Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Honda had the CR-X; a fun little runabout that promised lots of fun behind the wheel without breaking the bank. Decades later, the Japanese carmaker revisited the same formula but gave it a dash of ecology to come up with the CR-Z or "Compact Renaissance Zero."
Although the CR-Z has been around since 2010, it only reached our shores in 2013. The car you see here is the updated version launched locally this past January, and is the last-ever revamp it will get before the model is discontinued later this year.
So, is the CR-Z worth it as a sporty hybrid, or is it merely a marketing exercise designed by Honda to cater to ecologically minded motorists looking for some fun behind the wheel? Let's find out.
Honda's really serious about the CR-Z being the spiritual successor of the CR-X, which is probably why it has a wedge-shaped profile reminiscent of the latter (particularly the second generation), as well as the short wheelbase with all four wheels pushed out to the corners. However, the CR-Z eschews the CR-X’s angular rear for a wide, curvaceous rump, although it does revert to an ode to the second-gen CR-X via the split-level rear glass hatch.
As is typical of facelifts, it’s mostly aesthetic. But all for the better at that as the redesigned front and rear bumpers, with black blade-like accents, foglamps up front and reflectors at the rear, give the CR-Z a sportier vibe compared to the pre-facelift version.
Although the CR-Z has been around for a few years, the Helios Yellow Pearl unit we had still managed to turn some heads. One reason is probably because the model itself is still a rare sight on our roads, another is that the two-tone finish with the blacked-out roof and side mirror pods give it an added sense of drama.
Futuristic is the first word that comes to mind upon seeing the CR-Z’s instrument binnacle, with the digital speedometer located right in the middle of the analog tachometer. The pod to the left of the instrument panel is home to several controls (side mirrors, fog lights, etc.), while the one on the right controls the auto climate-control system.
Ambient lighting is blue down to the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but the illumination in the binnacle itself serves as something of a mood indicator: drive the car gingerly and the gauges are lit in green; blue if it’s driven like any normal car; and red if the throttle’s pressed down more than usual.
In place of the old two-DIN single-scroll audio system is a seven-inch touchscreen with navigation function that also serves as the display for the reverse camera. The old hydraulic brake is replaced with an electric one, freeing up space for an armrest and a storage box.
Door panels and seats are finished in a combination of black and orange leather and fabric, with the front bucket seats' high backs and ample side bolsters giving occupants a feel of the CR-Z’s sporting prowess. Rear passenger space is adequate, but only if both front and rear seat occupants are of average height, while the cargo area has room for a three-day weekend holiday's worth of luggage.
The CR-Z is powered by a 1.5-liter inline-four mill in combination with the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) front electric motor that gives it 133hp and 171Nm of torque. It’s the IMA and its lithium-ion battery—when used with the three-mode drive system—that are the magic potions of the CR-Z’s hybrid formula.
Econ mode and Engine Stop work best in standstills: With the brake pedal stepped on all the way down, I counted up to one minute and 45 seconds with the A/C and audio working off of the battery alone before traffic began moving again.
Off the line, throttle response seems sluggish, particularly in Econ and Normal mode—as if the pedal needs firmer application. In Sport mode, the CR-Z becomes prone to jackrabbit starts via the slightest input on the gas pedal. It’s not neck-snapping Italian-exotic-fast, but it’s enough to jerk your head back into the seat.
The CVT also works well enough to be left alone regardless of drive mode. It does become interesting, though, when you decide to simulate gear-swapping through seven preset ratios with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, particularly with in Sport mode. We were able to get 9.3km/L for a week’s worth of driving the CR-Z through Metro Manila and Tanay.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The three-mode drive system also plays a part in how the CR-Z behaves on the road, as each setting affects the car’s steering response. In Econ mode, there’s enough play in the steering wheel to allow movement without calling it lazy. It does tighten up significantly though when Sport mode is selected, with the slightest adjustment to the tiller translating to some degree of movement on the front wheels.
The CR-Z has a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam axle rear suspension combo, which is weird since the latter compromises ride and handling when compared to independent multi-link ones—but you won’t say that’s so for this vehicle. Sure, the ride is stiffer than your usual sedan, but you can chalk that up to the CR-Z’s more sporting intentions.
The CR-Z’s Plus Sport system is the gift that keeps on giving. It works similarly to the kinetic energy recovery system used in Formula 1 cars, where kinetic energy generated by braking is stored in a battery to be used later for acceleration. This provides a boost in power for a few seconds.
So, feel like giving the CR-Z a healthy kick in its sides to make it go even faster regardless of what drive mode you’re in? If the lithium-ion battery has enough juice, a quick stab of the ‘S+’ button on the wheel and you’re given a quick jolt of power, which should be enough for overtaking or merging with the traffic on the highway, or just good ol’ fun. It’s the spinach to the CR-Z’s Popeye.
It’s not readily available all the time, however, but once it is, an indicator for the Plus Sport system will flash on the upper left corner of the instrument panel. The system proved to be perfect for the Marilaque Highway, with the twists providing more than enough brake energy to charge the battery for quick boosts around the corners.
The Honda CR-Z may be a victim of compromise, of Honda wanting it to be too many things at the same time: lively yet eco-friendly, sporty yet easy to live with. But in the six years that have passed since the car was introduced, today’s internal combustion technology has improved so much that Honda could shoehorn the 1.8-liter mill of the new-gen Civic into the engine bay of the CR-Z for just a little more power (6hp and 3Nm), with roughly the same fuel consumption.
Still, it’s not hard to appreciate the CR-Z for what Honda intended it to be: a throwback to the old CR-X but with an eye toward the future with its hybrid technology. That it’s also a future collectible with its upcoming demise is guaranteed, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
SPECS: Honda CR-Z CVT
Engine: 1.5-liter inline-four SOHC 16-valve + Integrated Motor Assist Hybrid System
Transmission: CVT (seven-speed) with Paddle Shifters
Power: 133hp @ 6,600rpm
Torque: 171Nm @ 2,800rpm
Drive Layout: Front-wheel drive