Honda CR-Z GT 1.5 i-VTEC

Long-awaited hybrid coupé promises to blend style and efficiency. Does it deliver?

One look at the CR-Z is enough to tell you that it’s no ordinary car. The design is virtually identical to the concept unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007 – and if you want to turn heads, the Honda is the clear winner in this group.

The cut-off rear and split-level glass tailgate are nods to Honda’s classic CRX from the Eighties, while a short wheelbase and wide track give the newcomer a purposeful stance. But although the design is exciting and new, it isn’t particularly balanced – from certain angles, we think the CR-Z appears bloated and awkward.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the CR-Z

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The flanks of the car are a mixture of creases and sharply angled glass, and nothing seems to meet – the overall impression is a disjointed and messy design. Striking headlights and a deep grille improve matters, and the front view is probably the most successful, but the unusual back end compromises rearward visibility from the inside.

Get behind the wheel, and you’re greeted with the lowest seating position of the group, which makes the Honda feel like a proper sports car. There’s a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, too, so it’s easy to get comfortable. If only the seats gave more thigh and side support.

Top-spec GT trim includes leather, but the light grey hide of our test car was uninspiring given the CR-Z’s sporty objectives, and it was already beginning to look a little tired. The cabin controls are shared with the Insight hatch, so the dash provides few surprises. It is fussy and overcomplicated, with an array of digital displays, buttons and dials scattered across a variety of different plastics. We think a conventional set of instruments would be better.

The Honda’s interior trails its rivals on quality, and doesn’t have the kind of soft-touch plastics that are common in this sector. The flimsy dash-top storage bin and shiny lower surfaces are particularly disappointing. Still, the leather gearlever and small steering wheel look attractive and feel good to hold.

If the CR-Z struggles with its finish inside, it also trails on space. While the Mégane and 118d are capable of carrying at least four people in reasonable comfort, the Honda’s rear seats are only really suitable for small children. We expect most buyers will leave them permanently folded to increase boot space.

Thick pillars and shallow side windows make visibility an issue, especially when reversing, although the panoramic glass roof fitted to all GT models keeps the interior bright and airy.

Push the starter button, and the powerplant is virtually silent, so you miss out on the exciting exhaust note you expect from a sports coupé. The 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 112bhp, and this is boosted by an electric motor to 122bhp at 6,100rpm. These figures suggest keen drivers will need to work the powerplant hard, but in reality the CR-Z is at its best at low revs, where the electric motor boosts torque considerably.

As it weighs less than 1,200kg, the Honda changes direction sharply, although the suspension struggles to control body roll through tighter bends. And while the ride is generally comfortable, it can fidget over surface imperfections.

There’s a choice of three driving modes: Normal, Sport and Econ. As the name suggests, the latter prioritises efficiency, while Sport increases the steering weight, throttle sensitivity and electric assistance. It provides a more responsive feel, although we found that Normal mode was the best compromise in most situations.

The CR-Z clearly isn’t perfect, but as a hybrid, we expected it to be efficient. Yet while the petrol-electric drivetrain incorporates stop-start, the Honda returned the poorest economy here. A figure of 39mpg trailed the Mégane by nearly 15mpg. And although CO2 emissions of 117g/km are low, the Renault is cleaner at 115g/km. The faster BMW puts out only 119g/km.

The new hybrid coupé doesn’t have the strongest eco credentials then – and this could be a crucial factor for the CR-Z when faced with such talented opposition.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: CR-Z promises to be the first genuinely sporty hybrid, with an involving manual gearbox, racy looks and decent handling.

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