Science fiction has a lot to answer for. As a child, you’re conditioned into thinking the future will be full of flying cars, people in silver jumpsuits and skyscrapers stretching through the clouds.
Then you grow up and realise your home town is the same it ever was, only with more traffic and a few more bankrupt highstreet stores.
Cars like the Honda CR-Z give your inner child hope, however. Buck Rogers styling and an eerie blue glow from the instruments seem like a step forward from the average dull hatchback.
But does Honda’s little hybrid coupe really move things on? We lived with one for a week to find out.
The wedge-shaped CR-Z is likely to divide opinion, but to our eyes it’s a fantastic looking vehicle, and remains one of the most distinctive on the road, even a few years after its launch.
Some of that is down to its rarity, no doubt – we didn’t see a single other example on the roads in our time with the car – but the rising and tapering waistline, squat stance and strongly defined details all contribute.
Our favourite view is from the rear three-quarters, where all angles seem to be pointing towards the front of the car. You’ll note the sharply cut-off rear end to improve aerodynamics, and the divided rear screen, with vertical and almost-horizontal elements.
Oddly, for a sporty vehicle, the car’s tailpipe is out of sight. The front is more conventional, defined by a deep front bumper and obligatory LED running lights. The Premium White Pearl paint seems to suit the car’s futuristic aspirations.
The CR-Z’s interior is equally as unconventional as its outer layers. The dashboard is broken up into multiple sections, with ventilation controls to your left, driving modes to your right, a large integrated stereo panel stretching a third the way across the dashboard, and those glowing blue instruments shining back at you from in front.
Ergonomically, it seems to work. The important controls are always in reach, and those that require more of a stretch on the stereo are usefully large, and can be adjusted at a glance. It looks good, and feels well-built.
For us though, the CR-Z falls down on comfort and practicality. The token rear seats are essentially useless – any person larger than a small child will be incredibly cramped. Better folding them down and enjoying a larger boot, normally compromised by the high boot floor.
The CR-Z is also one of few cars we’ve ever tested that we were completely unable to find the ideal driving position in. Superficially, it’s great – low and sporty. But lack of lumbar and thigh support gave us back and leg ache after no more than 45 minutes at the wheel, on every journey.
Visibility is also poor. It’s fine out the front and sides, but over-the-shoulder visibility is affected by that rising beltline and tiny rear windows, while directly back your view is split by the twin rear windows.
The CR-Z redeems itself to some extent in the driving experience, offering most of what you’d hope for in a small coupe.
The steering isn’t over-endowed with feel, but it’s quick and accurate, with decent weighting. There’s good grip available, and on faster corners the chassis feels nicely adjustable.
We’ll cover the engine in the next section, but suffice to say it has enough power (and torque, thanks to the electric motor) to have fun with. In Sport mode particularly, the car takes on a new persona, louder, more responsive and more eager. The ride is unaffected, which suits us just fine – while the CR-Z will thump through pot holes, we generally found the ride quality well-judged for a small, sporty car.
Refinement is so-so. The engine is rarely intrusive, but road and wind noise do pipe up a little, particularly at motorway speeds. Combined with the iffy driving position, it made long journeys more tiring than we’d have liked.
Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid setup isn’t difficult to understand. You get a 1.5-litre petrol engine, and a six-speed manual gearbox. Between the two is a compact electric motor. It can’t drive the car itself, but it can assist when required.
The benefits here are an engine that offers more power than its capacity would imply, but less consumption too as it’s never having to work as hard. Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes vary the setup’s response and assistance – Sport offering more power, more of the time.
There’s only a combined 133 bhp to play with but most of the time it feels enough. It’d be quicker with shorter, less economy-biased gearing, but the gearbox itself is a joy – one of the best we’ve used in any car, snapping cleanly from ratio to ratio. Row through the gears quickly, and there’s enough poke for respectable 9-second 0-60 mph runs.
At the same time, the whole drivetrain is happy to pootle around – electric assistance helps at very low revs, so the CR-Z is happy to bumble around town at 30 mph in 5th gear, using very little fuel. Stop-start (more eager in Eco mode) saves even more fuel, and restarts are instant, using the electric motor rather than a traditional starter motor.
Value for money
To run, the CR-Z represents excellent value. If you’re looking at a hybrid like the CR-Z, you might have also considered diesel. The trouble is, diesel is a more expensive fuel to start with, so a car needs to be even more efficient for it to represent a cost saving.
Officially, the CR-Z Sport gets a useful 56.5 mpg. Our drive returned around 48 overall – slightly less around town, slightly more at 70 mph on the motorway. The fairly small tank nets a range of around 350 miles at that economy, but it means only £30-odd fill-ups when you do, which is a nice surprise.
The Sport sits in tax band C (higher spec GTs are in D), for a bill of £30 a year (free in year one).
Equipment levels are good too – USB integration, automatic lights and wipers, leather wheel and gearknob, LED running lights and rear lights, cruise control and climate control are all standard.
The car’s list price seems a little high, however. Our car was £21,000 on the dot, including £450 of pearlescent paint. Not only is that close to some rivals like the MINI Coupe
and VW Scirocco
, but it’s a few thousand higher than when the CR-Z was first launched, too.
We like the CR-Z. We like it enough to recommend it, in fact, though there are a few caveats. Firstly, try and secure a decent drive in one before you buy it. Seat comfort is a very subjective thing, but it really spoiled the CR-Z experience for us. You’ll also need to know if the poor visibility will be a problem.
If you can live with the above, and stomach the slightly high price, then we say go for it – the CR-Z is fun to drive, looks fantastic, and gets good real-world economy when it isn’t being thrashed. And with that sci-fi interior, it’ll appeal to your inner child, too…
What the press think
The CR-Z’s styling, interior design and clever tech all get a thumbs-up from the critics, and its miniscule back seats and high price a thumbs-down. The car’s economy is questioned, but in the real world it’ll cost similar to the equivalent diesel to run.