Road Test: Honda CR-Z GT (2013)
Sector: Coupe Price: £23,050 Fuel: 54.3mpg CO2: 122g/km
The Honda CR-Z has always had a hard task on its hands. This was pitched as the model that could make hybrids sporty, rather than just a way of saving fuel. So beneath a bodyshell with heavily modernised hints of the well-loved CR-X, it used an efficient small petrol engine with an electric motor employed primarily for boosting power output.
It was an interesting concept, but never really found favour with those expecting the same low-cost driver involvement as the CR-Z, its closest predecessor. The hybrid drivetrain managed to offer neither the performance, nor the frugality or low purchase cost, to make it seem necessary and the CR-Z hasn’t been quite the sports spearhead Honda needed with no Type R models in its range.
For 2013, Honda has put some time into addressing the shortfalls of the original. So the drivetrain has had a small hike in power, and now features a Sport+ button on the steering wheel, best thought of as an electric alternative to an overboost on a turbocharged engine; short bursts of electrical assistance when required, provided the battery has enough charge.
Coming back to it three years later, the styling has aged incredibly well. It’s a gorgeously proportioned small car, with the flat Kamm-tail aerodynamic rear-end offering a subtle nod to the equally stylish CR-X. The seating position is perfect, wrapping the driver in the futuristic glow of green, orange and red dials and with a small-rimmed, dished steering wheel just where you’d want it. It’s a reminder that a few years ago Honda was doing some incredible things with dashboard design.
The revised drivetrain is still based on a 1.5-litre petrol engine with, unusually for a hybrid, a six-speed manual gearbox and 7bhp power boost to 119bhp. Upgrades to the Integrated Motor Assist system include a lithium ion battery, contributing to a combined 135bhp with no affect on economy or CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite there dynamically. The CR-Z feels heavy while cornering and wringing the power out of the engine and motor takes commitment and tolerating a slightly reedy noise. Its low seating position, driver-focused dashboard and firm ride (made firmer still by the GT’s new larger wheels) do give some semblance of sportiness, but this just doesn’t have the get-up-and-go of diesel models, even with the Sport+ button pressed.
This remains a big problem. Tax breaks for petrol hybrids aren’t what they used to be, which means diesel-powered coupes are (at least for the short term) becoming far more viable. Honda’s new 1.6 i-DTEC Civic feels keener to drive than the CR-Z, despite offering less power.
Perhaps it would defeat the point of the high-tech CR-Z, but this very efficient new small diesel would probably be closer in spirit to the CR-X than the hybrid system. A sign of the times.
The CR-Z has its faults, but they’re not reasons to overlook it altogether. There’s a charm to its nerdiness that makes it entertaining to love with, and subtle styling updates mean that tiny coupe body still look great. But as Honda’s sportiest model, it’s too much about style and technology and too little about substance.