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Hybrid looks and feels special

By Western Gazette - North Dorset  |  Posted: February 14, 2013

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Honda's CR-Z is a rare choice in the affordable sports coupe sector but a very pleasurable one. You don't expect hybrid power in this class of car. You don't expect leather trim and a panoramic glass roof either for just over £20,000 in a model of this kind. Both are part and parcel of the top GT model we tried.

Since we've already seen electrically-powered and diesel-engined sportscars, the concept of a hybrid sportster shouldn't be too shocking, but somehow it still is.

In the CR-Z's case, that might have something to do with its creation from the platform of one of the least sporty cars Honda has ever made, the family-orientated five-door MK2 hybrid Insight. It's not a promising start and was a formula not helped in the original version of this car by a decided modest 122PS power output, 14PS from the electric motor and the remainder provided by a 1.5-litre VTEC petrol engine borrowed from a humble Jazz supermini.

Hence the changes made to this revised model, with small but significant tweaks to both engine and electric motor pushing the collective output to a far more acceptable 137PS, good enough in this GT variant if you're quick with the beautifully sweet-shifting manual gearbox to reduce the 0-62mph time from 9.7s to 9.5s and offer a maximum speed of 124mph.

To help the driver make the best use of this sporty performance, Honda has introduced a Plus Sport (S+) boost system. If the battery is more than 50 per cent charged, the driver can activate this system using the S+ button on the steering wheel.

When the accelerator is pressed, the electric boost begins, delivering increased acceleration for up to ten seconds. A flashing gauge on the dashboard indicates when the system is active. S+ can be used in either of the 3-Mode Drive system's trio of modes – ECON, Normal or Sport.

There's a smarter look to this facelifted CR-Z with a smarter front bumper, a revised grille, more striking alloy wheels and, at the back, a different aerodynamic diffuser design.

The essentials though, remain as before, so the underpinnings are based on the chassis and drivetrain of the current generation Honda Insight hybrid but with a series of significant changes designed to make it feel a long way removed from that straight-laced family car. It's shorter and lighter but with a wider track and a wheelbase that positions the wheels right out at the corners of the car for extra poise and balance.

The suspension features aluminium components and damper settings aimed at achieving a firm ride that doesn't become harsh over the bumps. Honda was intent on making this hybrid handle well. It's hard not to like this CR-Z. Even if you leave aside the hybrid benefits, it's a clever choice – and a decent driver's tool too. There are of course still many more dynamic and powerful sportscars and hot hatches in this market segment.

And naturally, there are more efficient hybrids.

Having said all that, there's nothing else that enables you to bring the two extremes together with such a guilt-free glow.

We'd be tempted to go for this top GT model, even though the larger 17-inch wheels do make their mark on performance and running costs. It looks and feels special.

And isn't that a big part of what owning a car like this is all about?

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