Hybrid Honda fun to drive, but lots to consider

Driving the world’s first sporty hybrid raises lots of questions for Motoring Journalist DAVID HOOPER, editor of wheelworldreviews.co.uk, to ponder.

Attractive Coupe styling sets the sporty theme for the CR-Z.

I HAVE to say, this week’s test car, has caused quite a bit of head scratching! I’ve heard a lot about Honda’s CR-Z and I like the way it looks, with its dark tinted rear windows and sporty profile, but I have a problem — it’s a hybrid — and I don’t see the point of it — but before you right it off, read on and bear with me.
I’ve never been a great fan of hybrids since I drove one of the early Toyota Prius models. The technology is brilliantly clever, but the benefits are debatable and the car was frankly, ugly. The Prius can run on battery power only, but only at very low speed, before the petrol engine cuts in, and when it does, the car’s overall economy is no better than many modern diesels can achieve. The use of air conditioning, lights, heaters etc. also effect the battery’s ability to propel the car.
Honda hybrids work in a different way, using IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) the electric motor boosting the 1.5-litre petrol engine’s performance but cannot propel the car on its own. There’s no doubt that the combo provides more power than the engine on its own could muster, but again, it’s a compromise.
Then there was the debate about the production of the batteries for hybrids, shipping them half way around the world to the factories, their relatively short life expectancy, replacement costs and disposal issues surrounding the old ones, which make environmentally friendly hybrids look a lot less so — but that’s almost a separate debate.
On the plus side, hybrid drivers don’t pay the congestion charge, but that’s an irrelevance to the majority of drivers in the UK. More relevant, is their viability as a company car choice, where hybrids do provide tax advantages.
Whatever you may think of the hybrid debate, the fact remains that fossil fuels are running out and we need an alternative power source for our vehicles. In 2011, a whole raft of electric cars are being launched, including the Nissan Leaf, which will eventually be built in Sunderland, but then there are issues with car’s range and charging point infrastructure which will have to be overcome. The debate rages on . . .

The CR-Z’s space-age dashboard means you will never bored.

Here though, is the CR-Z — a great looking little car reminiscent of the CRX of a few years ago, but this, says Honda, is designed for modern, urban living, is exciting to drive and respects the environment.
Maybe, but it brings me back to my original point — which is what is the point? With a 0-62mph time of 9.9 seconds, it’s not that quick. It’s not that economical either, considering it’s a hybrid. On a motorway trip to Leeds, it averaged only 38.7mpg on cruise control, where there was quite a bit of road noise, too. During my week with the car, it’s returned a similar average figure over 250 miles of mixed driving. Its C02 emissions are 117g/km.
On a practical front, it does have four seats and a small boot, but the two rear seats would only suit small children and with the range starting from £17,360, it costs about the same as a Mini Cooper or Citroen’s excellent new DS3.
There are three models, S, Sport, or GT. Rear visibility is appalling in them all, with a severely restricted rear three-quarter view, and a split back window in two parts, the bottom half of which quickly became so dirty you might as well have stuck black tape over it, for all I could see through it.
The CR-Z though stands out from the crowd, especially in the White Pearl colour of my test car, and it is great fun to drive. The complex dashboard, with lots of buttons, will be familiar to drivers of the latest Honda Civics, but in the CR-Z there are more things going on which will ensure you are never bored.
There are three driving modes, economy, with tree symbols, normal and sport. Selecting any of the modes turns the dashboard illumination a different colour, which is great, green for economy, blue for normal and red for sport. Bar chart dials show whether the battery is being charged, or used to propel the car. A stop/start system switches off the engine at traffic lights, or in queues, while the gear-change indicator reminds you to time your changes for maximum economy.
It’s brilliant to drive though. Nippy around town, with a sporty, six-speed gearbox, it’s even more fun on the open road, where, with “Sport” mode selected, it is quick enough to entertain most drivers, and feels poised through corners, with accurate steering responses and assured braking, all backed by Honda’s unique V-Tec engine sound track.
So there you have it. Great to look at, fun to drive and sensibly priced, the CR-Z has a lot to offer. Its technology works, of that there is no doubt, but whether you need a hybrid, when diesel-powered hot hatches offer more space and better economy at comparable prices, is a question only you, the buyer, can answer.

A striking car from any angle, but the rear window quickly becomes dirty.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Honda CR-Z.

HONDA CR-Z RANGE: From 1.5i V-TEC S 3dr (£17,360) to 1.5i V-TEC GT 3dr (£20,425).

ENGINE: 1,497cc, 114PS four-cylinder engine, driving front wheels through 6-speed manual gearbox, assisted by 14PS electric motor. Total power 124PS.

CO2 EMISSIONS: 117g/km.

PERFORMANCE: Top speed 124mph. 0-62mph in 9.9 secs.

ECONOMY: City: 46.3mpg.
Country: 64.2mpg.
Combined: 56.5mpg.
Fuel tank: 40 litres.

Group 17?.

WARRANTY: 3 years/90,000 miles.

PRICE: £18,380.

WEBSITE: www.honda.co.uk

• All data correct at time of publication.