I am the first person to admit that I am not the biggest fan of hybrid vehicles. It’s not because the technology may one day kill off the internal combustion engine and subsequent performance that I love. I know that electric cars can be fun, look at what Mercedes-Benz and Fisker have done with their E-Cell SLS and Karma respectively. Both of these machines are fast and fun to drive from what reports say. Therein is the problem, here in South Africa we have to read about fun electric sports cars because our choices are limited. You would have to go out and spend millions to get an exciting one, the E-Cell Mercedes would be close to R5-million here and we are not scheduled to receive any Karma’s in the foreseeable future.
For most of us the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and a range of Lexus Hybrids are our options at the moment and let’s be honest, for a sports car enthusiast slash environmentalist (quite a niche I know), those aren’t going to provide Toyota 86 levels of entertainment. Well at least that is what I thought until I remembered a certain sporty number that has eluded me for some time. I remembered it just in time to sample it right after it has gone under the knife for a mid-life tweak. The car in question is the Honda CRZ, spiritual successor to the CRX. I remember my first drive in a CRX, it was my first VTEC experience and I have to say, the B16A engine didn’t disappoint. Even though the car I drove was decidedly second-hand and had the latter half of 300 000 km on the odometer the VTEC still engaged at 5200 rpm and went screaming on to 8100 rpm.
You can understand why there was a lot resting on the sculpted shoulders of the purple CRZ that was parked in front of me. Not only does it have to be a fun hybrid, it has to live up to the legendary CRX that gave me such fond memories. Well for starters the make-over on the 2013 CRZ is not only skin deep although I have to say the sporty additions to exterior are a welcome change, the old car was missing a bit of character. It retains the CRX-esque split rear glass hatch that make it impossible to see out of but that’s beside the point. At the front the bumper has been under the knife and is now sharper while the grille has been revised. My test unit as mentioned earlier was purple, but it is the name that Honda has chosen to give to their latest exterior hue that I found interesting, Premium Northern Lights Violet Pearl. Quite a mouthful but then again, it is a very special colour. It makes the CRZ seem destined to live a life parked outside premium bars in high-end suburbs where the occasional street lamp or passing car may transform it into an eye-catching, glistening purple mystery-mobile.
Stepping inside, fans of the old CRZ will notice that the colour scheme has changed with different door card inserts. There are also new leather bucket seats to add sporting appeal to the cabin. There are also new features included as standard, you now get Bluetooth, heated seats, auto headlamps and wipers and better LED interior lighting. The improved lighting is a welcome addition; it allows you to view how spectacular the interior looks at night. It might be because I am a child at heart but I love a cockpit festooned with buttons and the CRZ is literally full of big buttons. Apart from the usual steering mounted controls for the audio and cruise control you also get a panel to your right where you can select driving modes, namely Eco, Normal and Sport. Pressing them also changes the colour of the instrument cluster, green for Eco, Blue for Normal and Red for Sport. Of all the driving modes I have to say I liked Eco the least, not because I’m against “going green” but because it makes the throttle response so flat that you find yourself driving the car harder to get up to speed. The Sports button is the opposite and makes the car too responsive for everyday driving (I never thought I would write that) and therefore I would say Normal is the best compromise. There is also a Sport Plus button on the steering wheel which I would liken to a mini-nitrous shot for eco-fundies. The only time that you may use the Sports Plus feature is when the battery is more than 50 % charged so it actually makes you drive sensibly in order to activate its 10 second power boost.
The mechanical changes to the CRZ see a 5 kW increase in the petrol engines power which is now 89 kW thanks to revised i-VTEC variable valve timing. The electric motor is no longer powered by a nickel-metal battery but instead a lithium-ion battery which bumps power from 10 kW to 15 kW. The combined power output is now 101 kW and 190 Nm with a top speed of 200 km/h. Honda say that the changes take the 0-100 km/h sprint time down from 9, 7 seconds to 9 seconds. The claimed fuel consumption is said to remain at 5, 2 l/100 km with emissions at 124 g/km.
The straight line stuff, from what I gathered isn’t really what the CRZ is about. It is about how the car feels and handles and I can happily report that it feels like a sporty Honda to drive. The exhaust emits a typical V-Tec soundtrack and even pop and crackles if you listen carefully. The car is very low to the ground, the short wheelbase and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport rubber mean that the CRZ handles long sweeps and tight corners beautifully and remains neutral while letting the driver know where its limits are well before he/she reaches them.
Overall I have to say that I was impressed by the little CRZ, while it would be impossible for it to be as characterful as its older brother the CRX, it manages to find a good balance between being entertaining drive and being an Eco-friendly hybrid. The interior quality is great and the IMA powertrain provides good low-down torque from the electric motor while still maintaining the rev-happy nature that V-Tec’s are renowned for. With a recommended retail price of R332 800 that includes a three-year/100 000km warranty and three-year/90 000km service plan it competes with the likes of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ. You will have to decide, rear-wheel drive antics or economical sports hybrid, it’s a tough choice but either way you as the driver wins in the end.