First Drive: Honda CR-Z
Scramble Assist – is this a gyroscopic egg-whisk, or a device to get sleepy RAF pilots out of the mess and into the air? Nope, it's a feature of Honda's neat new CR-Z hybrid coupe, which is a sporty way to go green for a not unreasonable sum of money.
The base price of this slick little coupe is £16,999, which compares pretty well with say, a Renault Megane Coupe or a Volvo C30, and certainly an Audi TT or the VW Scirocco, which cost significantly more. True, the German models are better finished inside, but the Honda gets eyes staring at least as effectively. The CR-Z's not as quick either with its combined petrol-electric power output of 124bhp, but it's brisk for the money and stands a good chance of turning in fuel consumption on the right side of 40mpg.
This two-plus-two coupe is Honda's latest hybrid offering – you can already buy a petrol-electric Civic saloon and the five-door Insight – and if you're a keen driver, or fancy a bit of style with your fuel and planet-saving, is easily the company's most interesting offer yet. Power comes from a 114bhp petrol engine that combines with a 14bhp electric motor. That 14bhp may not sound much, but it puts out 129lb ft of torquey pulling power, the effects of which you can certainly feel when moving off or accelerating hard. This is what Honda calls Scramble Assist, the electric motor smoothly boosting the efforts of the petrol engine. How much it does this depends not only on how firmly you accelerate but also what mode the car is in - we'll come to that shortly – and how much juice there is the battery.
The available charge depends entirely on whether you've been draining with hard acceleration, or recharging it by coasting, braking, and accelerating gently, the secret of a hybrid's fuel-saving ways being the capture of the energy wasted when the car is decelerating and braking. This might sound complicated but the task is eased by the Honda's instrumentation, which gives you plenty of clues as to whether you're saving fuel or not. The most obvious and eye-catching feature is a combined rev counter and digital speedo that glows green when you're being economical, or blue when you're not. There's also an 'eco guide bar' whose cursor shifts left or right depending on how hard you're accelerating or braking – keeping the cursor in the middle is the aim – an econometer, and the chance to grow to digital flowers in your dashboard.
At which point you may think Honda's has lost it, but no – the aim is to provide you with an entertaining way to save fuel when you're in the Econ mode, a section of the instrument pack given over to the growing of leaves when you're being economical, these eventually turning into flowers if you're particularly successful. You win a wreath if you've been more economical than on your previous journey, too. It's not so mad when you consider that this car comes from the land of Nintendo and Playstations, and it genuinely adds fun during a commute. More than that, Honda reckons it saves up to 10 percent on your fuel bills, aided by a particularly smooth stop-start system.
That Econ mode is triggered by one of three switches on the CR-Z's dashboard, the others being Normal and Sport, the last of these maximising the electric motor's assistance and turning this coupe into quite a peppy little performer, your enjoyment increased by a sports-tuned sports exhaust. The CR-Z courses around corners pretty effectively too, even if the electrically assisted steering feels a little dead. At most speeds it could charge into bends with a little more enthusiasm too, though curiously, on a track the Honda can get a bit too frisky. Sensibly, ESP anti-skid control is standard.
So is a decent level of comfort if you treat this car as a two seater, plenty of room being provided up front, but the rear seat is suitable for only for small children or luggage. The standard £16,999 CR-Z S gets six airbags, climate control, a six-speaker stereo, heated door mirrors, electric windows, a gearshift change-up light and an auxilliary socket, while the £17,999 Sport provides cruise control, steering wheel controls, alloy pedals, parking sensors, privacy glass, an upgraded stereo and a USB port. And the £19,999 GT adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, a panoramic glass roof, auto headlights and wipers and a sat nav option.
All of which adds up to a pretty intriguing car. It's not the most riotous small coupe we've driven on a twisty road but it's pretty good fun, while the hybrid drive and fuel-saving instrumentation provides a whole new dimension of entertainment that will save you money, too.