Honda CR-Z driven

As we crested yet another rise, I paused for thought. Mainly to peer across the ridge, but also to take a moment to exclaim, “I can’t believe I’m having this much fun, in a hybrid of all things.”

We were on the local launch of the CR-Z hybrid and Honda had optimistically taken us to some of the best roads in South Africa to sample what its latest brand champion could do.

And the hybrid certainly wasn’t being driven like your “average” hybrid… Fair enough, in South Africa, the only real hybrid experience we’ve had so far has been courtesy of the best-selling Toyota Prius. Now, the Prius is sensible; inoffensive styling, conservative cabin and a powertrain that encourages leisurely driving to keep those emissions down. The CR-Z from Honda is nothing like that.

In fact, Large Project Leader (who is practically Mister CR-Z) Norio Tomobe explained CR-Z as a “fusion of sport and ecology.”

But the CR-Z is more than the sum of its parts – (mostly) clever and compact packaging, hybrid power, low weight and decent dynamics, and comfort.


Honda SA had shipped in two project leaders from Japan for the occasion, who regaled the local journalists with their stories of how they set out to create a sports car that had to provide good performance, while fusing an environmentally friendly product with decent dynamics.

Its design is hard-hitting, its interior a burst of colours and lights, and it comes with a six-speed manual transmission. With the clear intent of being the world’s first hybrid sports coupe, a plain old auto’ was not going to do. This is the first time ever that a six-speed manual transmission has been used in a hybrid vehicle and, dare we say, to very good effect.

CR-Z is powered by a mix of 16-valve 1.5-litre petrol with the IMA hybrid system (the Intelligent Power Unit or IPU is housed in the rear luggage compartment).

A three-mode driving system allows for Econ, the default and most balanced Normal and Sport mode which promises better handling, sharper throttle inputs and tight steering inputs. And the clever light display in the instrument panel lets you know which mode you’re in, just in case you may have forgotten. Red for Sport “to excite you” according to Tomobe-san; blue to green for Normal and Sport.


Astoundingly, Honda chose to forego its existing vehicles employing low-emission technology – it has been building hybrid, natural gas, flex fuel cars for years, and more recently added the hydrogen FCX Clarity. The company instead set about creating an all-new car specifically up to the task of also expanding Honda’s fan base with its compact sportiness.

How they have succeeded. The CR-Z is a marvel. Typical of Honda, its styling is edgy with dynamic lines extending from the prominent nose along the flanks. The driver-focused cabin is a riot of lights but, beyond the initial confusion, all switches and controls are bold, clearly marked and within reach. CR-Z also uses a “Super 3D” speedometer that, along with the clever light display, gives the interior a futuristic slant.

A lower vehicle height contributes to a lower centre of gravity and, perhaps more importantly, the rigid and lightweight suspension means this car handles and grips like a dream on 16-inchers.

We witnessed the handling firsthand while blitzing across the Lowveld at very unhybrid-like speeds, the low-slung driving position and the compact steering wheel with its tight turning angle really allowing one to feel in control. The generosity of the 1.5-litre petrol engine mated to the IMA hybrid system means you rarely run out of urge, even on the more demanding climbs or when slinging the car through a set of tight bends.
Practical, too

We did, however, try out some of the CR-Z’s practical applications too. Slip the six-speeder into neutral below 30 km/h and coast to a stop for the Auto Stop function to kick it. While Auto Stop flashes in the instrument display, the engine is cut until you engage a gear, it fires up again, and you take off. The transition is barely noticeable, particularly if you have the music going or you’re blabbering away with your passenger.

Sticking to Econ is probably the most effective way to achieve the 5.0 l/100 km fuel consumption claimed by Honda (although this was elevated dramatically along our launch route) while 117 g/km of CO2 is emitted, according to the carmaker.

Lots of fun was had along the 250 km route although we’d imagine the true reflection of the CR-Z’s hybrid properties will only be seen once the novelty has worn off and its eco-friendly Econ mode is used more regularly.

Of course, the CR-Z comes with a host of convenience items expected from cars of a sportier persuasion. The manual transmission comes standard with a shift indicator (for normal and econ modes) and hill-start assist. Leather heated sport seats for the front occupants, an audio system with MP3 and USB capability with a full complement of speakers including a subwoofer, a shark-fin antenna (another Honda first) climate control, cruise control, and retractable side mirrors with heating are standard, too.

Safety kit includes ABS, EBD, VAS stability control, front, side and curtain airbags, and yes, CR-Z could double as a family vehicle – Isofix seat anchors are provided for the rear bench.

Sexy champion

For what it is, though, it seems hybrid now has a new, sexier champion in the form of the Honda CR-Z. It’s a lot more compact – the rear bench is a glorified parcel shelf – but it certainly shows that you don’t have to give up on fun motoring just because you’ve grown a conscience.

The CR-Z is fabulous, and those willing to shell out close to R300 000 for the pleasure of regularly driving one will likely be driving around with smug grins for a while still. The colours are cool, too.

However, those who want a Honda hybrid without the overt sportiness will not have much longer to wait. Insight and Jazz hybrids are both promised for South Africa and follow later this year and early 2011. 

Would a sporty hybrid be enough to make you consider a switch of allegiance from full-on petrol and diesel power to petrol-electric hybrids?

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