Honda CR-Z (2011) long-term test review

Published: 31 January 2012

Goodbye to our Honda CR-Z – 31 January 2012

The departure of a long-term car is an odd experience. I rarely grow attached to the car as a true owner would, but tend to view them with a rather detached eye as something to be constantly evaluated and judged. The Honda was different. I really gelled with this car during the 12,000-odd miles we covered together. Its ethos, its intelligence, its looks and its dynamics – I loved pretty much everything about this darty little coupe. I said goodbye to it with real regret.

I loved the Honda’s looks. I never tired of its dramatic styling, was always aware that it turned heads and caught myself even deep into its time with me, still turning to gaze at it after locking and walking away from it. It looked just like an incredibly advanced and high-tech glimpse of the automotive future ought to – clean, sharp and muscular. And I was gladdened to see that Honda’s stunning Ev-Ster concept car from this year’s Tokyo motor show driving this bold designing direction forward.

The cabin design was equally effective. For all its graphs, displays  and read-outs, the CR-Z’s intelligently-configured dashboard was a pleasure to look at and operate. All the data available was salient and worth monitoring. The layout was eye-catching as well as ergonomically sound. Build quality, despite the ho-hum plastics was superb. The only black spot was the sat-nav system whose graphics and menu system seemed to have would have come straight out of 1985. Awesome stereo, though. The seats were wonderfully low-slung  but lacked under-thigh support. And the rear seats were utterly pathetic.

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The CR-Z’s hybrid system was never anything less than superb. The electric and petrol units worked together seamlessly and intuitively to deliver decent dollops of low-rev torque and high-rev punch. You just had to make sure that you didn’t caught languishing in the mid-range because otherwise anything – even diesely people carriers – would simply embarrass you. The car’s modest on-paper stats – 10.1 to 62mph and a 124mph top whack – belied its sheer brio and tail-up enthusiasm. It wasn’t fast but, my, it always felt it. Which, given today’s camera-littered roads, is no bad thing.

The CR-Z was far from perfect, but oddly  - or encouragingly enough – it wasn’t the hybrid technology that let the side down, but rather straightforward dynamics. The Honda’s ride quality was terrible. Brittle, stiff and ludicrously lacking in compliancy, it made tackling our roads something to be done through gritted teeth. I don't quite understand why Honda has got this so wrong over the last decade – every Honda I’ve driven in recent memory has been marked out by a stiff-jointed and unforgiving ride. The other major shortcoming was the mute and artificial-feeling steering. Sure, it was quick and unerringly accurate, and you could peel the coupe into corners with real precision, but my nephew’s plastic Playstation steering wheel has better feel and feedback. Maybe Honda’s engineers need to have a long drive in the 1995 Integra Type R – one of the finest front wheel-drive cars (along with the Peugeot 306 Rallye and Ford Racing Puma) I have ever driven – to remind themselves that they’ve done it once, so they can and should do it again.

It would, then, be relatively easy to create a far superior next-gen CR-Z (would it be the CR-A…?). Go to Sachs and see the magic it’s advanced dampers can create when it comes to combining excellent body control and ride comfort. Go to Recaro and get some equally low-slung bucket seats that also have plenty of base support. Ditch the ridiculous rear seats and offer a big and accessible lockable luggage box. Speak to TomTom about a first-rate satellite navigation system. And speak to Porsche about how electrically-assisted steering can still be feelsome and connected. And find more torque – a lot more torque – throughout the rev-range. Push battery and electric motor technologies to the next level to get more green grunt. Perhaps if the CR-Z’s engine was breathed on by a tiny low-pressure turbo, or even drank diesel…

Looked at with a cold and calculating eye, a £25,550 (as tested) two-seater coupe with very modest performance and economy (my overall economy was 47.2mpg compared to the 56.5mpg official figure) is hardly something to get all steamy about. But drive the CR-Z along your favourite road, let it get under your skin and fill you with its feel-good factor, and the picture changes dramatically. This Honda was special and made me feel so every time I dropped down behind its steering wheel. It will be greatly missed.

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A closer look at the CR-Z, from the outside – 9 November 2011

I know this may sound a little odd, but I rarely get to see the CR-Z in action. Because I’m always driving it, I’m deeply familiar with the Honda’s interior, but less so its exterior. So when I spotted another CR-Z on the road – an unfortunately uncommon occurrence – I chased and followed it for a good 15 minutes. It was the same spec as mine, in immaculate pearly white and riding on bigger alloys. And hell, it looked good.

Spearing south on the A3, it looked fabulously crisp and modern, its bold combination of flowing curves and singular creases really working well together. I also loved how compact and low it looked. At just 1395mm high, the dinky Honda is actually 42mm taller than the TT, but it looks so much more low-slung, a visual trick pulled off by the very steep rake of its screen, the plunging slash on its flanks, the clever use of blacked-out pillars that draw the roof closer to the body, narrow glasshouse and high sides.

