Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Attention Early Adopters

On test… Honda CR-Z hybrid

Funny how quickly things change. Remember how a couple of years ago we were all pointing at Toyota Prius owners and laughing? Well now all of a sudden every car brand worth its pistons is talking about adding some kind of eco-friendly-mobile to its line-up. The latest of this new wave to hit SA shores are two new hybrids from Honda – the Prius-challenging Insight… and the "World’s First Hybrid Sports Car”, the CR-Z.

Ok, first things first, let’s set those inverted commas straight shall we. The CR-Z is not actually a sports car. It’s neither very light or fast, and nor does it display razor-sharp handling characteristics. Excellent, that’s settled then. Now we can get down to talking about what’s actually a cool little vehicle. And it’s the cool factor that really sells the CR-Z.

It certainly looks cool – the little Honda’s silhouette is a clear homage to the quirky CR-X imported here in limited numbers during the late 80s. Just like the cult status enjoyed by the X, the Z will should also appeal to young urban hipsters looking for a car to match their impeccable sense of fashion. It’s expertly tailored too. Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist technology means you have a small electric motor sitting snugly between the 1.5-litre VTEC petrol engine and the gearbox. Think of it as a kind of supercharger capable of adding an extra 10kW of power and 70Nm of torque at low revs. It’s very clever actually. Honda’s VTEC engines really come into their own at high revs, but now they also have some low-down grunt from 1500rpm. That of course all comes with a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of a frugal 5.0 litres/100 km, and a CO2 emissions rating of at 117 g/km – below the new 120g/km emissions tax threshold.

Driving the CR-Z does take some getting used to. Firstly there’s the kind of annoying stop-start tech that switches the engine off when you stop, for example, at a robot. And then there are the three driving modes – which are not annoying at all. In fact they’re a lot of fun. Econ mode sees the dashboard change to a green hue and award you little neon trees should you drive economically. It also keeps telling you to change up a gear when it seems like the revs are way to low. You driving instincts shout “stall imminent!”, but thanks to the electric motor’s extra oomph, that never happens.

Normal mode is, well, normal, so not much to write home about there, but in Sport mode and accompanying racy red dashboard hue, you can actually give it a bit of welly. Look, 93kW is never going to be face-meltingly exciting and the handling is supple rather than sportscar-like, but you can still nip in and out of the traffic with an accompanying whoop. If you can deal with the eco-guilt, that is…

(as appeared in the Kulula in-flight magazine)