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