Independent, Expert EV Reviews & Advice Since 2006

Honda CR-Z Hybrid Review

At last, we have an efficient, sporty hybrid in the form of the Honda CR-Z – but is it as much fun as a sports car should be?

Model/Engine size: GT 1.5-litre
Fuel: Petrol Electric Hybrid
Fuel economy combined: 56.5 mpg

Honda CR-Z hybrid sports car

Honda CR-Z Hybrid

Green Car Guide

The CR-Z has been eagerly awaited since the concept was first previewed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007. Overall, the final production version looks similar, although it’s not quite as bold. It still retains its sporty, modern, wedge-shaped styling, influenced by the late-80s Honda CR-X, which gives it a unique personality.

The key thing about the CR-Z is that it’s a hybrid sports car, with a manual gearbox. It’s currently the only hybrid on sale in the UK with a manual ‘box, and Honda is able to mate this transmission with its IMA hybrid system more easily than Toyota can do with its system. Compared to Toyota’s more complex arrangement, Honda’s system is a ‘mild’ hybrid, with a very thin electric motor that sits between the engine and gearbox, and a battery under the rear seats. All of this allows the CR-Z to run on the petrol engine most of the time, with extra support from the battery and electric motor when required. It can’t run any distance on electric power alone – however it does have a stop-start system and it’s more energy efficient than a conventional car.

However, the CR-Z is not an ‘eco’-car, and it’s not a sports car; instead, Honda is aiming to strike a balance between these two things. So the key question is, is it a balance that works, or is it an unhappy compromise?

The Honda CR-Z on its Green Car Guide road test

Firstly, let’s look at efficiency. On the official combined cycle, the CR-Z manages 56.5 mpg, with emissions of 117 g/km CO2. These are good figures for any car, but they are excellent for a ‘sporty’ model. The result is low road tax and company car tax, and low running costs.

How about performance? The CR-Z produces 124 bhp, it has a top speed of 124 mph, and its 0-62 mph time is 9.9 seconds. Now it seems that the balance is skewed towards efficiency, as these figures are perhaps not what you’d expect from a sports car.

So what does this green/sporty mix feel like from the driver’s seat? The key outcome that most people will be looking for from a sporty car is fun. Fun is also one of the things that people generally don’t experience with most hybrid cars. So we’re pleased to be able to report that the CR-Z does have the fun factor. This is due more to the concept of the car than its performance attributes. The CR-Z is low, wide, and short. The chassis has been tuned to give it a sporty feel, with well-weighted steering, and suspension that has very little roll. The result is that it handles very well, and it also stops successfully thanks to brakes that are more confidence-inspiring than those of most hybrids.

Critically in our view, it has a manual gearbox, so there is much more of a direct, instant response than is experienced with the normal CVT gearbox found in hybrids.

The overall driving experience is positive; the seating position, steering wheel and controls all feel good, and the six-speed gearbox has short shifts which certainly enhances the sports car feeling.

You’re generally not aware from the driving experience that you’re in a hybrid, but there are some reminders. Firstly, there are 3 drive modes activated by buttons on the dash; normal, econ, or sport. You would imagine that most buyers of this car would make good use of the sport setting, which makes the steering more solid and ‘de-restricts’ the IMA system, providing positive motor assist to increase the torque. Econ, as you’d expect, encourages the engine to run as economically as possible.

The dashboard also suggests that you’re in something a little unusual. Overall it gives the feeling of being high-tech and modern, with lots of blue instruments, including the read-outs that tell you how economically you’re driving. As with the Insight, we find all this a little fussy, and we think something more traditional, quality, clear, and with a little less blue would work better in a sports car. It’s actually not all blue – the blue glow around the speedo turns to green when driving economically, or to red when in sports mode.

The CR-Z has a number of close family ties with the Insight. This includes the shared platform, but the CR-Z has a 115mm shorter wheelbase. It also shares many components. The IMA hybrid system, including the battery, is the same in both cars, although the battery sits lower and more forward in the CR-Z for improved weight distribution.

