Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
New CRX-inspired coupé looks to overturn hybrid cars' goody-goody image and prove eco-conscious driving can be fun as well as frugal
We like - distinctive and futuristic looks inside and out, crisp handling, steering, torquey power delivery, sense of fun, proves hybrids can be fun after all
We don't like - some cheap plastics inside, rear seats useless, not as fast as it looks, cool looking wheels are a £1,350 option, no electric-only running
Gallery - Honda CR-Z
On looks alone the new Honda CR-Z demolishes the viewpoint hybrids can only be joyless transportation modules for those who put eco posturing before driving pleasure. This is a great looking car - sleek, sexy and distinctively futuristic.
Suggestions of Honda's much loved CRX hatchback and the original Insight hybrid of 1999 - the super aerodynamic, aluminium coupé built in the same factory as the NSX - help add a bit of context but the CR-Z is distinctive enough in its own right.
Based on the running gear and Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system of the current five-door Insight, the CR-Z underlines its sporty intent by increasing the petrol engine's capacity from 1.3 to 1.5 litres.
Alone the petrol engine has a modest sounding 114hp, this increasing to 124hp with the electric motor's assistance. On paper, equivalent to the conventional 1.4 petrol turbos offered by the likes of VW and Renault then...
Which begs the question, why bother lugging around the batteries and not just be done with it and go turbo? Well, Honda prides itself on being a technology leader and, love 'em or loath 'em, hybrids are here to stay.
Honda's IMA system is a 'mild' hybrid, meaning the electric motor simply assists the petrol engine and can't power the CR-Z on its own, like it can on the Prius and other Toyota-based systems.
So no milk-float-like zero-emissions running then. What you do get is a most un-Honda-like torque curve with the peak 128lb ft coming in at a diesel-like 1,500rpm.
It feels strong and flexible as a result, the 9.9 seconds 0-62mph and 124mph making it sound slower than it feels at the wheel. Sure, it's no rocket ship. But what power there is can be easily exploited.
Ride and handling
Unlike the Insight and old Civic hybrid there's no wailing CVT gearbox, Euro-spec CR-Z's are getting a more driver focused six-speed manual. And this being a Honda it's typically light and positive in action.
This adds a level of interaction not usually found on hybrids, a reconfigured power steering system typically synthetic in feel but much better weighted and more responsive than any previous hybrid Honda.
It even rides pretty well too, the extra weight of the battery pack in the rear giving it a planted feel even if the actual kerb weight is a relatively modest 1,147kg.
So it's fun to drive, without necessarily being overtly fast or sporty, and ideally suited to urban driving where its compact size, fast-reacting start-stop system and low-down torque make it nippy and frugal in equal measure.
Forget 2+2 claims - the CR-Z is really only a two-seater and most of the time you'll simply keep the seats flat and enjoy the extra load space. That and some hard plastic trim are about the only criticisms though.
The design borrows futuristic elements from the Insight but puts a sporty twist on it, the driver's seating position a whole 35mm lower than that of a Civic Type-R and the entire feel is clearly geared around making the CR-Z feel like a sports car.
The 3D-layered speedo and rev counter looks great, the green grow gradually going from to blue then red as the revs build and economy falls. This is just one of many neat visual clues as to how green, or otherwise, your driving is.
High-tech features include a three-mode driving system with Normal, Sports and Econ modes, the latter cutting back throttle response and even tweaking power steering and air-con for maximum efficiency.
Economy and safety
So, the big test. Having established the CR-Z is fun and looks cool can it also carry off the green credentials? Well, the scores on the doors are 117g/km CO2 and an official combined consumption figure of 56.5.
Somewhere behind the Prius's 89g/km and 72.4mpg or even the closely related Insight's 101g/km and 64.2mpg. Driven normally the CR-Z easily scores high 40s mpg though, the start-stop system meaning this is maintained even in urban driving.
Thing is, on paper a Mini Cooper with a comparable 122hp manages 127g/km and 52.3mpg without the need for fancy hybrid hardware and costs £14,100 against the entry level CR-Z's £16,999.
So for all the cutesy eco driving displays and congestion-charge dodging the CR-Z isn't really that green. It should be plenty safe though, standard fit stability control dealing with the occasional weird weight shifts arising from the heavy battery in the back.
MSN Cars verdict
As an out-and-out eco car the CR-Z fails to entirely convince, although as far as legislators are concerned it's a different story and for Londoners things like the congestion charge exemption will make it appealing from a financial point of view.
It is fun to drive and super cool to look at though and as a snazzy runabout with a difference more than a rival to the Mini and others. Can hybrids be fun? Yes, even if this one doesn't really work the green agenda.
|Need to know|
|Engine - petrol||1.5-litre, four-cylinder with|
integrated electric motor
|Engine - diesel||n/a|
|Power (hp)||124 (petrol and electric combined)|
|Torque (lb ft)||128 (petrol and electric combined)|
|Top speed (mph)||124|
|Rating||Honda CR-Z GT|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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