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Beauty Queens

Having ignited a price war last year by claiming to have developed the world’s first affordable, mass-market hybrid product, Honda is now taking on its eco-friendly rivals in what can only be termed as a beauty contest.


Image: CR-Z is the world’s first hybrid with a six-speed manual transmission


Unveiled earlier this year, the CR-Z is what the Japanese car maker has called the most exciting hybrid to date. Why? Well, according to Honda’s marketing man, Tom Gardner, “The CR-Z is a great looking, sporty car that’s also a hybrid.” The thinking from Honda is that a sexy hybrid product will open up this sector, appealing to younger drivers that are, at present, less interested in eco-friendly cars.

But don’t be fooled into thinking Honda’s 2+2 hybrid offering is only about design and style. Scratch the surface, and there are several powertrain engineering gems to discuss. First, CR-Z is the world’s only six-speed manual hybrid car – going a long way in supporting Honda’s claim that their latest hybrid offering is ‘driver focused’.

The manual transmission is complemented by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that offers 108bhp and 96Nm of torque. The four-cylinder unit is enhanced by an additional 12bhp and 78Nm of torque from the electric motor, which is situated between the engine and the transmission. Such is the setup of the motor that the CR-Z has an impressive flat torque curve with maximum torque arriving at just 1,500rpm.


Image: FT-CH remains only a concept, but Toyota will soon launch a hybrid based on this show car to rival the Honda CR-Z


To be a desirable hybrid, emissions and fuel economy were rated just as important as looks during development. The tight 1.5-liter unit, along with the Insight’s IMA hybrid system, work together to reduce emissions to 117g/km. Expect fuel economy to be in the same league as the Insight’s 61+mpg rating (keeping in mind that the new Insight works with a smaller 1.3-liter petrol unit). In fact, when compared to the industry’s so-called first affordable hybrid product, the CR-Z is 295mm shorter and its wheelbase is 115mm more compact, all of which has reduced curb weight by 44kg. Forged-aluminum MacPherson struts have been used to further reduce weight and increase strength over the pressed-steel items used in the new Insight. The CR-Z’s suspension features new springs and damper settings, while the tolerances are individual to Honda’s compact-coupe hybrid.

Not one to miss out on the hybrid stakes, Toyota is also close to releasing a product that will match the CR-Z in desirability. Unveiled earlier this year, the FT-CH is strictly a concept – but expect much of its styling cues to make up one of Toyota’s eight new hybrids it plans to launch by 2015. This Yaris-sized, CR-Z hunter should be set for launch within 12 months, with a three-door derivative on offer from the start. Compared to the all-new Prius, the FT-CH is 558.8mm shorter, but remains the same width.

“Lighter in weight and even more fuel efficient than the Prius, this concept specifically targets a lower price point than the Prius,” said a Toyota official at the Detroit Motor Show. “Therefore we are appealing to a younger, less-affluent buyer demographic.”

 


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