I so thoroughly enjoyed looking at ‘my’ car that I missed my turn-off home. My enthusiasm wasn’t shared, though. I was playing taxi for my youngest daughter on the way back from a fancy-dress party. She fell asleep the moment we left the party and despite my excitement at the Honda sighting, she slept through the whole thing.

By Ben Whitworth


Is the Honda CR-Z a future classic? – 23 September 2011

The usual schlepp into my Godalming-based office over the last working week turned into something to be relished. The Goodwood Revival turned the West Sussex and Surrey roads I ply into a mobile motoring museum. It was such a joy to see so many historically important, beautiful and iconic cars that I found myself driving very slowly to and from work, doubling my commute time.

As I passed a seemingly endless procession of pristine Jaguars, Bentleys, Porsches, Fords and Aston Martins I wondered whether our Honda CR-Z hybrid would elicit the same response 50 years hence. In 2060, would its darty lines, innovative drivetrain and overall foresight stand the test of time and be seen by other drivers as something important, something to be appreciated and something to be noticed.

My gut instinct says a future as a niche icon awaits, and the sight of one in a few decades from now will turn only the heads of those in the know. People like you and me, hopefully.

By Ben Whitworth


Altered driving style in the Honda CR-Z – 8 September 2011

There’s a cracking corner on my daily trek to work.  At the end of a long straight, it’s a tight uphill lefthander with plenty of camber. Approach it timidly and your speed will die half way through the bend as gravity kicks in. Go in too fast and understeer will scrub off most of your speed – and your front tyres.

The Honda seems made for this corner. You can throw it in at seemingly ridiculous pace, wait for it to hunker down, flick the steering wheel left and as the front tyres bite hard you can get on the power early with the electric engine’s extra torque helping you slingshot out of the bend and onto the short straight that follows.
Sure, the CR-Z is never going to set new point-to-point records – it’s just way too slow to ever pretend its anything more than mild on the performance thermometer – but what it lacks in sheer power it amply compensates with taut body control, a very pointy and accurate front end, confidence inspiring brakes, sizzling throttle response in Sport mode and a superbly slick gearshift.

The Honda’s lack of outright grunt has had a major impact on my driving style. Slowing down is the last thing you want to be doing because regaining all that lost speed takes an age, and unless you are on the ball, even a octagenerian-piloted diesel supermini will leave you for dead as you wring the CR-Z’s hybrid drivetrain of every last drop of go-faster juice.

So I find myself looking much further ahead than ever before, trying to avoid slower traffic where possible and keeping up momentum by either taking advantage of the low-rev hybrid-enhanced torque at low speeds around town, or spinning out the engine and keeping it fizzing near its redline as the roads open up.

And at the slightest whiff of a downhill gradient, I’m into the lowest possible gear and on the brakes – just a few millimetres of travel – to charge up the batteries so you have a bit of extra grunt come the next incline, the overtaking manoeuvre or the next sweeping corner.

By Ben Whitworth


Eco driving in our Honda CRZ hybrid coupe – 25 August 2011

You’d never guess the CR-Z was running a hybrid powertrain. The way the petrol and electric power seamlessly combine to deliver the best possible combination of performance or parsimony – according to the chosen drive mode – is quite brilliant.

I’ve driven quite a few hybrids over the years – the first being the initial generation of the now ubiquitous Toyota Prius in 1997 – and there’s been a huge leap in powertrain software sophistication since then. If you peeled off the CR-Z’s hybrid badging and handed the keys over to an unsuspecting driver, there would be little in the way the Honda, stops, starts and steers to indicate the advanced gubbins that sit beneath the bonnet and luggage compartment.

There’s no discernable jerking as the electric engine drops in and out of play and no heavy-handed braking under regeneration. Just smoothly consistent responses from the (poorly spaced, it must be said) brake and throttle pedals.

The stop-start system is also incredibly fast and intuitive. I’ve only been caught out once or twice in heavy traffic, when I didn’t dip the clutch in deep enough when selecting first gear to activate engine-start-up. The rest of time it works so silently and unobtrusively, I barely notice it.

What I did notice on a wet roundabout a few days ago was an interesting drivetrain quirk. Traffic was heavy, I was running a little late and I needed to make a quick plunge into the maelstrom. I selected Sport and as soon as I spotted a decent gap, I booted the little Honda off the line.

With both electric and petrol engines working together to deliver 128lb ft of torque between 1000–1500rpm, there was a comedy moment of wheel-wiggling torque steer as the Honda rocketed away. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as a Mk4 Golf TDI, and something the driver of a Saab 9-3 Viggen wouldn’t even notice, but the unexpected old-school wheel-weave made me smile.

Not only does the CR-Z have the look and feel of its 1980s predecessor, it also drives like it occasionally, too.

