Hear the word 'hybrid' and you probably think of saving fuel and cutting carbon dioxide emissions, but the idea of combining a petrol engine and an electric motor to drive a car can be interpreted a different way. A hybrid can be faster, and more fun to drive, a point the Honda CR-Z aims to prove.
Most hybrids are practical family cars and SUVs, but the CR-Z is different: here's a modern coupé with sharp styling and deft handling, which offers plenty of space for two and a pair of small rear seats that are fine for young children, if not for adults. Even the entry-level S model has a full complement of safety and convenience features, from air bags to air conditioning, and the higher-spec Sport and GT models add such refinements as automatic xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and a panoramic glass roof.
It's a shame, though, that the CR-Z package isn't completed by a set of performance figures that promise on-the-road exhilaration. The Honda's IMA drive system, also used in the Jazz Hybrid, has a 1.5-litre petrol engine delivering 124PS through a six-speed manual gearbox, plus an electric motor and a battery, and is set up so that the electric motor assists the petrol engine when you put your foot down. But even when the two are working together the CR-Z is hardly rapid: the benchmark 0-62mph sprint takes around 10 seconds, which is more shopping trolley than sports car. If you were hoping for a handy little sports coupé with the zesty character of the much-loved Honda CRX of the 1990s, you will be disappointed. But all that could be set to change soon.
Late last year Honda announced that it had developed a performance version of the CR-Z, the iCF, which is expected to cost around £24,000 when it goes on sale a few weeks from now. The new car has a supercharger which helps the engine – still only 1.5-litres – deliver 50% more power than in the original car. The result should be performance to match up to the CR-Z's racy looks, and that should make the CR-Z iCF a much more convincing package.
For now, the CR-Z appeals because of its eye-catching styling, typically solid Honda build quality, and its potential for good fuel economy, particularly around town. It may not be fast, but it's a stylish coupé that won't cost the earth to buy and run.