2012 HONDA CR-Z REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Performance hybrid coupe
Price: $34,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 5.0 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 6.9 l/100km
Think hybrids are boring? Think again. Honda’s CR-Z Sport proves that you don’t need to sacrifice fun to be environmentally conscious.
It also proves that hybrid powertrains can be surprisingly enjoyable when mated to something other than a CVT automatic.
For a car that’s as good at delivering thrills as it is saving money at the pump, the CR-Z is without peer.
Quality: It’s a dark, moody atmosphere in the CR-Z’s black-on-black cabin, but there’s an air of quality too thanks to finely-textured plastics and solid switchgear.
The metallic trim pieces on the centre stack and door handles have a premium look and feel, and the futuristic instrument cluster is fantastic to look at and intelligently laid out.
Comfort: The manually-adjusted cloth seats are supportive and comfortable, but could use heavier bolstering on the seat squab to help keep the driver’s legs in place during aggressive cornering.
The rear seats are next to useless though. Even with the front seats fully forward there’s little legroom, and even a double amputee would find a problem with rear headroom - there isn’t any.
But that’s missing the point. The CR-Z isn’t meant to carry passengers, it’s meant to carve corners.
Equipment: Standard features on the CR-Z Sport include climate-control, cruise-control, a trip computer, six-speaker AM/FM radio with CD and MP3 compatibility, USB audio input, iPod integration, Bluetooth telephony, foglamps, LED daytime running lamps and 16-inch alloy wheels, .
Storage: With the CR-Z’s battery pack and spare tyre stacked on top of each other, the boot floor is very high and consequently the luggage area is quite shallow.
Still, there’s 225 litres of room with the rear seatback up and 401 litres with the single-piece backrest folded.
In-cabin storage is provided by long doorbins, a smallish glovebox and a storage tray at the base of the centre stack.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: There’s only a combined 91kW and 174Nm coming from the CR-Z’s 1.5 litre petrol/electric powertrain, but give it plenty of revs and, though it could do with a little more power, it nevertheless feels livelier than its spec sheet suggests.
The electric assistance motor acts much like a low-boost turbocharger on a conventional engine. It fills in the torque hole that a naturally-aspirated 1.5 litre would normally have at low rpm, and helps get the petrol engine up into the meat of its powerband.
Unlike a turbo though, the power delivery is linear, with near-instant throttle response when in Sport mode.
The six-speed manual transmission, however, is a little disappointing.
Honda’s sporting models like the Civic Type R have always been blessed with slick, precise gearshifts, yet the CR-Z’s shifter feels loose and notchy by comparison.
At least the spread of ratios is broad, which helps extract the best out of the CR-Z’s engine.
Our only complaints? The 1.5 litre’s single overhead cam i-VTEC valvetrain isn’t exactly cutting edge, and the engine’s long-stroke internal dimensions mean it only spins to an un-sporty 6600rpm.
Refinement: There’s plenty of tyre and engine noise, as you’d expect for a semi-sporting model.
Aside from that, there’s no rattly cabin trim and wind noise is virtually absent thanks to the CR-Z’s slippery shape.
Suspension: The CR-Z’s suspension uses MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle at the rear, which isn’t the most sophisticated set up around but still capable of delivering plenty of thrills.
It will, like most FWD cars, progress into understeer when pushed hard, but there’s quite a substantial amount of grip on hand. Coupled with the CR-Z’s light weight and quick-ratio electric power steering, it’s quite a nimble little number.
It turns in keenly, and the steering feel is quite direct for an electrically-assisted tiller. There’s a small amount of torque steer on corner exit though, which is a tad surprising for a car with just 174Nm of twist.
The damping is firm and a little jarring over sharp bumps, but it’s comfortable on long undulating highway runs.
Braking: The brake pedal is responsive, and the strength of the regenerative braking system increases in Sport and Eco mode - effectively increasing the CR-Z’s stopping performance.
Each corner is fitted with disc brakes (vented at front, solid at rear), gripped by single-piston sliding calipers.
ANCAP rating: 5 Stars
Safety features: Front, front side and curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, active front head restraints, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all standard on the CR-Z
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Vehicle warranty coverage lasts three years/100,000km. Rust warranty extends to six years and the hybrid battery is warranted for eight years.
Service costs: Before purchase, consult your local Honda dealer for servicing costs and charges.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Hyundai Veloster + manual ($27,990) - Hyundai’s first locally-delivered sporty offering since the Tiburon, the Veloster’s 1.6 litre direct-injected engine outputs 103kW and 166Nm giving it more power but less torque than the CR-Z.
In high grade Veloster + form, the Hyundai also offers more standard equipment than the entry-level CR-Z Sport, yet retails for $7000 less. (see Veloster reviews)
Renault Clio RenaultSport 200 ($36,490) - Firmly-sprung and somewhat less refined, the RenaultSport Clio is nevertheless a far more focused performance offering than the CR-Z.
Its 2.0 litre turbocharged inline four monsters the Honda for output, producing 147kW and 215Nm. (see Clio reviews)
VW Polo GTI 3 Door ($27,790) - Not as value-packed as the similarly priced Veloster +, but definitely a cracking drive thanks to its twin-charged 132kW/250Nm 1.4 litre engine.
It’s only issue? No manual transmission is offered, which may turn off some potential buyers. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Hybrid cars have long been seen as kryptonite to ‘real’ driving enthusiasts, but the Honda CR-Z turns that stereotype on its head.
It’s astonishing what difference is made when a conventional manual transmission is paired with a hybrid powertrain.
In the CR-Z’s case, while it’s not especially quick in sheer straight-line performance, such a combo makes for a car that’s thoroughly fun to drive yet remarkably thrifty. Over our week-long test we recorded an average of 6.9 l/100km, despite having kept the throttle pinned to the firewall most of the time.
Can you have your cake and eat it too? With the CR-Z, yes. Yes you can.
The value equation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense though. For the CR-Z to truly gain popularity as an entry-level sporting drive, it will need a few thousand chopped off the sticker price.
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