Honda CR-Z hybrid a great sport

Honda is showing hybrid power in a new light with its sporty CR-Z – a modern take on an iconic coupe, says Andy Russell.

The words hybrid and sporty have not gone together… until now for the growing breed of hybrid cars – combining lean-burn petrol engine and electric motor – have been about minimising emissions and maximising fuel economy.

Now Honda, a leading light for hybrids with Toyota and Lexus, has raised its game and is bringing this green technology, already used in the Insight and Civic saloon, to a new generation of customers by wooing younger buyers with its sporty CR-Z coupe.

The dynamic design and futuristic styling make the sleek, wedgy CR-Z 2+2 look like nothing else on the road, but those eye-catching lines with the split-level rear glass hatch also hark back to Honda's iconic CR-X coupe of the Eighties.

This modern-day interpretation of Honda's lean, mean compact coupe may be a hybrid but it has a sporty edge with the CR-Z using a bigger 114PS 1.5-litre engine, compared to the Insight and Civic hybrid, mated to a 14PS electric motor and, in a first for a hybrid, gets a short-shift six-speed manual gearbox rather than an automatic continuously-variable transmission to make it more involving to drive.

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A combined peak output of 124PS may not sound much but the CR-Z is no slouch – and how many petrol sports cars can achieve 56mpg overall with CO2 emissions of 117g/km. A fuel-saving automatic stop-start system is standard.

The petrol engine develops peak pulling power at 4,800rpm but the electric motor, which always works in conjunction with the engine hence it's called Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), is doing the business from 1,000rpm making the CR-Z nippy from low revs, ideal for smart getaways in traffic.

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Three driving modes – econ, normal and sport – allow the hybrid system's behaviour, throttle mapping and power steering assistance to be altered to suit driving style with the former prioritising fuel economy in heavy traffic, normal providing a balance between performance, economy and emissions for everyday driving while sport sharpens throttle response, gives more electrical assistance to the engine and weights up the steering to bring out the CR-Z's fun side.

It sounds complicated, and technically it is, but the CR-Z is easy to drive, picking up from low revs without having to be stirred into life with the gearbox. Put it in sport mode and let the engine rev above 3,000rpm and the CR-Z delivers its sporty potential accompanied by specially-tuned raspy exhaust note while the ambient lighting around the speedo changes from the green glow for economical driving through blue to red. Even with some hard driving I regularly achieved 50mpg and saw a best of 56mpg.

The CR-Z's platform shares some components with the Jazz and Insight but has been specifically tailored for a sporty bias with a shorter wheelbase, wider track and lower ground clearance to increase agility and stability, while springs and dampers have been changed to make it more rewarding to drive.

The CR-Z corners nimbly with barely-noticeable body roll and plenty of grip although the downside is the firm ride can be unsettled on poor roads – shapely, supportive sports seats go some way to cushioning front passengers.

On the subject of passengers, the CR-Z is effectively a two-seater – the two small seats in the back have limited leg and headroom so are really suitable only for small children… as we found out after shoe-horning an adult in the back! With the one-piece rear seat back in place there's 215 litres of luggage space to the window line so pack light in holdalls or small cases – just as well given the high sill – although you can stack luggage on the back seat. Fold the seat back down and there's 389 litres of capacity. A 19-litre underfloor compartment allows small items to be hidden away.

The fascia is futuristic but easy to find your way around with a big central digital speedometer ringed by the rev counter and clusters of simple controls grouped together, within easy reach of the steering wheel, for the different driving modes, heating and ventilation with the radio/CD in the centre of the dash. Rear visibility is severely restricted by small rear side windows, chunky C-pillars and that split rear screen and, with no rear wiper, it's even worse when it rains.

Available in S, Sport and GT (with or without satellite-navigation), all models get six airbags, stability control and hill-start assist, climate control, USB port and an engine start button. S also includes heated door mirrors, rear dimming mirrors, electric windows and daytime running lights. Sport adds cruise control, alloy pedals, multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors and upgraded audio system, while GT gets leather seats (heated up front), panoramic glass roof, brighter xenon headlights, hands-free telephone, automatic lights and wipers and, where specified, sat-nav.

As small hybrids go the CR-Z is an eye-opener with its sporty looks and performance. It's not the greenest hybrid but it shows they have the potential to be fun.

Honda CR-Z Sport 1.5i-VTEC

Price: �17,999 (range �16,999 to �21,749)

Engine: 1,497cc, 114PS, four-cylinder petrol engine combined with a 14PS electric motor

Performance: 0-62mph 10 seconds; top speed 124mph

MPG: Urban 46.3; extra urban 64.2; combined 56.5

Emissions: 117g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax: 10pc

Insurance group: 17E (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years/90,000 miles (five years/100,000 miles additional European powertrain)

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,080mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,013mm; height 1,395mm

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