A key difference is that the CR-Z gets a larger 1.5-litre petrol engine. This is an engine that’s not available in Europe; it’s sourced from the US-market Jazz. It’s a revvy unit and it provides a welcome extra push over the Insight’s 1.3-litre unit.

As well as helping to lower emissions – both CO2 emissions and the emissions that are bad for people’s lungs – the IMA system also provides extra torque, especially at low revs, like a supercharger. By mating the 1.5-litre engine with the hybrid system, the result is the low end torque of a 1.8-litre petrol Civic; the petrol engine takes over to provide the torque at higher revs. At high revs, the CR-Z has a sporty sound thanks to the tweaked exhaust note.

The ride of the CR-Z is comfortable on smooth roads, and the test ground of the Yorkshire countryside showed the CR-Z to be agile and composed. But it’s best to try and avoid potholes or speed bumps, when the firm ride shows itself.

Avoiding such everyday obstacles is not an easy task, especially in cities such as London. And it’s in cities where you would imagine that the CR-Z would find a natural market with a new generation of young professionals who have a more responsible attitude towards sustainability, but who would find the car’s cool and high-tech image appealing. Of course, being a hybrid, the CR-Z is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge – at the moment.

The younger generation is also unlikely to be put off by the fact that it’s a definite 2+2 – the rear seats are only suitable for very small children. Child seats can be fitted, but it seems that the rear can only be accessed through the passenger side, as there is no lever evident on the driver’ seat to tilt it forward. Rear access is very tight, and the boot is as small as you might expect, so it’s likely that the rear seats will be folded flat by owners most of the time to give a more useful space.

Another issue about the rear is the split window which doesn’t result in the best rearward visibility. And one more gripe is the strip of trim on the right of the centre console which has the tendency to dig into your left leg when driving.

There are three trim levels, S – £16,999, Sport – £17,999, and GT – £19,999. All grades have 6 airbags, active headrests, Vehicle Stability Assist and Hill Start Assist.

S grades get heated door mirrors, rear dimming mirror, electric windows, daytime running lights, Shift Indicator Light (SIL) and auxilliary socket.

Sport grades have additional ambient lighting, alloy pedals, cruise control, leather gear shift, multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors, privacy glass, 240W premium audio system, boot-mounted subwoofer and USB port for MP3 players.

Top grade GT models are equipped with full leather upholstery and heated front seats, panoramic glass roof, Xenon headlights, Hands-Free Telephone (HFT), automatic headlights and wipers, over and above the Sport grade. GT models are available with DVD Satellite Navigation, but at an extra cost of £1750. The metallic paint on our test car is also extra, at £430. So by this stage, at £22,179, the CR-Z is getting quite expensive for this size of car, and it’s this that means that the CR-Z gets a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10, which is a good score, but it could be improved by a bit more performance for the price.

The CR-Z is on sale in June.

Summary and Review

The CR-Z is a great concept; it’s fun to drive, and it’s efficient. However because you think you’re in a sports car, you sometimes expect there to be just a bit more performance. So ultimately this car is a balancing act – or a compromise. You’re left wondering what would have happened if Honda had weighted the scales more towards the performance end, maybe added a turbo, and what will the car be like if/when higher performance versions appear.

In the meantime, we’re delighted that people who want a car that is fun, cool, compact, efficient and cheap to run have a new option to consider. Not only that, but the CR-Z really is a unique choice at the moment, and Honda should be applauded for that.

Honda CR-Z – Car data and fuel economy figures

Fuel economy extra urban: 64.2 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 46.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 117 g/km
Green rating: VED band C – £20
Weight: 1198 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 10%
Price: £19,999 (From £16,999 – £19,999)
Insurance group: 17
Power: 124 bhp
Max speed: 124 mph
0-62 mph: 9.9 seconds