We recently had the luxury version of Honda’s shiny new hybrid sports car, the CR-Z and we liked it. Its handling was sharp with steering that actual road feel to spite its electric steering. The nice Honda people said that if we liked the CVT version, we’d go potty for the manual CR-Z.
It has to be said that we’ve heard it all before. We’ve been left at the altar, downcast and depressed, when our promised ride utterly failed to live up to expectations. Our hot chilly was a slightly sad lettuce leaf in a flimsy frock, but not this time.
When I collect a car, I spend a little time adjusting the seats and audio system and pairing the phone. I give the outside a once over and cast an eye over the controls and instruments. We noticed the manual “sports” CR-Z has no leather, no Satnav, no glass roof and no CVT but it otherwise the same car, or is it? After selecting the “sports” button which turns the LEDs on the dash a fiery red, I shifted into 1st and set off. This little button creates an electronic alchemy which transforms a good experience into one that you would gladly sell you mother for, although most might want to do that anyway.
This time we thought we would see if a gay couple can live with one small, sporty hybrid as their only car. Did you hear what I said? I mentioned sporty and hybrid in the same sentence and my head didn’t implode, and the world kept spinning, and the sky didn’t fall in. I can hold my hand on my heart (‘cos that’s where my wallet is) and say that I am genuinely surprised at just what a pleasure the manual was to drive. We packed the poor thing absolutely full of stuff but it coped.
To start with, the figures don’t add up. The puny 91KW output and 9 second 0-100 seems a little low end and slightly last millennium, but not a bit of it. There will no doubt be a legion of boy racers pooh-poohing as we speak bemoaning the loss of a few seconds to 100 kph. You see, they drive like knobs, and to quote Cynthia from “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, “have little ding-a-lings”. They simply must use vast amounts of petrol getting to 100 a pointless few seconds faster than their friends. I am always pointing out that the legal speed limit in this country is 110 and that really is as fast as you can go. Does it really matter if you get to the limit a couple of ticks quicker than your chum who pays $500 a week petrol bill? So although the output is modest my today’s standards, it gets you off the mark quickly. On the highway you need to plan your overtaking because there just isn’t the oomph of a turbo or the torque of a V6, thus is the curse of a small 4pot.
There is something the figures don’t tell you and that is just how much fun CR-Z really is to drive. It all sounds a bit dreary doesn’t it, but if I didn’t know better I’d swear the numbers were written by a tester who had just returned from a liquid lunch and got his models confused. It “feels” much faster than the 9 secs to 100 but maybe that’s simply because your bumis so close to the road. The fab manual gearbox is unique in the eco-world of hybrid vehicles as all of the others have CVT transmissions of one kind or another, and most are as exciting as curried egg sandwiches. It’s taken a couple of blokes around at Honda to figure out the stop/start/hybrid/manual gearbox configuration. It’s clearly not an easy thing to do or everyone would be falling over themselves to produce one. Despite the bling on the dash and the ultra-modern silhouette, the CR-Z reminds me of sports cars of the past and it fills me with fond memories and I come over all halcyon-like.
I was positively bereft to find my Satnav/infotainment system missing. The Luxury has the fabulous system which we also find in the Odyssey, and I reckon is only second only to Holden IQ for ease of use. I know I usually don’t recommend the built-in systems because of their cost VS benefit, but in this case it’s the missing part of a well laid-out dashboard. Because you read our previous review we’ll keep to the differences. The Sports comes only in manual, whereas the Luxury also has the CVT auto as an option! If you don’t have a manual license you’ll miss out on the most fun you can have standing up because the 6sp shift-em-yourself gears are a pleasure to use. Most sports cars develop a personality disorder when you shift cogs. You either need the strength of Atlas to press the clutch in, or the dexterity of Houdini to manipulate the gear knob, or both. This clutch/gearbox combo is slick, light and precise. I do not want to have to concentrate on knobs when I’m driving, I just want to be able to enjoy myself.
As per the CVT model, the “sports” mode is the button to press. It does something mysterious under the bonnet resulting in more nimble steering and snappier engine response. It does the economy no good, which combined is meant to be around 5L/100k but in sports mode is more like 7l/100k but you can’t have it both ways. Presumably the 5l/100k is measured by a granny using eco-mode driving at 20 but who wants to drive that way. No one could really complain about snappy performance and sub 7 economies. Despite all that the drive was as sharp as the CVT and twice as much fun. Again we did the run down to Scarborough to give the sweet chassis good workout in the mountain bends. The manual felt like a completely different car. Dropping a gear and whizzing through the corners makes you aware of just how well it handles. Somewhere you sense that you are carting around a substantial battery pack but it doesn’t make you want to throw yourself into a gin and tonic by any means. There has been much done to give the CR-Z road feel which electronics has slowly robbed us of. CR-Z returns to the driver a sense of where the road is and the feeling that you know the road even if you have never been there before. Moreover, it makes and average driver feel like Nico Rosberg, and I for one am in favour of feeling like Nico Rosberg for obvious reasons.
Bumps are soaked up well even in hard cornering without that dreadful feeling of riding on a small pile of stones which shake your fillings loose. There is no hiding the firmness of the ride but it’s supple at the same time, no ruined kidneys here. For the most part the ride was smooth enough to cope easily with a marathon trip up the Pacific Highway despite the ubiquitous road works and endless potholes. The chassis seems to have a sweet spot like an expensive tennis racquet or a willow cricket bat. When you discover it, it gives the CR-Z a feeling of being an extension of the driver with a soul-mate-like ability of being able to read his mind. Getting around corners is done by nothing more than a flick of the wrist. It’s magic.
The Sport doesn’t have the glass, but since it’s something I’d never pay extra for and would rather not have, it isn’t something I would miss. Besides, the summer sun is unkind on all but the most robust of skins. The idea of sizzling like a footy-frank on a barbie plate leaves doesn’t make me dizzy with glee.
I’m only going to say a very few small words about the boot space, which does fit “two small bags”
So let’s wrap up with a few final thoughts:
Hybrids, all hybrids, are far too expensive in Australia. The same will be true of Holden’s plug-in Volt EV. They do what they say on the box and use far less fuel especially around town. If the government was serious about reducing CO2 they would take the 9 billion they give to the fossil fuel industry and give it to people to buy electric/hybrid cars powered by solar PVC’s on their homes. Perhaps a few of the chaps at Holden, Honda and Toyota should pop in to the lodge for a cuppa and a quiet word with Julia. They could point out the wisdom of supporting “green” being better than business-as-usual coal and oil. Other countries give buyers of fuel efficient car rebates, free rego and other goodies, but not here. Spend more money buying a hybrid or diesel and you’re on your own. There are few other sporty hybrids and electric vehicles out there but none is this side of 50k so in a way the CR-Z is in a class of its own which could work for or against it.
Would I own one? Yes.