Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
I’ve never got the hybrid thing. Carting round two powertrains and a socking great battery is not, to me, efficient use of energy. Definitely not green either. At least now minicabbers and metropolitan Prius owners accept they drive them out of congestion charge dodging expediency rather than any true sense they’re saving the planet.
A generation of electrically assisted hypercars has done a good job of replacing the eco smokescreen with a cloud of tyresmoke too – electrically assisted petrol engines can be sexy, shocker!
All of which makes me keen to revisit Honda’s CR-Z coupe, launched in 2010 as ‘the world’s first sporty hybrid’. Given its combined petrol-electric powertrain delivers a meagre 124ps/122bhp and 128lb ft of torque and it barely scrapes into single figures on the 0-62mph sprint that seems a little optimistic. But Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system is, to my mind, a more honest application of the technology than the green wannabes.
The original Insight of 1999 was the first hybrid on the European market, combining space age styling with the kudos of NSX inspired aluminium construction and a shared production line with the same. These are now reportedly collectable little cars, the CR-Z taking influence from both this and the delightful CRX coupe. I like the Insight. I love the NSX. And I always craved a CRX back in the day. No wonder I’m drawn to the CR-Z!
Though it has a battery the CR-Z won’t run on this alone, the 14hp/58lb ft electric motor basically boosting the petrol engine’s output much as a turbo or supercharger would otherwise. It’s since grasped that nettle but Honda famously never liked forced induction, IMA giving it opportunity to fill the torque deficit in its trademark high-revving petrol engines. But in a very Honda way. So like modern petrol turbos the CR-Z delivers its peak torque at a most un-VTEC like 1,500rpm, making it feel a lot more sprightly than the numbers suggest. The Jazz-derived 1.5-litre petrol engine is clever too, using only one of its two inlet valves at low revs but opening both for the traditional Honda top end fizz.
A half decent hot hatch will still leave a CR-Z for dead but at real world speeds it has a turn of pace old fashioned roadtesters would describe as ‘nippy’. Other Honda trademarks like the lovely short-throw manual shift make it fun to drive in a way more pious hybrids can only dream of.
As an urban runabout it makes a compelling case for itself, being far more sporty and stylish than a Mini or Fiat 500. There was a Mugen one that added a supercharger into the mix for proper performance and people have played with putting Civic Type R motors into them too. I like the sound of both. But you’re talking proper money. So I’ll have a standard one thanks, this red example standing out among those painted in the signature white. The £9K asking price opens up any number of Mini-shaped options. But who wants to be confused for an estate agent?
The CO2 goalposts have moved and the Prius remains the congestion charge dodger’s hybrid of choice. Fine – you can keep ’em. This side of a LaFerrari the CR-Z is the acceptable face of hybrid motoring, combining diesel like torque and economy but VTEC zing. As a sensible commuting tool with a taste of the exotic I’m sold!
Images courtesy of Honda and pistonheads.com