I am well know for my unrelenting bashing of environmentalists through tortured similes and hyperbole so atomic it makes weapons of mass destruction look like children’s toys. The long and short of it is that I don’t like being made to do something. By all means ask me politely, but don’t go telling me I have to do something especially if the end result is me coming out worse. The motor industry has been a huge target for the green party of late, but I will admit that cars should be made a bit more environmentally friendly where possible, however, I will not be made to accept that a car must be worse than its a gas guzzling counterpart. The enjoyment of driving should not be sacrificed as if a product is no longer desirable by the people who want to take pleasure in its use, then it becomes an unnecessary waste of time. There are many “green machines” out there that are just soul destroying to drive because sacrifices have been made to boost MPG. Honda decided to let a team of designers and engineers find a solution to hybrid cars being the focal point of petrol heads gripes.
The Honda CR-Z is billed as being the worlds first sporty hybrid. Incorporating battery power and a 1.5 litre petrol motor, this machine was built to be about more than just saving Fred the polar bear. In terms of visual design it is a striking thing to behold. The CR-Z’s highly raked stance and sharp angles all taper to the cars “bread van” styled rear end that was inspired by the Honda CR-X of the 1980’s. In pearl white with an optional panoramic roof our test car looks more like an automotive sculpture from outer space than an object used to travel from one destination to another. One friend of mine remarked “it looks like something from the future” with this sci-fi design being continued internally. The instrument cluster glows blue like something from Tron upon ignition and changes colour dependent upon what one of three modes the car is in. Body hugging leather seats that hold you in place firmly when the road gets twist and warm you on these cold winter days are without complaint. As something to look at the CR-Z turns a lot of heads and so it should! It looks bloody fantastic!
So aside from design what does the Honda CR-Z offer? With the aid of the battery and being driven mainly in normal and sport mode, as opposed to economy, predominately in urban environments it will achieve a reasonable 40MPG. Practicality? Well this is where the CR-Z falls down. Sold as a four seater car in the UK, the rear seats are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. You would honestly struggle to fit anything larger than a garden gnome in them as rear legroom is almost nonexistent and thanks to the sloping roofline so is headroom. In America this car is sold strictly at a two seater and in this form is makes much more sense. Folding the useless rear seats flat the boot becomes vast turning a cramped 2+2 into a spacious two-seater hatchback. The reason for the rear bench in this country is Honda’s attempt to tackle the UK’s ridiculous insurance system. By having more seats the CR-Z is cheaper to insure. Another issue the CR-Z has is with the definition of the world ergonomics. It is full of little things that should have been swatted whilst the car was in development. For example; the engine starter button is visually obscured by the steering wheel, the preset buttons for the radio are a real stretch for the driver to reach, rear visibility is poor, and with the cars huge doors the seatbelt requires you to twist in your seat in order to reach it. You see, little things but in an ownership experience it is these tiny details that make the CR-Z just a little bit harder to live with. In many ways this makes it like an Ikea bookshelf… It looks great in the shop and you know it will fit perfectly into your room, but you still have to build it first and that can be a pain. These things don’t ruin the CR-Z, but they are an inconvenience. But you know what? I don’t care. Why? Because the Honda CR-Z can do something that no other hybrid can do, and that is make you smile.
Hitting the start button and letting the revvy i-VTEC stretch its legs is extremely rewarding. It isn’t the fastest of cars but it is brisk. Punching sport mode and letting the dashboard glow red launches you into a world of fun. With everything on its sharpest setting and the battery being used to boost performance, and not just be a dead weight in the boot, the CR-Z is a riot as it enthusiastically bounds from corner to corner. The steering is responsive and well weighted, the firm suspension proves worthy of putting up with on rutted roads. The gearbox is a masterpiece with each change being direct and involving. It is such a joyous car to drive at a pace and its composure never seems to be lost even on challenging roads. Around town in normal mode it is quiet and refined. The cabin is a comfortable place to be and the car overall conceals its excitement in favor of being a well mannered companion. Personally the economy mode or “ECON” I found to be best reserved for motorways. Around town the engine in this setting is reluctant to give you all of its power and tends to feel unresponsive, however, feel free to get up to pace and use it as you waft along with the cruise control set saving the polar ice cubes.
Despite being a pain to park and potentially not being as frugal as it could be, the CR-Z redeems itself by being a rewarding drivers car. Unique design and the ability to excite you are all new tricks for a hybrid, and for that this little car has succeeded in opening doors for such vehicles in the future.