Thursday 19 April 2018

Not too fonda this honda

RATING 73/100

I am at something of a loss with this week's car.

Please bear with me as I try to explain. It has been my experience that Honda doesn't get too many things wrong when it comes to producing mainstream cars. Some of the best motors on the road, especially those for families, bear its emblem. Think of them: the Jazz, Civic, Accord, C-RV and so on. I have, betimes, recommended them to friends, secure in the knowledge they will not be disappointed.

But their last two offerings have been different in my humble opinion.

Their Insight hybrid is not ringing bells of glory anywhere is it? No, it isn't. And now their new 2+2 hybrid sports coupe, the CR-Z, has me scratching my head in puzzlement.

I want to like it. But I really can't. Yet as I write this I am informed it has picked up a new string of accolades. For the life of me, I can't bring myself to devote such overwhelming applause to it.

The CR-Z wasn't as disappointing on a full test as I thought it was when I drove it briefly some time back. In some respects it was much, much better. In some respects I thought it was worse.

They claim it is the world's first six-speed manual hybrid sports car. As such, it mixes and matches a 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine and an electric motor.

The good thing about that is it keeps emissions to just 117g/km (€104 road tax) and fuel consumption to 5l/100km. But, for a hybrid, that isn't earth shattering by any means, I must say.

And unless you drive most of the time in urban areas at nice-and-easy speeds, your petrol consumption, like mine, will be disappointing enough.

Indeed, there are several potential diesel rivals out there -- and I've driven most of them -- which will consistently outperform it in that area.

The looks -- described as a 'one-motion-wedge' -- took time to get used to. I still can't warm to them. Others did, as the rush of accolades indicates.

And it has outstripped sales predictions in Japan. So I am obviously not on message or something.

But I thought the cabin was dull with the contrast between grey and dark plastic far from comforting, I can tell you.

The dash has too many information hits. I found it all a bit too confusing.

I kept it in Sport mode virtually all the time to get the benefit of its peppiness. Indeed, this is where it shone with both good bite and a nice engine note. Obviously fuel consumption suffered a fair bit but I got a right bit of fun out of it.

There is no doubt if they could bring the rest of it up to this sort of level it would be a cracker.

There is also an Econ and Normal, both of which save on juice by varying items such as steering weight, throttle response etc, but they were quite pedantic compared with the zippy mode. And this is a sports coupe . . .

There was reasonable room for us in the front two seats but the rear ones are tiny and should be reserved really only for tiny tots or the bigger shopping bags.

Mind you, the boot is reasonable, and it has a proper luggage cover. The rear seats fold down to make the load space even bigger and there is a modicum of under-floor room.

So you can see I am a bit ho-hum about it. I still feel I had every right to expect this latest offering to be excellent if only because the Civic hybrid is a significant example of just how good one of the genre can be.

I put the CR-Z's shortcomings down to an overzealous push to get a new hybrid on the market at a time when green is perceived to be king.

By the way, CR-Z stands for Compact Renaissance Zero -- a sort of retrospective homage to a really iconic sports motor, the old CRX.

Honda has hopes that this will become something of an icon as the years slip by. I may, in a few years' time, look back on this new hybrid and have to admit it was a classic. I would gladly do so. We'll see.

What: Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe (1.5-litre petrol 112bhp engine, electric motor, 6spd gearbox, 0-100kmh in 9.9 secs), front-wheel drive, 5l/100km, CO2 of 117g/km; VRT is 14pc. €104 annual road tax.

Cost: From €26,630. Higher spec GT €29,400. Delivery, related charges extra.

Target Market: Young/single buyers, eco-conscious ‘empty nesters’.

Plus: Zip in Sport mode, hybrid, attempt to be different.

Minus: Uninspiring cabin, only reasonable fuel consumption, rear-seat room, looks.

Standard Equipment: Climate control, cruise control, front electric windows, six airbags, rear parking sensors, active headrests, 16ins alloys, electric/retractable mirrors. Three-year warranty, five years on IMA hybrid system. GT trim adds panoramic glass roof, leather upholstery, front fogs, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers.

Others to consider: VW Scirocco, BMW 1-series coupe, Lexus CT 200h, MINI Cooper, Mazda MX5.

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