Honda CR-Z: Razor sharp

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I was fortunate to have been able to test drive Honda’s ground-breaking hybrid sports car, the CR-Z, over the New Year holidays. I wasn’t in any hurry to publish my review as there was no word yet when—or even if—the car would be available in the Philippines. But the car made an indelible impact in my mind and I just couldn’t help but think what a terrific concept a hybrid sports car really is. One look at the recently unveiled LaFerrari supercar and its 963-hp hybrid power plant and you’ll know even environmentalists like to have some fun behind the wheel. Or conversely, car enthusiasts might want to do their bit in saving the planet. Ergo, hybrid sports car. Not to worry, Honda’s sporty little number is substantially more affordable than a LaFerrari. In fact, it starts at a very realistic P1.4 million. And the best news is, it will hit showrooms this month! In case you’re wondering, CR-Z stands for “Compact Renaissance Zero,” which represents Honda’s commitment to go back to the point of origin (zero) to take on the challenge to create a new compact sports car without being bound by the values of traditional coupés. Developed with the concept of “More Hybrid Sports,” the CR-Z was created to fuse two ideas: Sport and Ecology. The front-wheel-drive CR-Z sports a 1.5-liter i-VTEC engine as the main source of power with an electric motor, Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), combining for approximately 130hp and 190Nm of torque. This combo is good for an 8.5-second 0-100-km/h sprint and a 210-km/h top speed—not as fast as pure rear-wheel-drive sports cars like the Toyota 86 and Hyundai Genesis (both of which have at least 200hp), but plenty zippy nonetheless. But what really makes the CR-Z such a fulfilling drive is its razor-sharp handling. You don’t need to look farther than a parking lot autocross or slalom to see how wickedly front-wheel-drive cars can handle. (That’s what made the original Mini Cooper a giant killer in its day.) The CR-Z responds to your steering inputs almost clairvoyantly—and it’s such a pleasure to steer, whether you’re carving up an apex in a medium-fast corner or just making a gentle right turn to your street. Making it even more impressive is the surprisingly supple ride, which is far more comfortable than say, a Toyota 86’s. The cabin is surprisingly spacious also. The roofline is low, but you still have decent front-seat headroom and legroom even if you’re a six-footer. The CR-Z is a 2+2, which means that the rear seats are for occasional use or for short trips only. Kids would have a blast back there, though. The CR-Z features Honda’s Three-mode Drive System, which allows you to shift to SPORT, NORMAL or ECON modes for different driving style and/or driving situations. The system applies integrated control over the engine’s Drive by Wire control, motor assist, CVT shift control, and even the air conditioner. The CR-Z also has an additional selection: the Plus-Sport System or S+ Button option that enables more responsive acceleration for even more fun and excitement. The CR-Z comes in manual and Continuously Variable transmission (CVT with paddle shifters) options and is available in three variants. Aside from the standard model, Honda also offers the Modulo variant (with Modulo aero kit) and my Mugen test unit, which is equipped not only with an aero kit but also with a performance exhaust system and sportier alloy wheels. The CR-Z starts at P1,400,000 for the Standard (Manual Transmission) and tops out at P2,100,000 for the top-of-the-line Mugen (CVT with Paddle Shifters). Review by Manny N. de los Reyes  First published in Speed August 2013