Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos, Honda Press | posted August 19, 2013 13:38
Driving a hybrid future
They say you can't have your cake and eat it too.
We understand where this saying is coming from, but Honda respectfully disagrees, and they're using this to make their point: the newly launched Honda CR-Z... their hybrid sport hatchback.
I know what you're thinking: it's been out in other markets for the last 3 years already, so why is Honda bringing it in just now? More importantly, does it make sense?
Let's find out, then.
From BGC to BRC
The very next day after Honda launched the CR-Z at Bonifacio Global City, we were whisked off to Batangas, particularly the Batangas Racing Circuit, to sample their first ever, officially sold hybrid. Waiting there on the track were 6 examples of the new, 2014 version along with the decal-clad CR-Z with the Mugen kit that we tested a couple of months back.
HCPI actually had all 6 variants of the CR-Z available to test with manual and CVT versions of the Standard CR-Z, the Modulo-clad CR-Z, and the Mugen-kitted CR-Z. It looked like a nice and fun little hybrid hatch buffet on the main straight of the Batangas Racing Circuit.
In actuality, the Batangas Racing Circuit is my personal favorite in the Philippines. While I have a soft spot for the now defunct Subic International Raceway (many of us learned how to drive hard and fast there), the walls were just too terrifying at speed. The new Clark International Speedway is fast, but it's pretty much flat and rather featureless, apart from the gentler version of the corkscrew. The Carmona race track would be fun, but it's just for karts... in retrospect, the CR-Z might be fun there if the track bosses would allow.
The Batangas Racing Circuit really offered a good mix of challenges with bumps, long straights, bankings, chicanes, high kerbs, hairpins and fear-inducing flat out corners. I probably wasn't the only one that was actually relishing the thought of maxing out the CR-Z there but -as we suspected- that won't be the case.
Event organizers wanted us to drive the CR-Z and find the balance between performance and efficiency... just what they had intended the car to do when it first hit the drawing board.
The guys at Honda sat us down for a quick product brief as well as the directions for the activity. Alongside Tatsuya Natsume (Honda Cars Philippines President) was a quiet man; his name is Norio Tomobe.
Tomobe-san is actually the leader behind the CR-Z project a few years back when Honda set out to create a guilt-free, sport hybrid hatchback.
For those who aren't familiar with it, the CR-Z is the much awaited successor to the popular Honda CR-X from the late 80's up to the very early 90's, paving the way for the popularity of the sport or hot hatchback. The CR-X also contributed greatly to the popularity of the Honda B-series engines, the most popular of which are the B16 and later on the B18. The best part is that the early B engines offered the Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation in performance offered by early versions of VTEC.
Meet the CR-Z... again
It's not our first date with the CR-Z, as the version we drove earlier gave us a taste of the what Tomobe-san and his team came up with back in 2009-2010 with the launch of the original CR-Z albeit with plenty of goodies from Mugen, especially the suspension. The CR-Z that Honda Cars Philippines just launched is already the new version, with some exterior and interior updates.
The engine remains the same: a 1.5 liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 with i-VTEC. What sets the CR-Z apart is the Integrated Motor Assist system that has an electric motor that provides an extra help to the engine to keep the revs down, hence saving fuel. Matched with the hybrid system are a pair of transmissions: a 6-speed manual and a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The power and torque figures are different depending on the transmission. The CR-Z M/T develops 136 PS of power and 190 Newton meters of torque. The CVT version gets a bit less at 135 PS and 171 Newton meters.
Unlike other hybrids (i.e. the Prius), the CR-Z cannot drive on electric power alone. Think of it like a Formula One car with the KERS assistance... it's pretty much a 'lite' version of a hybrid.
What Honda was keen to highlight was the three mode drive system for the hybrid powertrain. The three settings are: Sport (maximum engine/motor response), Normal (balance between power and efficiency) and Econ (retards engine/motor response for maximum efficiency). Econ mode is also augmented by an automatic engine start/stop function, so you don't waste fuel while stopped at a set of lights.
Balance of speed and efficiency
This was, of course, a contest. Like in the other markets where the CR-Z was launched, Honda held a circuit contest where participants had to find the right balance between speed and fuel efficiency.
We were to drive the full version of the Batangas Racing Circuit, once in a manual CR-Z and another in a CVT, trying to set a fast time while maintaining good consumption numbers. I settle into the CR-Z with the 6-speed manual first, and go for a few laps around the track. It's actually quite fun, even though we had to be mindful of our consumption. The CR-Z performs well and with minimal roll, though given our far-from-the-limit driving it was expected.
What's also new is the push-to-pass button (S+) on the steering wheel, as it uses the maximum charge from the new lithium ion batteries to deliver maximum power while -you guessed it- passing.
After trying out the manual, it's off to the CVT. Frankly I prefer the manual, not just because we're on the track, but because the M/T has more power (even though it's just by 1) and torque. You do get paddles in the CVT version which is good for the track or a mountain road.
When all was said and done, it was time to tally up the scores.
Finding the sweet spot
The fastest guys in the group were completing three laps of the Batangas Racing Circuit's full course in around 11 minutes. It wasn't fast by any yardstick, because it was all about carrying as much reasonable speed into a corner and maintaining as much when exiting the same.
Our hosts were actually surprised with the result, as speed and efficiency are typically at the opposite ends of the spectrum. In the other countries that they tried this driving exercise, the winner for fuel economy was never ever the same as the winner in terms of speed.
So, at the end of the day, it was James Deakin of C! Magazine who achieved the best in both, with a an average fuel economy of 19.7 kilometers per liter while also getting the best time overall with an average of 11 minutes and 42 seconds over three laps. Consider that a world first then for the Honda CR-Z launch activities.
Nevertheless, it was an impressive showing from Honda. Hybrid cars aren't typically exciting nor are they particularly stunning to look at... but Honda and the CR-Z would like to respectfully disagree.
Honda Cars Philippines may have taken quite a while to bring in the CR-Z, but all in all, this little hybrid hatch aimed for the sweet spot between style, performance, handling, efficiency and pricing, and hit it right on the mark.