Things can get real complicated real quick when you overthink things. Add one too many ingredients to your homemade clam chowder and you’re left with mystery soup instead. Steak should be showered with a generous dose of salt and pepper, and nothing else. Beer batter for steak? Beer belongs in a mug, not in food. Simplicity is the name of the game for most things and cars are no different. Want to make a fun, sporty car? Make sure it’s light, has a healthy stable of horses under the hood, wears embiggened shoes as standard, and you’re good to go.
Go the opposite route and you’ll end up with something a bit more eco-friendly, which I'm told is important too. It’s all so very simple when roles are specific like that. What to do, then, if you want both a back-road bomber and dolphin-friendly iCar in a single package? Some say it's an impossible mission. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, as the cliché goes.
...Or can you?
Honda’s CR-Z isn’t a new car, having been launched in 2010. You’re probably familiar with how it looks and you’ve probably even seen one driving around the Metro. Updated for 2016 with the addition of some pretty slick looking front and rear aero bits, it still however retains that same sporty-quirky silhouette that screams “batteries included”. This is Honda’s first attempt at producing a sporty, eco-friendly car for the unwashed masses; a less-practical version of their extremely thrifty yet dull Insight.
It’s the hybrid car for the Civic SiR generation, with the added drama of having just the two long doors and 911-esque token rear seats. You may even be familiar with its numbers: 135hp coming from the union of a 1.5L four-pot and a cheerful little electric motor. That modest amount of power is then transferred to the front wheels via either a standard 6-speed stick shift or (why, oh why) the optional CVT, which is what our tester came equipped with. More on the latter in a bit.
"It’s the hybrid car for the Civic SiR generation."
What you probably haven’t done, however, is actually drive the thing. Lucky for you, I was able to clock just a hair under 800km behind the sport-hybrid’s button-encrusted wheel, most of which were through some of the loveliest coastal and mountain roads around; allow me then to describe how the CR-Z actually drives.
Hybrids are usually happiest in their natural city habitat, so let’s begin there. As with many cars nowadays, the CR-Z has three modes - Econ, Normal, and Sport. Now when presented with these choices I usually just set the car to the quickest mode, because reasons, then find justifications for it after the fact. Thankfully in this case it’s a really simple reason: throttle response in Sport mode is phenomenal. It feels quicker than any automatic transmission I’ve ever experienced; that’s saying a lot as we go through quite a few cars here at Opus Macchina.
The quickness makes for incredibly accurate driving as the car responds to even minute throttle inputs -- this feeling of precision makes it really difficult to recommend the other two modes, both of which really kill throttle response. In heavy traffic that scalpel of a throttle makes it effortless to place your car exactly where you want -- a blessing when you’re surrounded by towering buses and unpredictable motorcycles. Save Econ mode for highway driving, though, where you’ll appreciate the softer ride and maximize fuel consumption.
"In heavy traffic that scalpel of a throttle makes it effortless to place your car exactly where you want."
Since we’re stuck in traffic, let’s go over the interior for a minute. The snug seats are covered in a mix of leather and grippy fabric, perfect for keeping you in place while at pace, which this car is really happy to do as you’ll find out later on. The instruments and controls form one of the most driver-oriented cockpits you’ll ever see -- it all wraps around you (as the driver), which actually does make you feel a bit special. Nice. The rear seats are both a bit hilarious but kinda cool at the same time -- this is basically the same thing you’ll see in a 911’s rear.
They’re useful as a bag deposit or cubby hole but you’ll probably just leave them folded flat to enhance the car’s already-generous trunk. You won’t have issues with luggage or grocery space in that bulbous rear end; Honda’s decision to give this sporty hatch that classic hybrid shape gives it much more practicality compared to most other two-doors.
Speaking of which, we musn’t forget that this is, at its core, a sporty car; let’s take it out of the city then and see how it handles the twisties down south. Passing power obviously isn’t a strength, not with just 135hp on tap, even with the help of the slightly-gimmicky “S+” button: it’s supposed to give additional power for up to five seconds as long as the battery meter is over 50%. Neat idea, and it probably appealed to quite a number of boy racers, but in practice it was a little underwhelming. Just give us that extra bit of power all the time, Honda, this car really needs it.
"Honda’s decision to give this sporty hatch that classic hybrid shape gives it much more practicality compared to most other two-doors."
I say that in the best way possible as the chassis is a magnificent work of hybrid art that really does beg for more power. While it isn’t the quickest to the ton (it takes a leisurely 9.4 seconds to hit 100km/h), it makes up for it by having enormous amounts of front-end grip and the best electric steering system I’ve come across. These two strengths combine with great effect -- on winding provincial roads the CR-Z hangs on to every corner tenaciously, allowing you to carry some properly hilarious speeds through them and onto the next.
Its brakes are up to snuff too, stopping neatly should you finally run out of corners to fly through. My hands were shaking at the end of my run, my passenger pretty white-faced after the whole experience; we were both going to remember that day for quite a while.
"on winding provincial roads the CR-Z hangs on to every corner tenaciously, allowing you to carry some properly hilarious speeds through them and onto the next."
So has Honda nailed it? Have they made the perfect compromise between gasoline and Greenpeace? I’d say it’s at least gotten very close to the mark. The CR-Z is responsible fun, perfect for condo-inhabiting city slickers who deal with cramped parking spaces every day but do look forward to driving out of town on weekends.
"The CR-Z is responsible fun, perfect for condo-inhabiting city slickers"
It’s slightly pricier than your typical compact sedans, and perhaps isn’t as good value when you look at the space available, but it makes up for all that with loads of cheerful character, stellar fuel economy (8.9km/l with me behind the wheel, 18-20km/l if you don’t follow my bad example), some incredible driving dynamics, and a curiously unique feeling of mature childishness…
Like I’ve had my my cake and ate it too.