Thursday, July 22, 2010

Honda Puts Fun Into Owning A Hybrid

From Burnaby NewsLeader

TEST DRIVE: Honda puts fun into owning a hybrid

By Jim Robinson - Burnaby NewsLeader
Published: July 22, 2010 12:00 PM
Updated: July 22, 2010 12:11 PM

Can you have fun and drive a hybrid?

Honda thinks they have the answer to that in the 2011 CR-Z.

For those who go back a bit, the CR-X, made from 1983-1991, was one of the most endearing cars Honda ever made. It was a small sporty coupe based on the Civic that had basically two seats with pert, chopped off tail. It didn’t have a lot of power but the CR-X more than made up for that with nimble handing, frugal operation, affordable pricing and a whole lot of character.

That Honda chose the name CR-Z was not lost on journalists attending the press launch in Toronto although Honda claims it’s just a coincidence. Right.

Nonetheless, the CR-Z is also a two-seat sporty coupe with a pert, chopped off tail and styling that screams, this car is a blast.

And while the old CR-X was great on gas, the new car goes a big one better; it’s a hybrid.

The CR-Z starts with a 1.5-litre, SOHC four-cylinder gasoline engine based on the unit used in the Fit. By itself, the engine produces 113 hp and 107 lb/ft of torque. It is then hooked up to a new, thinner, lighter electric motor which is part of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) approach to hybrid cars.

Unlike Toyota, where the engine augments the battery, Honda uses the lithium-ion rechargeable battery to give the engine an extra shot of acceleration and torque, kind of like an electric supercharger.

The motor gives 13 more horsepower, but more importantly, 58 lb/ft of torque. When they are combined, the CR-V gives a rated 122 hp and 128 lb/ft of torque. You may notice that 107 and 58 lb/ft of torque don’t add up to 128 lb/ft. That’s because the two power plants make peak torque at quite different RPMs. The 128 lb/ft therefore is a rating of what torque is produced in real world conditions.

FYI, estimated fuel consumption is 6.5/5.3/6.0L/100 km city/highway/combined with the standard six-speed manual transmission and 5.6/5.0/5.5L/100 km city/highway/combined for the optional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

When it comes to the fun part, there are actually several ways to do it.

We’ll get to the ride and handling in a bit, but first is the 3-Mode Drive System. To the left of the instrument panel are three buttons marked Sport, Normal and Econ.

Normal is the standard setting for engine response, steering, IMA and air conditioning. The engine always defaults to Normal at startup. Econ optimizes the system so IMA uses less power for better fuel consumption along with cutting back the power draw of the air conditioning. Power gives IMA priority toward performance by increasing throttle and electric steering response.

Similar to the Honda Insight Hybrid, you can turn watching your fuel consumption into a game.

The main instrument ahead of the driver is a very large tachometre in the centre of which is a round gauge giving a digital display for speed and other driver info. But around the edge of this gauge is a coloured ring that ranges from green for good mileage, to blue for not the best mileage to red for being fuel naughty.

When you’re in Sport, the ring stays red all the time, almost glaring at you. In Normal, the ring transitions from green to blue to the point it is a like a video game where bring green means you’re good. Soon you find yourself feathering the throttle and braking hard to increase regenerative power to the battery in order to be as green as possible.

Econ mode means green almost all of the time. But there’s a catch.

Econ retards the IMA and engine to the point that the car is very sluggish off the line. You’d think this would be great in the city, but with all manner of high-powered cars and trucks behind you, operating in Sport is almost mandatory.

Surprisingly to me, Econ worked best on suburban streets on the outskirts of the big city where the pace is more relaxed and civilized.

Hit Sport when you’re in Normal and you’ll feel the surge of power come in. Go from Econ to Sport and the CR-Z vaults ahead. Go from Sport to Econ on the highway and it’s like you popped a parachute.

At a stop, the engine shuts off and turns off the air to cut fuel consumption.

Press in the clutch and the IMA starts the engine and off you go.

Out on the road, the handling was like a small sportscar, precise and with great feedback.

At a closed course slalom, people were throwing the CR-Z around with great abandon with one journalist delighting in the low-end torque and the fact he could get the tail to hang out on hairpin turns.

On a highway north of Toronto, I drove the car mostly in Normal and my co-driver mostly in Sport. The sports tuned suspension is already pretty good, but it’s even better in Sport allowing you to enjoy the car and stay under the posted speed limit all at the same time.

We also got a lot of looks in the CR-Z, mostly from kids but also from a lot of Honda driver/owners.

At a stop for coffee a woman pulled up beside me in a Honda Insight Hybrid and exclaimed how she and like-minded hybrid owners are changing the world as she lit up a cigarette—go figure.

One thing you will have to get used to is the view through the rear window panel. Like the Insight Hybrid the liftgate is chopped off at the back with a vertical window.

The problem is there is a thick seam where the liftgate window meets the back window that is directly in the line of sight, partially blocking the view of cars behind.

There is cargo space for up to 711 litres. The CR-Z comes with a rear cargo cover that can be fitted at three different levels. In addition, there is a rear cargo console behind the front seats providing a hidden storage area complete with two-zone tray.

I said there are several ways to have fun in this car and another is cost.

If you were expecting to pay $30,000 or more, forget it.

The 2011 CR-Z Hybrid with standard six airbags, electronic stability control, Xenon High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, Bluetooth hands-free phone link and 360-watt premium sound system with seven speakers is $23,490 for the manual and $24,290 for the CVT.

That means, along with the Civic Hybrid and the Insight, Honda offers the three lowest priced hybrids on the market.

And how much fun is that?


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