22 April 2014

Compact Renaissance Zero Indeed

We drive the Honda CR-Z Modulo CVT

Words and Photos by Ferman Lao

dsc04028Most people won't agree but the Honda CR-Z is the one of the most revolutionary cars on the road today; short sighted Honda fan wannabees, in particular will not agree. This car didn't happen overnight though. In fact, the CR-Z which was first introduced world wide in 2010 took 13 years to happen. Some quarters will credit the car being a product of design studies from the Honda Remix concept car introduced at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show or the Honda Small Hybrid Sports concept car at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show with the culmination being the CR-Z concept revealed at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. The 2007 concept car bearing the closest resemblance to the production car. All of them revolved around the premise of a small compact light weight sports car that heralded back to over 30 years ago, the Honda CR-X.

What most people don't remember is that in the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda also revealed the JV-X concept car, hailing it as the CR-X of the future. It sported a 1.0 liter three cylinder VTEC motor, the Integrated Motor Assist system and a CVT. Sounds familiar doesn't it.

The CR-X when it was introduced wasn't the most powerful car in its class nor was it the biggest or most expensive. In fact, at the time there was nothing like it at all. It was a compact, light weight, fun to drive front wheel drive sports car; and it was also economical. The rated EPA highway consumption was 4.8L/100kms. Over the course of the next couple of generations gained more refinement and power, culminating in a 160 horsepower B16A equipped version before production ended in 1997. Putting that in perspective, the final version put out almost three times the power output compared to the 58 horsepower of first generation model.

The CR-Z when equipped with a CVT as the model we tested here, currently, has a total rated output of 136PS which rounds off to 134 horsepower and 17.4Kg-m or about 126 lbs-ft of torque.

Taken alone, that's not a lot, particularly for a car that weighs in a 1,195kgs. Love it or hate it, additional weight is the price to pay for the ever increasing safety standards that increase occupant survivability. As usual though, numbers tell only part of the story.

dsc04167Driving the Honda CR-Z is an eye opening experience. There are three buttons located on the left most section of the dashboard. Marked Sport, Normal and Econ, these change the driving character of the vehicle dramatically. Econ will get you the most miles out of your moolah while Sport gets you the most bang for the buck. Normal mode makes you feel like you're driving a Jazz or a City with a sportier suspension and lookatme exterior. Your best friend tho will be the new since 2013 S+ button located on the steering wheel. Honda claims that it gives the 1.5 liter IMA powerplant the acceleration of a 3.0 engine when it's engaged. However, it won't activate all the time. It works only when you're going at least 30km/h and the batteries are charged at more than fifty percent capacity; drain the battery and the fun stops. This transforms the CR-Z from a sedate two seater(rear seats are useless for real sized people) runabout to a blazingly fast front wheel driven, traffic stitching sports car. Interestingly, in Sport mode, everything is happens much more quickly, including the regenerative charging capabilities. *Cough* KERS. *Cough* Electric drive power assist *Cough* Current Formula One tech *Cough*

instrument viewAutomatic transmission and fun to drive car rarely go together. Not so with Honda's CVT on this CR-Z. It's got 7 preselected gear ratios to choose from via the paddle shift mechanism behind the steering wheel. we kept it in drive and worked the pedal to keep the engine in the proper power band to let the CVT electronics earn their keep. How's the fuel economy? In city traffic, it's too much fun to leave it in Econ and doubt that it will significantly more fuel economical than a Jazz, City or Civic when it's not. On the highway however, the on board fuel economy meter indicates 19.9km/l or 5L/100kms when driven at a pace that's a few kilometers shy of the legal limit. That's very impressive for any car and to make it more impressive? The CR-Z is rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle by California Air Resources Board.

Getting an acceptable driving position is easy enough, with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel contributing greatly to achieving it. I'd prefer a little more reach adjustment though as even with a height adjustable driver's seat, the driving position for me still needs a bit settling into.

Ride comfort is good. It's not great with a small amount of firmness given that the nature of the vehicle still leans toward sport, environmental friendliness notwithstanding. What is something to write home about is the handling. It's very surefooted, predictable and confidence inspiring on public roads but to truly appreciate it one has to take it onto the local race track. There away from hazards of the road, limits can be pushed. The limits are high and here, the Honda CR-Z truly shines. It is mind boggling as to how a front wheel drive car can point its tail in the desired direction as willingly as this vehicle can. Traction limits are high enough that to get into trouble one would have to be doing something classified under “really stupid” or “overestimating one's talent” to get into trouble.

dsc04021Cockpit ergonomics can be tricky to get right, in the CR-Z the engineers gets only an A, instead of an A+ from us. Why? Those HVAC vents have got to be one of the oddest we've ever encountered. While they do look well integrated into the overall cosmetics of the interior, getting them to point in the desired direction wherein there is just the right amount of cooling without becoming a draft is just not possible for us. Everything else works in the cabin works just fine otherwise, right down to the chunky, leather wrapped steering wheel and the view out the windscreen at night with the factory equipped Xenon burners lighting the road ahead.

dsc04069Exterior cosmetic are always a matter of taste and preference. Here the Honda CR-Z can be a bit polarizing. You'll either love it or hate it. It is undeniably as close as you can get to having concept car and drive it too. The Modulo package adds some additional aerodynamic trim work to the car. It's going to have to be a personal decision for the prospective car owner if the added price is commensurate to the value but we definitely love the door strakes and the subtle rear deck spoiler of the Modulo kit.

The inevitable question everyone's going to be asking at the end of the day is should one get the Honda CR-Z or a Toyota 86?

The answer to that one will depend one's personal orientation when it comes to fun driving. I know I'd have a hard time choosing one over the other as each vehicle brings a different set of propositions to the table. Test drive both though and you'll know which one is for you.

Will you be one of the few at ground Zero of the Compact car Renaissance with the CR-Z?



Check out the links at the end of the photos!