Honda CR-Z

ON the hybrid technology front Honda has charted a slightly different path to its main rival, Toyota. Instead of offering buyers the ability to run a car completely on battery power, Honda s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology predictably assists the

ON the hybrid technology front Honda has charted a slightly different path to its main rival, Toyota.

Instead of offering buyers the ability to run a car completely on battery power, Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology predictably assists the car's petrol engine but never acts as a substitute.

The end result is a lighter, more compact package - motor, battery, assorted electronics - as there's no heavy lifting, battery-only driving to be done. It also means there's no need for a big petrol engine if it's regularly receiving assistance from an electric motor.

All this talk of light weight and lean construction wouldn't be out of place if the subject matter was a sports car. Until now hybrids have been worthy, fuel-sipping machines for those seeking to save money, petrol and the planet. But what if you could have it all: economy, low emissions and fun.

According to Honda now you can, with its rakish CR-Z offering a slightly different take on hybrid motoring. Pitched at a more youthful audience seeking the benefits we're all familiar with plus the enjoyment you get from running a warmed-over compact hatchback, the CR-Z boasts the looks and the performance to satisfy both your head and your heart. It's even been designed with a very sporting two-plus-two seating arrangement, confirming that the real focus is on front seat occupants.

Unusually for a hybrid, the raw data only tells half the story. Other more eco-focused models might trump the CR-Z's economy and emissions figures (56.5mpg, 117g/km CO2), but the little Honda's on-road performance (9.9 seconds to 62mph, 124mph top speed) is right up there with more conventional alternatives. And remember, this is a hybrid that's been tuned for fun, making the car's 1.5-litre, 114 horsepower engine and motor combo all the more impressive.

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Just to prove Honda is deadly serious about pitching the CR-Z as a sporty model, it has fitted the wedge-shaped car with a conventional six-speed manual gearbox. No slush-box auto here, and in true Honda fashion the shifter is super-short and slick just like that of a Civic Type R. And even with three pedals you still get an auto engine stop-start function as standard.

On the road the CR-Z offers drivers a firm yet engaging experience. You sit low down in the car, further enhancing its racy appeal, and corners can be attacked with considerable enthusiasm.

And it's when you're pressing on that the extra assistance from the car's electric motor makes a valuable contribution. That overtaking manoeuvre or uphill sprint is easily despatched with the aid of some additional electric power. We're not talking warp-factor acceleration here, but just enough to see your pace quicken a few notches. The situation is further enhanced by the car's sport mode, which channels even more electric power if you want to throw caution and economy to the wind. It's in this mode that the CR-Z is at its most entertaining and makes you wonder how conservative those on-paper performance figures really are.

Take the opposite approach - select the car's economy mode - and you'll instantly experience a more conservative throttle response. Ideal for low stress urban motoring, it's now that it should appeal to your greener side.

Keeping you in the loop when switching between modes is the car's array of predictably futuristic instruments and displays. The CR-Z wouldn't be a hybrid Honda if the speedometer didn't glow red if you used too much throttle, for example. Overall there are parallels with Civic's interior, as the gently curving fascia, outstanding build quality and clear (if a little wacky) displays should make Honda's fan feel at home.


HONDA CR-Z 1.5i V-TEC GT - from �19,999 on the road. Range from �16,999.