I was sad to see it go and I have never said that about a hybrid.

I loved it and would recommend it without so much as a skerrick of hesitation. We have the 6 speed manual in a few weeks to round off the duo. It’s the only manual hybrid on the market and if it’s only half as good as the CVT we are in for a treat.

Here are the full specs

$34,750 – $40, 790 PLUS GOV AND DEALER CHARGES

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12 thoughts on “CR-Z: A naughty, wicked, evil pleasure, and it’s a hybrid!

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