Marcus De Guzman / Kelvin Christian Go | March 31, 2016 15:01
Sport with a conscience
Living with a sports car will not always be a smooth relationship. On days where you just want to relax and cruise, a sports car will always be tugging at the leash, itching for speed and delivering a stiff ride.
Honda Philippines has been offering an alternative to such a conundrum since 2013 (sold as a 2014 model year car) with the CR-Z Sports Hybrid. It was the automaker’s first stab at the local hybrid segment and was received well by the market. For 2016, they introduced the refreshed CR-Z which gets minor exterior and interior tweaks, along with additional creature comforts. With that said, has the CR-Z lost its character after receiving extra refinements? Let’s find out.
What will always grab everyone’s attention is its exterior design. I’ve actually lost count as to how many ogled at the hybrid whenever I passed through city streets or town roads. Its signature shape pays homage to the Honda CRX, the revered hatchback of yesteryear. The resemblance is most apparent at the rear with the liftback design, small B-pillar windows and short rear overhangs.
Let’s not forget about that striking two-tone paint finish called Helios Yellow Pearl. I admit I’m not sure what people noticed first, the bright color, or the eye-catching shape; maybe both.
Compared to the pre-updated model, the 2016 CR-Z features subtle exterior revisions. For starters, it gets a more aggressive front bumper and a slightly reshaped grill. Integrated daytime running lights (DRLs) replace the previous park lights — a clever revision as the DRLs highlight the hybrid's distinct front end and make it more visible.
Also new to the 2016 CR-Z are the 17-inch alloy wheels with black inlays and the repositioned rear brake calipers. Like the front fascia, the rear also receives slight tweaks to its bumper. It has a more contoured shape and gets the same black trim found on the front bumper.
Open the doors and you are immediately greeted by shades of black, gray and orange. The particularly bright hue provides a stark contrast to the predominantly dark interior and can be seen on the leather steering wheel, door cards, leather-fabric seats, center armrest and carpets. The traditional handbrake lever is gone as it now benefits from an electronic parking brake (EPB). This allowed Honda to install a center glovebox, which the pre-updated model lacked.
Gone is the 2-DIN audio system as it has been replaced with Honda’s new 7-inch touchscreen Navi system. It manages all of the infotainment functions and features onboard navigation. It also has Bluetooth, hands-free calling, two USB ports, HDMI port and a 12V power socket. Accessing the ports however will not be the easiest thing to do in the CR-Z as they are buried deep in the center console.
It still has limited rear quarter visibility but reverse parking the refreshed CR-Z can now be done with ease, thanks to the addition of a multi-view reverse camera. Depending on the situation, the user can select from one of three camera views that will help drivers park safely.
Ever present is the futuristic cockpit design that is comprised of the 3-pod instrument panel, automatic climate control and drive modes. It looks overwhelming at first, but the unique design does make for better management of the onboard controls.
It is a 2+2 hatchback, but the rear jump seats are mostly reserved for kids. It does however have ISOFIX anchors, so in case you have a baby coming along for the ride, they can sit safety in their own child seat. What it lacks in rear seating, it makes up for with a large luggage area. The rear jump seats can even be folded for extra space.
With a push of a button, the 1.5-liter SOHC inline-four with i-VTEC and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) is brought to life. Mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), it has a combined output of 135 PS at 6,600 rpm and 171 Nm of torque at 4,800 rpm. The figures may not be stellar, but it is how the powertrain delivers its power that matters.
On Normal mode, the CR-Z delivered enough pep while still keeping the revs low on cruising or city speeds. It behaved like an automatic gearbox and easily adjusted itself depending on the driver’s input. If one felt the need to be lighter on the throttle, it does have Eco mode which restricts the ECU and accelerator response for better fuel mileage.
For those that prefer an engaging driving experience, it has Sport Mode which livens up the ECU, stiffens the steering wheel and allows the transmission to hold the revs longer. It also comes with paddle shifters that simulate gear-shifting with 7 preset ratios.
It was along the twisty bends of Tanay, Rizal where I got to test the CR-Z’s road holding capabilities. Sitting on a MacPherson strut-torsion beam setup and Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tires, it allowed me to tackle the mountain roads in confidence. The electronic power steering was finely weighted on Normal mode though it did feel numb several times. There was hardly any body roll and the tires kept the CR-Z moving along just fine. Also keeping the car on its toes was the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) which comes as standard across the range.
It also had one of the best brakes that I ever got to use. Its stopping power was consistent and the pedal itself was light enough for city driving, emergency braking and stop-and-go traffic. In addition, using the brakes also charges the lithium battery packs which the car uses for providing additional power.
On long drives, I noticed that the sports hybrid was surprisingly comfortable. Sure it had a stiffer ride than most hatchbacks, but it was forgiving. The spacious interior also provided an airy, clutter-free feel. I do find it quite disappointing that the CR-Z has a relatively wide turning radius in spite of its small size.
In terms of fuel consumption, I averaged about 10km/l on the trip computer as my time with the CR-Z mostly consisted of city and highway driving.
The country has yet to fully embrace hybrids, but the 2016 CR-Z still puts up quite a proposition. It has the benefit of a sports compact yet feels normal and economical to drive around cities or towns. Its ride quality is fair compared to other sports coupes that punish the occupants when faced with uneven roads. And even with the added creature comforts, the sports hybrid didn’t lose its charisma in terms of delivering a spirited driving experience.
At PhP 1,560,000, the two-tone CR-Z with the CVT is quite the investment but it is still relatively cheaper than traditional sports cars or coupes. Those that prefer something priced lower can opt for the manual variant which starts at PhP 1,440,000. If ever the government does offer tax incentives for hybrids in the future, the CR-Z’s retail price would significantly drop, which would allow Honda to price it more competitively.
With a unique hybrid powertrain, eye-catching design and new interior refinements, the 2016 CR-Z is the alternative choice for those that prefer something a bit different than the typical sports car.