Insight in Hindsight

Honda’s 2010 CR-Z was not without precedent. Quite the contrary.

(c) autoevolution

Of all the mainstream Japanese carmakers, Honda have perhaps the longest track record of going about things their own way. Yes, one can point to someone like Subaru and suggest an element of stand-alone behaviour, but while Fuji Heavy Industries has for the most part cleaved doggedly to one central idea, one never quite knows what Honda is likely to get up to next.

Take the 2010 Honda CR-Z: A compact 2+2 hybrid coupé was not the epicentre of automotive orthodoxy ten years ago, the intention being to create something of a halo model to help nudge customers towards Honda’s more prosaic range of Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) petrol-combustion hybrid drive models. But not only was the drivetrain shared with the concurrent Civic Hybrid and stand-alone Prius-baiting Insight model, so too was the platform, in this case with a sizeable chunk excised from the centre section.[1]

The CR-Z also arrived with a palpably strong sense of déjà-Vu, insofar as more observant Honda watchers were likely to have recognised a family resemblance in the CR-Z’s exterior silhouette; a development (or homage if you wish) not only of the low-volume 2000 Insight model, itself powered by a series hybrid powertrain, but the CR-X series of Civic-based coupés produced during the 1980s.[2]

Much had changed (not just at Minato, but globally) since the advent of the NSX two decades previously, and while the CR-Z was also intended as something of a halo vehicle, it was in this case pitched as a fun, affordable sporting car which could be enjoyed with a reassuring and somewhat self-righteous eco-glow.

road and track
2000 Honda Insight. Image: Road and Track

But while the 2000 Insight was more akin to something like a DB Panhard in its use of lightweight materials, small capacity powerplant and emphasis upon low mechanical friction, rolling resistance and aerodynamic efficiency (cd of 0.24), the decade later CR-Z was a more conventional unitary bodied vehicle – less cerebral, somewhat more hedonistic in nature. It also punched a considerably larger hole through the ether, with a drag coefficient of 0.30.

While also on one hand, a more useable proposition than its rolling laboratory Insight predecessor, on the other, it was less of a design or technological statement. In reality, they were very different motor cars – the Insight perhaps having more in common with the NSX, whereas the CR-Z was a more commercially optimised offering.

In appearance it was a sharper, more aggressive looking evolution of similar styling themes – expressed more clearly and cohesively in the millennial Insight – but was nonetheless a striking, attractive shape. The primary difference (apart from the earlier design being somewhat friendlier looking) lay in glazing – the Insight offering far superior outward visibility – a matter exacerbated in the CR-Z by the tiny rear quarter windows and the use of privacy glass. This combined with the shallow glazing and rising beltline, ensured that not only did rear three quarter visibility suffer accordingly, but so too did the visuals.

(c) The RAC

The CR-Z cabin was as one might expect of such a vehicle, snug. Rear perches were provided, but were broadly speaking, useless. The driving environment was dominated by an electronic instrument display – which changed colour from blue to green if one drove with restraint – flanked by a set of Citroënesque satellite minor control units. Another tech-related gimmick were instrument graphics which drew together virtual leaves which formed into a flower when the car was being driven in a suitably sustainable eco-mode.

The CR-Z was powered by a 1.5 litre VTEC four cylinder engine, developing 115 bhp, and configured to allow one intake valve to be deactivated at low revs to save fuel. Albeit in this case it was augmented by an electric motor developing 14 bhp, boosting performance in a similar manner, Honda claimed, to that of a supercharger. Net power was 122 bhp and 128 lb/ft of torque. Transmission was via a six speed manual, or CVT gearbox.

Image: fourtitude

While no rocketship, the CR-Z was a brisk performer, aided by a performance boost from the electric motor if sport mode had been selected – somewhat akin to a modern Grand Prix car. Dynamically, it was entertaining, if criticised for a certain inert nature, especially through the helm. Mind you, telling the UK press that the Lotus Elise had been a developmental benchmark was probably asking for trouble. Fuel economy ought to have been a strong point, but was found to be respectable-to-middling, rather than anything particularly noteworthy.

A more rounded and commercially optimised product than that first-generation Insight, the CR-Z was a laudable attempt to promote a compact, fun car as being an ecologically responsible one. Given that most of its putative rivals were diesel powered, that was probably a reasonable gambit on Minato’s part. A relatively successful one as well, with strong sales, not to mention a number of awards being proffered. A better example of Insight then? Perhaps, but in hindsight, a less memorable one.

[1] The Insight model name has been employed on three generations of hybrid-drive Honda models, the latter two being more conventional five-seat saloons – one of which remains in production. 

[2] The original CR-X body style was allegedly inspired by Italian coupé design, in particular, that of carrozzeria Zagato and their Alfa Romeo Junior Z of 1969.


Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Insight in Hindsight”

  1. Good morning Eòin,
    Thank you for dusting off a somewhat forgotten Honda; another precedent that actually broke cover before the 1999 Insight did was the JV-X Concept that was displayed at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show. I knew I had a photo of it and I managed to dig it up:

    I believe this was a hybrid concept with some kind of KERS-like technology to provide a temporary electric power boost.

  2. Good morning Eóin. I had completely forgotten about the CR-Z. When it first came out, I recall thinking that the design was rather ‘busy’. It shows just how much that dial has moved in a decade that it now looks rather clean and restrained. I’ll have one in red or metallic grey, please:

  3. I remember seeing one of these in a town centre coffee shop, frequently passing by, enough for even my mother and girlfriend to comment on the cars shape. Obviously brand new, gleaming white, not sure if the driver couldn’t find a parking space or he was trying to impress that particular street. If that was ten or so years ago, I can’t recall seeing another one at all. Quite a decent little flash in the pan

  4. Quite a nice thing I’d say. The interior is too busy for my liking though, with the satellite control units and the off-centre centre screen. They did a better job with the S2000.

  5. Honda’s IMA couldn’t hold a candle to the Toyota hybrid system with respect to fuel economy, as road tests showed. We in North America got further much bigger deformed versions of this shape in the form of the Acura ZDX, and its not so close cousin underneath, the Accord Crosstour, both astoundingly inept and awkward designs. Road tests never got over the looks, as a quick googling will show. Nobody bought the CRZ, or the last two named porkers which fairly shouted that you had no concept of any taste whatsoever and preferred ungainly and strange. Europe was lucky to escape being offered these vehicles, because their styling and poor accommodations would no doubt have been met with complete derision. Reviewers would surely have been embarrassed to even being seen in either one. It was Honda off on a tangent again. The CRZ looked all right and that was about the end of it.

    The original Insight was a weird buggy as well. Never driven such a high geared car, and it was a complete pain to drive in the city, slipping the clutch constantly as you went. Second gear was as high as you got and the engine was jerky to press home the point. The experience grew old very quickly indeed, so not very practical. In a more general way, there’s always been something about Hondas that has never quite gelled for me, so have never bought one or even really been tempted.

  6. Enjoy the exterior but the interior – Oh dear! What were they thinking of I wonder? Intrigued by the description as a “halo model”. What does that mean and where does it come from please?

    1. Hi Mike. The ‘halo’ is originally from religious iconography, not limited to Christianity, and was depicted as a ring of light around the head of the saintly. It is seen here with a Catholic statue of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus:

      In the automotive context, the halo model is meant to ‘shine a light’ onto lesser models, enhancing their appeal to would-be buyers.

    2. Thank you Mike for the question.
      Thank you Daniel for the answer.

  7. That was one thoroughly written article. Thank you!

    Having never driven one (they are rare indeed), I somehow have the impression that the CR-Z is only justifiable when observed as a politically-correct CRX ‘re-issue’. Not as a standalone idea. While modern safety regulatory framework could never lend it the common-sense-defying dimensional restraint of the original,
    it was (and, particularly, is) a rather soberly sized ‘sportscar’.

    Although this mould of cars is a motive concept that’s nigh-on obsolete, the idea of having a 2/3 dr. car that’s
    60% explicitely-city-sized and 40% pokey/sports car (more pokey than handling-wised sporty) was a genius one.
    It gives me thrills, thinking just how much suited it might be to, many automotive lifestyles / desires nowadays. Almost a crime that such vehicles are virtually extinct.

    The Tigra was an attempt to achieve something alike, but in spite of its evergreen, literally timeless styling,
    it never managed to convince neither dimensionally, nor on the weight front, and definitely not dynamically.

    Puma was perfect in that regard, if a bit too conformistic in sizing. Not a real CRX competitor in my view,
    in spite of the fact it dynamically wiped off the floor with most other FWD cars (perhaps with the exception
    of 306 GTI/S16, an almost undisputed benchmark of advanced dynamic competence).

    Paseo was the only one that came close to the CRX dimensionally, although it certainly lacked a characterful,
    frantic engine to entertain, a feature the CRX so convincingly carried up its sleeve. Paseos were genuinely,
    claustrophobically small, tho, which, in this obscure sub-segment, counted (counts!) as a crucial advantage.

    100NX and RX3 were too ‘cafe’ oriented I’d reckon, and lacked the dimensional edge, too. But those
    two remain a bit mysterious, as I never have had a first-hand experience.

    And that’s about it, I’m afraid.
    Or isn’t it? Are we forgetting anyone?

  8. That, Daniel, is definitely the missing piece. Thanks.
    The Sera was always a bit obscure to me, as I never had the chance to see one in person
    and I omitted it without even recalling its, admittedly relevant existence.

    Its styling definitely makes it look bigger than it actually is – judging by the dimensions,
    it must be more or less within the CRX’s footprint (if a bit more voluminous in its cabin).

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