Hybrids have been on the market for 10 years now, and while they’ve been interesting, perhaps even fascinating, calling them ‘exciting’ would have been a stretch.
After the quirky original Honda Insight and Toyota Prius saloon, the challenge was making these cars that carry a bulky battery and electric motor acceptable to people who wanted a mainstream car.
The Prius has become a medium-sized family hatchback, the second Honda Insight is also conventional looking, and Lexus hybrids are versions of existing models.
But Honda now has the CR-Z. It’s a compact coupé that supposedly does all the things you would expect of a coupé – provide a sharp, responsive drive and sleek looks – but is also a hybrid.
It’s based on the Insight, but with that model, unless you’re excited by virtual leaves appearing on the dashboard display as a reward for economical driving, being behind the wheel is likely to be a little disappointing for driving enthusiasts.
Luckily the CR-Z has a larger, more powerful engine (124bhp in total combining the electric motor with the 1.5-litre engine), is lighter than the Insight, and during its development it was benchmarked against some rather lively rivals, including the Mini.
Its sloping roofline and wide stance is meant to echo the sporty Honda CRX coupé of the 1980s which still has a cult following.
Luggage space is decent, but rear seat space is only really suitable for small children.
The entry-level S version of the CR-Z will sprint from 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds (the Sport will do it in 10 flat, and the range-topping GT takes 10.1 seconds - a result of each equipment grade being tested for homologation and the extra weight of more standard equipment taking its toll).
The CR-Z comes with a slick-shifting manual gearbox (a first for a hybrid in the UK), and quick steering. There are three modes – a default ‘normal’ mode, an economy mode and a sport mode – selectable using buttons behind the right-hand side of the steering wheel.
Sport mode makes the throttle more responsive and makes the steering heavier. It actually feels fun on the road with an appealing sporty exhaust note.
Its 117g/km CO2 rating gives it more appeal, but it’s such an enjoyable car to drive quickly, don’t expect drivers to get too close to the official 56.5mpg combined fuel consumption.
That the CR-Z's styling evokes memories of the CRX of the 1980s is no coincidence. However, despite being a 'green' hybrid, the CR-Z is also great fun to drive, which is a pleasant surprise.