The CR-Z‘s exterior styling is formed around a “one-motion wedge” concept with a low bonnet line and wide stance giving the car a confident, athletic look. Signature Honda design features, such as the split level rear glass hatch and aerodynamic, shallow raked roofline have been referenced in the design of the sleek coupe and then combined with a curvaceous and deeply sculpted exterior form.
The overall power output of the engine and IMA system is 124 PS and a healthy 174 Nm of torque. The peak torque figure is identical to that of the 1.8-litre Civic and arrives at just 1500 RPM, a level where previously only turbocharged engines deliver their maximum. Even with torque levels directly comparable with a Civic, the CR-Z emits 35 g/km** less CO2 than its conventionally powered cousin. Other harmful exhaust emissions are also very low and the Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack can be recycled through Honda dealers, at the end of the vehicle’s life.For the first time, a fuel efficient, low emission parallel hybrid system is combined with an ultra precise 6-speed manual gearbox. The manual gearbox is a core part of the driver engagement Honda’s engineers wanted to bring to the CR-Z model. The flexibility of Honda’s unique IMA parallel hybrid system allows it to be used with a range of transmissions, not just CVT-based gearboxes.
The manual transmission is complemented by a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder i-VTEC engine, which is new to Europe and is a key component in the CR-Z’s unique character. This powerful, yet efficient engine is based on the engine fitted to some non-European versions of the Jazz. The eager to rev nature of the medium capacity engine, is enhanced by the additional 78 Nm of torque provided by the 14 PS electric motor, which is situated between the engine and clutch. The electric motor boosts torque at low and medium revs, which gives the CR-Z in-gear flexibility more usually associated with turbocharged engines. To maximise driver choice and enhance the day to day driveability of the car, the CR-Z is fitted with a 3-Mode Drive System. This unique feature allows the driver to choose between three driving modes, which alter the responses of the throttle, steering, climate control and the level of assistance provided by the IMA system. In developing this new facility, Honda allows the driver to adapt the car’s settings to enjoy their favourite road, maximise economy, or strike a balance between the two.Sport buttons have become commonplace, usually offering a sharper throttle response, but Honda’s 3-Mode Drive System is different. The new system alters the behaviour of the hybrid drivetrain and the power steering assistance as well as the throttle mapping between the three modes.
When the CR-Z driver is away from the town or city and wanting to enjoy the open road, they can put the car into SPORT mode. This sharpens the throttle response, changes the behaviour of the IMA hybrid system to provide more electric motor assistance and increases the weight of the electric power steering. Honda recognises that even the most enthusiastic driver may regularly experience heavy traffic, where maximising fuel economy is more desirable than the perfect line through a corner. In these situations ECON mode can be selected, which prioritises fuel economy in the operation of the drive-by-wire throttle, ECU, air conditioning and the hybrid system. For those times when spirited driving is not possible or desirable, the Eco Assist function, in conjunction with the ECON mode, allows the driver to enjoy beating their best economy score on the way to work, or in heavy traffic.At all times the car can be run in NORMAL mode, which provides a balance between performance, economy and emissions and suits most driving situations.
The ambient lighting of the speedometer is used in the same way as in the Insight to guide the driver in driving more economically and ecologically. In addition to the Eco Assist function, the CR-Z’s meter lighting is linked to the 3-mode drive system. In NORMAL mode and ECON mode the speedometer is illuminated blue, glowing green when driven economically. In ECON mode it has a green eco flower lit in the mode indicator. When the speedometer is illuminated in a red ambient light, this indicates the CR-Z is in SPORT mode. Careful consideration was given to exhaust design to ensure that as well as being efficient, the CR-Z is a car that encourages the enthusiastic driver and sounds quite unlike any previous compact hybrid. Other components including engine mounts and sound deadening were tuned to ensure that the sporting elements of the exhaust were heard by the driver, but less desirable noises often associated with sports exhausts were attenuated.The exterior design of CR-Z deliberately evokes the iconic style of the 1980s CR-X, which was originally developed to provide a small, stylish car that could achieve spectacular economy. Signature features of the CR-X, like the split level rear glass hatch and low shallow raked roofline have been referenced in the design of the sleek coupe and then combined with a curvaceous and deeply sculpted exterior form.
The shallow raked roofline and sharply truncated tail of the CR-Z is a feature shared with many Hondas past and present, including the CR-X, 1999 Insight and the FCX Clarity. All of these cars have been designed to cut through the air with minimal disturbance, reducing drag to lower fuel consumption and emissions. The CR-Zs headlights are accented with LED day time running lights, which are positioned in the lower section of the front lights. This is the first time LED running lights have been applied to the front of any production Honda car and help to emphasise the wide sporting stance of the new hybrid coupe.
