Honda CR-Z 2010 Road Test

The Honda CRZ is a curious car that rewards greater acquaintance. It doesn’t immediately endear itself to you for various reasons.

The steering feels a bid dead, the view out isn’t brilliant, the rearward view is bisected by a horizontal hatch frame and you have to drive it by the windscreen because you can’t see anything else.

Yet after half a day spent filming single-handedly (a necessarily brutal process) its charms became more evident. 

The race is on between everywhere I left my camera by the roadside, running back to the car to drive it past the camera, then getting back to the camera before someone steals it.

This can mean physical sprints, hard braking, sudden 3-point turns and all sorts of sadism that separates the decent cars from the duds.

If I warm to a car after that, I know it’s a good car.

And, by the time I’d filmed my film and said my bit, I’d discovered qualities that weren’t apparent on first acquaintance.

The more I drove it, the sportier it felt.

Though the Honda CRZ is a hybrid, the system doesn’t work like in a Prius or an Insight.  It has a manual six-speed transmission and three drive modes: Sport, Normal and Econ. There is no option to drive purely on the electric motor at any speed.

It’s geared at around 25mph per 1,000rpm in 6th. But the engine and electric motor work together to deliver maximum torque at 1,500rpm and, of course, because the motor is electric, it delivers its maximum torque from zero rpm. This fills in the gap, allowing the car to be driven from around 1,000rpm and from around 25mph in 6th gear and is the reason why it can be very economical around town.

The default setting is Normal, which gives the car a reasonably sporty but not quite sportscar ‘feel’. Press Econ and it dumbs down to provide maximum economy, but least enjoyment. Press Sport and it sharpens up considerably, responding to the steering wheel and accelerator with much greater alacrity than it does on Normal, though, of course, using more fuel.

Whatever mode you’re in, stop, take it out of gear, lift the clutch and the engine stops. It starts again, usually instantly, when you press the clutch.

Handling isn’t quite the “go-kart” experience promised. It’s flat, but stiction in the steering robs it of the feedback it should have. It’s not bad, though, and you can feel your way to the road surface when giving the car some serious stick. Anyone wanting more can get in touch with Eibach for its £150 suspension kit that drops the car a bit lower, apparently without affecting ride comfort.

The dash is the best I’ve ever confronted in any car at any price. Every switch and button is clearly visible, logical in its function and exactly where your fingers can readily find it. The central rev counter and digital speedo are directly in your line of sight.  Perfect. Whoever designed that can now retire on a fat pension because his work cannot be topped.

The front seats are comfy enough. The rears are strictly for midgets or small children and acknowledging this come with Isofix tethers. The passenger seat is also mum friendly with a keyswitch to deactivate the airbag when using a rear facing baby seat.

I’m now going to take the car to Brighton to compete in the futurecar challenge, then on Sunday I’ll drive it to Northumberland and back.

That will give a fair assessment of its real world economy. I’ll add the results as soon as I have them, on Sunday night.

800 miles further acquaintance with not one, but two CR-Zs taught me a lot more.

For a start that bar that bisects the back window also neatly blots out the headlights of cars directly behind, which helps greatly on a crowded motorway at night.

My first night-time journey of the weekend was down to Brighton to take part in the Futurecar economy run from Brighton to London. Unfortunately the route took us through Croydon, Streatham and Brixton on a Saturday, which entailed one of Britain’s worst weekend traffic jams. So our average economy was brought down to 52.89 mpg.

How would it do on a 630 mile journey to and from Northumberland?

What at first appears to be cruise control with a mind of its own actually turns out to be very intelligent. Instead of simply maintaining a fixed speed,  it keeps approximately to that speed. And since motorways like the M1 undulate quite a lot, this enables the hybrid system to regenerate on descents, then reward you with the assistance of the electric motor up ascents so it doesn’t use fuel the way cruise control normally does.

I had it in ‘Econ’ mode most of the time, but when switched to ‘normal’ this effect was even more pronounced.

Economy by the time I turned off the A1 was just over 50mpg. But on the ups and downs of 45 miles of favourite road, I was able to improve the average by one mile per gallon. The technique was to leave it in Econ most of the time, regenerate as much as possible on the descents (in gear braking regenerates the most), then use the regenerated torque in ‘Normal’ or ‘Sport’ to simply romp up the ascents.

The centre of the speedo glows green when driving economically, turquoise when driving less than economically and red when you're ragging it.

Huge fun, especially because you're both having your cake and eating it.

By the time I got back to Weybridge, a total of 611.9 miles was showing an average of 52.6mpg on the meter.

Brims to brims over a mileage corrected 676 miles needed 13.53 gallons, so that works out at 50mpg. One mpg better than I got from a Prius II over 6 months use.

Not bad for a car that puts more style and fun into a hybrid than anything else.

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