By Ben Whitworth


A split personality – 27 July 2011

The Honda and I are getting on very well indeed. It has slipped quickly and keenly into my daily routine delivering an effective combination of forecourt-shunning economy and grin-inducing performance. One of my firsts tasks was to run full tanks in both Econ  and Sport and compare the figures. The results were different enough to justify their tags.

Economy returned 54.22mpg – good enough for a theoretical (if slow) 475-mile range from the 40-litre tank. Flicking over to Sport and keeping the rev counter needle nudging the redline as often as possible returned 40.1mpg. Sure that’s a hefty 35% drop in economy, but given the engaging level of driver entertainment dished up in Sport, 40mpg stills seems relatively good value.

Switching between the two settinsg really works on my daily grind into the office. The Economy setting is ideal for creeping silently through the villages and towns that punctuate my route, while Sport is a pretty effective tool for shortening the long and snaking open roads that link them.

Increasingly, I find myself ignoring Normal mode. It’s a neither-here-nor-there setting that falls quite short of delivering the parsimony of the Economy mode and the zip of the Sport setting.

Flicking between the two modes is also very much like switching between two different characters – in Economy, the Honda feels soft and docile. Throttle response is unbelievable inert, the drivetrain is more intent on trying to recharge its batteries than provide propulsion, and every gauge, dial and readout does its best to cajole you into shifting up at 2000rpm. You are rewarded for your efforts with a burgeoning crop of green digital plants, a green glow to the instruments and a slightly smug sense of satisfaction.

Switch to Sport and the Honda snaps into full-on tail-up mode, keen to catapult itself along straights and scythe through corners. Throttle response becomes incredibly sharp, the electric engine responds immediately to inputs, the cabin is filled with a red glow from the instruments and the little Honda feels far fleeter than its on-paper stats would suggest.

My main gripe is the ride quality – it’s horribly hard, brittle and underdamped, transmitting every intrusion into the cabin and making me wince over bumps and creases that I never knew existed.

Nor does it improve as speeds increase. It’s a good job the interior feels so robustly pout together because it’s being put to the test with every mile covered.

By Ben Whitworth 


Honda CR-Z hello – 8 July 2011

Much excitement at the Honda’s arrival – almost enough to compensate for the sad loss of the Infiniti. Initial impressions are very good indeed. I love this car’s strikingly modern style. It looks just the way a very sophisticated 21st century hybrid vehicle should – sharky, edgy and engagingly proportioned.

I’m glad I went for the Premium White Pearl paintwork. It complements the car’s silver detailing and gunmetal grey Electra alloys beautifully, imbuing the car with a clean, monochromatic look.

There’s nothing special about the cabin plastics, but the busy instrumentation binnacle flanked by pods for the climate and audio controls, as well as the engine’s Econ, Sport and Norm settings, is perfectly in keeping with the car’s high-tech nature. The horribly antiquated and aftermarket-looking audio and sat-nav system is not. In typical Honda style, the whole structure feels incredibly well put together.

The rear seats are a joke – it’s a pity there’s no option to turn the useless back pew into a locker – but the passenger compartment feels spacious and airy, helped by the fixed glass sunroof. The front seats look more comfortable than they are because the base cannot be tilt adjusted, which means there’s not insufficient under-thigh support. Sounds trivial but longer trips result in aching legs.

My first exercise? To brim the tank and drive in save-the-world Eco mode to see what sort of economy I get. And then I’ll tank again and run it in full Sport mode. The results, along with initial driving impressions, will be posted next week.

By Ben Whitworth 


Speccing our new Honda CR-Z – 10 June 2011 

I’m sticking with a Japanese car and I’m sticking with the coupé format but Honda’s CR-Z is a very different bento of sashimi. Out goes a thunderous 317bhp 3.7-litre V6 and incomes a dinky 1.5-litre petrol backed up a high-tech electric engine for a combined heady total of 124bhp.

When it came to speccing the Honda, we went for the £20,820 GT model, which throws in plasticy grey leather, a fixed glass roof, Xenon headlamps and Bluetooth connectivity. To this we’ve added Honda’s Dynamic+ pack, a £2,900 option which adds a set of very snappy 17inch graphite-grey Electra alloys to fill those gaping wheelarches and an enhanced external styling package comprised of carbonfibre-lookalike side, front and rear skirts and a matte silver finish for the front grille and wing mirrors. Oh, and a voice-operated satnav and phone system, priced at a rather steep £1,785

Colour? Only one to go for really – Premium White Pearl, which combined with the car’s dark alloys, black A-pillars and dark bodykit gives the Honda a very fashionable monochromatic look. I reckon the local carwash lads will be seeing a lot of the Honda this summer.

Agreed, £25,505 is a sizeable chunk of wedge for a small coupe, even a well-equipped and beautifully made one. But Honda reckons the CR-Z is effectively two cars in one: a nippy wrist-flick coupe and a misery eco runner. I have the next six months to find out if Honda is pulling our leg – and to persuade them to transform it into this!

By Ben Whitworth

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