The interior of the production car has been influenced by the cabin of the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show CR-Z Concept, especially the 3D speedometer and driver focussed cabin. The high-technology instrument binnacle places all of the commonly used controls close to the driver’s hands, allowing full concentration on driving at all times.The dashboard of the new coupe has a complex and interesting form, with a dark upper portion appearing to float above a light grey lower dash section, which is continued into the centre of the inner door panels.
Equipment levels on the CR-Z are generous with all grades benefitting from six airbags, active headrests, Vehicle Stability Assist and Hill Start Assist. All CR-Zs will also come fitted with Climate Control, 6-speaker CD player, USB iPod® link and an engine start button. Middle and top grades benefit from leather seats, steering wheel audio controls and alloy pedals. Top grades gain Bluetooth® Hands Free Telephone controls, Cruise Control, Panoramic Glass Roof, HID lights and 360Whigh power audio system – including a boot mounted sub-woofer.The stylish interior has a 2+2 layout, opening up the possibility of carrying smaller adults for short distances or children on longer journeys. The one-touch motion folding rear seats open up a flat floored cargo area, that gives a surprising 382 litres of cargo space, on a par with most C-segment hatchbacks, allowing a wider range of luggage to be carried. The flexible luggage area also has an under-boot area of 19 litres to stow additional cargo, or store items out of sight.
The chassis was an important factor in the development of the new car, with driver enjoyment being a core part of the design brief. The platform shares some components with the Jazz and Insight models, but the wheelbase, track width and set-up are all unique to the new hybrid. Overall the CR-Z has a 115 mm shorter wheelbase and is 310 mm shorter in overall length than the Insight, enhancing agility and reducing kerb weight by 57 kg compared to its 5-door, five-seat, family car cousin.The CR-Z suspension features unique, springs and dampers setting and the tolerances are also unique. One of the major detail changes is the adoption of a forged aluminium lower arm in the MacPherson strut front suspension to replace the Insight’s pressed steel items. This reduces weight of each wishbone by 2 kg and also increases strength to cope with the wider track width and tyres.
As a compact 2+2 coupe with a double window rear hatch and shallow sloping roof line, the CR-Z’s links to the CR-X are clear. What perhaps is less obvious is the link between the cars’ aims and original design briefs.The CR-X was first launched in 1983 and received a warm welcome as a compact, agile coupe that transformed opinions on Honda in the US and Europe. What is less well known is that the major purpose of the CR-X was to break the 50 MPG barrier in the US and top the EPA fuel economy ratings. The design of the car was dictated by the need to be compact and therefore light, as well as aerodynamic needs.
Because of the compact wheelbase and light weight, the CR-X proved to be an excellent handling and fun-to-drive car. Current Honda CEO and President, Takonobu Ito, who worked on the engineering of the chassis of the CR-X and recognises the need for a new era of environmentally responsible fun cars, commented at the Detroit motor show debut of the CR-Z: “My first assignment in the U.S. came in the early 1980s. I was a young engineer, developing the chassis for the first generation Honda CR-X. You might remember it as the “pocket rocket.” I remember CR-X as a vehicle that demonstrated that a car can be both sporty and fuel efficient. Times have changed … but the idea of developing vehicles that are both fun to drive and fuel efficient is alive and well.”
Honda’s First Hybrid Coupe – The Insight
Honda’s Insight was the first hybrid to be sold in Europe and the US, and like the CR-Z, was a 3-door coupe with a manual (5-speed) transmission. The role of CR-Z and the original Insight coupe are quite different, but the daring styling of the Honda’s original hybrid also had the signature two window rear hatch and aerodynamically sculpted roofline.The 1999 Insight was also available with a CVT transmission, showing from the start that Honda’s innovative IMA parallel hybrid system is impressively flexible and adaptable. This car paved the way for Honda’s modern hybrids and demonstrated the benefits of petrol electric technology as well as proving the reliability of this previously unseen system. Such was the success of the original concept, used Insights are commanding high prices in the used market, as their combination of reliability and fuel economy has won many fans.
In the 10-years since the Insight was launched, the world and the European car market has changed a great deal, and more environmentally sensitive technologies have become mainstream interests. Honda’s first foray into the hybrid market started a petrol electric revolution for the company that will continue with the CR-Z, Jazz hybrid and others in the future.