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Motoring: CRX enthusiasts can rejoice with the new CR-Z

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | November 8th, 2010

In the course of any year, there are cars you want to drive, and there are cars you couldn't care less about driving. The new Honda CR-Z falls in the former category.

This car is sort of a spiritual successor to the CRX, one of the most popular models Honda produced back in the 1980s. The CRX still has a huge cult following, and many of these enthusiasts have been waiting for a replacement model. The question is, would they be delighted or disappointed by the new CR-Z?

As I walked up to the new CR-Z, which was waiting for me at the new Honda Canada facility in Richmond Hill, I recall thinking, "They got the looks right, for a start."

Whereas most Honda models tend to be a bit boring in design, the CR-Z is a breath of fresh air. Every angle and every line on this car is styled beautifully — obviously the design team wanted a car that would turn heads from all angles. I particularly like the fact this car has a coupe-ish styling in its profile, but when viewed from an upstairs window, the car looks like a mini-wagon. I had previously seen paint that changes its shade when viewed from different angles, but the CR-Z has a body that manages to look very different from different angles. I dig that.

I also like its interior. The build quality is outstanding. Every panel of trim looks and feels good, and it is very well put together. You get a feeling that Honda didn't want to cut corners with this car (not that they do otherwise), and that is made even more obvious when you look at the dials. This car has to have the most attractive instrument binnacle I have seen on any car at any price. The digital speedometer seems to float in the centre, with the rev-counter hovering on its outer rim. Couple that with climate control and driving mode selector in a neat panel around the instruments finishes the look beautifully.

One drawback of this is that the stereo/navigation system gets pushed into the passenger compartment. But since the steering wheel-mounted buttons can control the stereo, it's not too big a deal.

The only other drawback is its two-seater configuration. I don't know why Honda decided to turn the CR-Z into a two-seater for the North American market (in Asia and Europe it's a 2+2) — I think it has plenty of room to accommodate people in the back. This makes it a tad impractical, so if you need to carry more than one passenger with you, you'll need to look elsewhere. For two people, the CR-Z is spacious and comfortable. I love the supportive seats, which are comfortable to sit on even after a long drive.

Coupes are not meant to be practical, but this one is, so if you are a sales rep who carries lots of product, or work as a pizza delivery guy, you'll love the CR-Z.

But what enthusiasts love from their cars is performance, so does the CR-Z deliver on that front too?

On paper it just doesn't. This stylish coupe is a hybrid, and hybrids are typically about as much fun to drive as vacuuming. Plus the figures don't give much encouragement either. It has a 1.5- litre, four-cylinder engine, plus the electric drivetrain. In total this car produces 122 hp, and 122 lb/ft of torque. Plus, at 1211 kg, it is light, but not as light as you might want it to be, so this is no miniature Ferrari.

But there is potential and lots of it. First, there is a truly brilliant six-speed manual gearbox (a CVT automatic is also available), which reminded me why I like manual transmissions in the first place. This unit is precise and has a quality feel that just is not available on any other car that costs under $35,000.

Then there are its drive modes. You can drive it in "Normal" mode or, if you want to save the planet, you can drive it in "Eco" mode (this gets you the best fuel mileage). It also has a third setting — "Sport" mode, which turned out to be my favourite. The moment you press the Sport button, the whole demeanor of this car changes. The throttle response quickens, the steering feels sharper, and both its engines work on full attack mode. This has to be the quickest 122 hp car I have ever driven. Couple that with its excellent handling, and what you get is one of the most fun coupes in its segment.

But sadly, despite being a hybrid, it is not the most economical. I averaged 6.6-litres/100km in my week. That is not bad, but nowhere near other hybrids, or even non-hybrid cars, like the Mini Cooper, which manage better fuel economy. But given the element of fun it provides, you forgive it for its thirst.

It won't cost you much to own one. Prices for the CR-Z start at just $23,490.

So is it a worthy successor to the original CRX? I would say it is, and I would love to own one if I could.
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