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Peculiar stylish, sporty

Most car enthusiasts look wistfully at iconic cars of the past and wonder where design went awry. Modern cars are, for the most part, passionless platform sharing carbon copy clones of each other. You have to choose between what is more or less the same car, with more or less the same features, offered by different car companies for about the same price.

There is no longer that Mini or Beetle unique cuteness or the crisp muscular aggression of the R34 GTR. Citroen still tries to make cars with character but none anywhere near the madness of the original DS.

Most cars now are the product of the sales department and are designed specifically to prop up the bottom line. As a result, they are as interesting to drive as a spreadsheet.

Design

Introduced in 2010, the Compact Reconnaissance Zero-CRZ is a sportier take on the Insight Hybrid. It is designed specifically to offer guilt-free excitement. I wouldn’t call the CRZ pretty or handsome by any measure but it’s not bad looking either. The long roof sandwiched between the vertical cut tail and the flat nose gives it a sporty yet peculiar stance.

Partly inspired by the 90s icon, the CRX. Tastefully applied LEDs at the front and a subtle diffuser in the rear elegantly finish off the smart exterior. All in all I find it looks very contemporary and stylish, like a sleek speed gadget.

The same continues on the inside where a generous helping of circular buttons flanking the 3D instrument cluster wouldn’t look out of place in a spaceship. An eco-drive bar turns from blue to green if you drive responsibly and efficiently. Spank it in sport mode however and the dials turn red.

It’s marketed as a 2+2 coupe, which ideally should mean it can sit four but don’t bother. The only way two humans of any size would fit in the rear is if they had no legs.

The tapered roof would also mean that they would have to have no heads. This is no family car and the space is best used for luggage for a weekend away. The front seats are fairly comfortable and visibility great all round but coming together it feels a bit too economical. The cockpit plastics are not as premium as one would expect.

Driving

The hybrid drivetrain consists of a 112-horsepower petrol engine supplemented by a 10Kw electric motor. That doesn’t really seem like a recipe for excitement but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you push the sports button. This serves up more torque from the electric motor while sharpening throttle response, and adjusts steering to accommodate quicker turn in.

At full chat on the highway, the CRZ feels brisk and quicker than conventional rivals like the standard VW Golf. At 1,500 rpm you can feel the electric assistance kick in and supplement the engine’s power all the way to the 6000 rpm redline. Aural encouragement is provided courtesy of a tuned exhaust.

Get into some twisty bits and it comes alive. The brakes are firm. The steering, though dulled by electric assist, still provides enough information from the front wheels to keep you in the loop.

The little car accelerates from standstill to 100kph in barely ten seconds but feels much faster on account of the lower seat height as compared to the Insight.

In the west, a manual is standard, which makes the CRZ even livelier. Unfortunately, car importers almost exclusively import those with automatic transmission, which is what I had.

Actually no, it was much worse, it’s a CVT, the bane of many a driving enthusiast. This means that when driving along you can feel the gearbox hinder some of the performance in the bends especially. I recommend the manual.

However, that is nitpicking for what is a comfortable and spritely experience. It is no tarmac-chomping monster but will get your adrenalin coursing through your veins at an affordable price. If that’s not your cup of tea, pop it in Eco mode for what Honda says is a 10 per cent improvement in fuel consumption.

Verdict

The CRZ is the last of a dying breed. Looking at it you can tell that designers were dissatisfied with the Insight and sought to make it more appealing to hybrid haters.

It drives better than you’d expect and if you follow the Eco-coaching, will achieve an impressive 4.0 litres per 100 kilometres. But most importantly it balances perfectly between economy and excitement and not many cars today can claim to do that.

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