Goodbye to our Honda CR-Z – 31 January 2012
The departure of a long-term car is an odd experience. I rarely grow attached to the car as a true owner would, but tend to view them with a rather detached eye as something to be constantly evaluated and judged. The Honda was different. I really gelled with this car during the 12,000-odd miles we covered together. Its ethos, its intelligence, its looks and its dynamics – I loved pretty much everything about this darty little coupe. I said goodbye to it with real regret.
I loved the Honda’s looks. I never tired of its dramatic styling, was always aware that it turned heads and caught myself even deep into its time with me, still turning to gaze at it after locking and walking away from it. It looked just like an incredibly advanced and high-tech glimpse of the automotive future ought to – clean, sharp and muscular. And I was gladdened to see that Honda’s stunning Ev-Ster concept car from this year’s Tokyo motor show driving this bold designing direction forward.
The cabin design was equally effective. For all its graphs, displays and read-outs, the CR-Z’s intelligently-configured dashboard was a pleasure to look at and operate. All the data available was salient and worth monitoring. The layout was eye-catching as well as ergonomically sound. Build quality, despite the ho-hum plastics was superb. The only black spot was the sat-nav system whose graphics and menu system seemed to have would have come straight out of 1985. Awesome stereo, though. The seats were wonderfully low-slung but lacked under-thigh support. And the rear seats were utterly pathetic.
The CR-Z’s hybrid system was never anything less than superb. The electric and petrol units worked together seamlessly and intuitively to deliver decent dollops of low-rev torque and high-rev punch. You just had to make sure that you didn’t caught languishing in the mid-range because otherwise anything – even diesely people carriers – would simply embarrass you. The car’s modest on-paper stats – 10.1 to 62mph and a 124mph top whack – belied its sheer brio and tail-up enthusiasm. It wasn’t fast but, my, it always felt it. Which, given today’s camera-littered roads, is no bad thing.
The CR-Z was far from perfect, but oddly - or encouragingly enough – it wasn’t the hybrid technology that let the side down, but rather straightforward dynamics. The Honda’s ride quality was terrible. Brittle, stiff and ludicrously lacking in compliancy, it made tackling our roads something to be done through gritted teeth. I don't quite understand why Honda has got this so wrong over the last decade – every Honda I’ve driven in recent memory has been marked out by a stiff-jointed and unforgiving ride. The other major shortcoming was the mute and artificial-feeling steering. Sure, it was quick and unerringly accurate, and you could peel the coupe into corners with real precision, but my nephew’s plastic Playstation steering wheel has better feel and feedback. Maybe Honda’s engineers need to have a long drive in the 1995 Integra Type R – one of the finest front wheel-drive cars (along with the Peugeot 306 Rallye and Ford Racing Puma) I have ever driven – to remind themselves that they’ve done it once, so they can and should do it again.
It would, then, be relatively easy to create a far superior next-gen CR-Z (would it be the CR-A…?). Go to Sachs and see the magic it’s advanced dampers can create when it comes to combining excellent body control and ride comfort. Go to Recaro and get some equally low-slung bucket seats that also have plenty of base support. Ditch the ridiculous rear seats and offer a big and accessible lockable luggage box. Speak to TomTom about a first-rate satellite navigation system. And speak to Porsche about how electrically-assisted steering can still be feelsome and connected. And find more torque – a lot more torque – throughout the rev-range. Push battery and electric motor technologies to the next level to get more green grunt. Perhaps if the CR-Z’s engine was breathed on by a tiny low-pressure turbo, or even drank diesel…
Looked at with a cold and calculating eye, a £25,550 (as tested) two-seater coupe with very modest performance and economy (my overall economy was 47.2mpg compared to the 56.5mpg official figure) is hardly something to get all steamy about. But drive the CR-Z along your favourite road, let it get under your skin and fill you with its feel-good factor, and the picture changes dramatically. This Honda was special and made me feel so every time I dropped down behind its steering wheel. It will be greatly missed.