The Knowledge: Think hybrid motoring means no fun? This bargain begs to differ
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
His favourite pastime is to bore people senseless about things with four wheels, particularly those from the 1980s and 1990s. When he's not doing that, he's usually to be found planning his next road trip in his 1988 BMW 635CSi, messing around on a piano, or chasing fruitlessly after his dog on a cold, wet hillside.
The words ‘hybrid’ and ‘fun’ don’t often go together in car enthusiasts’ minds. But there is an exception; a car which manages to combine an impressively efficient hybrid drivetrain with a six-speed gearbox, a zingy chassis and pert, head-turning looks. It is, of course, the Honda CR-Z.
The CR-Z was Honda’s attempt to turn on its head the idea of a hybrid being a dowdy, unexciting driving experience. And by and large, it worked.
Where most other hybrids use ‘rubber-band’ CVT gearboxes, the Honda’s slick, sweet six-speed manual reintroduces an element of involvement. Meanwhile, the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) powertrain, based on Honda’s 1.5-litre engine, offers up electric-powered torque low down the rev range before segueing into the rev-happy top end we’ve all come to know and love from VTEC Hondas.
Mind you, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is no Type R. The red line is at a relatively modest 6,500rpm, while the maximum total system power output of the original CR-Z is a relatively lowly 122bhp. In January 2013 a switch from nickel metal hydride to lithium ion batteries also brought an increase in power to 135bhp.
Those power figures might seem relatively lowly, but the CR-Z punches above its weight – if not outright fast, it always feels quick enough to be entertaining, and matched to sharp steering, that gearbox and a stiff, distinctly sporting chassis, that makes it lots of fun.
Let’s not forget, either, that being a hybrid the CR-Z is also far more economical than any other small sporty coupe of its type. Combined figures of 56.5mpg for the standard S and Sport models and 54.3mpg for the plusher GT are impressive, though as with any hybrid it’s worth bearing in mind you’ll get markedly better consumption around town, where you can take advantage of its regenerative braking abilities, than on the motorway.
Why you should buy one now
Hybrids are currently the flavour of the month with lots of buyers. As diesel’s popularity has taken a hit, so the popularity of hybrid cars has increased. As that trend continues, a time will come when used car buyers cotton on to the fact the CR-Z offers the benefits of a hybrid with a welcome slice of fun thrown in for good measure.
So don’t expect the prices you see today to last forever. A CR-Z can currently be picked up for as little as £3000, though you’ll probably want to spend a little more to get a clean, low-mile example with history – £5000 should do the trick. And if you want a post-facelift car, you can get one for upwards of £8000.
What to look for
There really is very little that goes wrong with CR-Zs – they’re pretty reliable cars. However, there is the electric battery to think about. When test driving, check the IMA gauge shows the car charging and the battery holding charge, and check it’s assisting the car when you’re accelerating hard. Of course, you should avoid cars with an IMA dashboard light that stays on – that suggests there’s a potentially expensive fault with the system.
Many owners report their cars still running well using the original battery with well over 150,000 miles, so the chances are you won’t need to replace it unless the car has done some serious mileage. That said, when the time does come to replace the battery, it’ll cost upwards of £2000, depending on where you have the work done, so if you plan to keep the car long-term it’s worth setting some cash aside.
The only other thing to keep in mind is the odd shape of the CR-Z’s rear window, which makes rearward visibility tricky, and that can result in parking grazes and scratches on the rear bumper and bodywork. Check these areas carefully, therefore.
But get a good CR-Z, and you can have a great-looking little coupe that’s not only more environmentally friendly than the norm, but also terrific fun to drive – and all for a very reasonable price!