They may not have captured our hearts when new but with the unpleasantries of depreciation behind them, these underrated cars now warrant a closer look...

If there’s one term in the used-car market that’s guaranteed to send buyers packing, it's “hybrid”. Just the mere indication anything more complex than your common-or-garden internal-combustion engine is churning away under the hood summons harrowing visions of costly battery repairs and cars sitting in workshops with wires erupting from the engine bay while a bemused mechanic cautiously prods at a mysterious electric motor.

That Luddite attitude has kept hybrid prices low and means there are a lot of stylish and enjoyable cars out there being shunned merely because of some eco-powertrain stigma. Perhaps the best example is Honda’s CR-Z, a sporty compact hatchback that plays host to the company’s IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) technology.

A bit of history

First previewed in a brace of concepts at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show and again in 2008 in New York, the production CR-Z broke cover in 2010. Despite its nomenclature closely resembling the perky little CR-X hatchback from the late 1980s, CR-Z (Compact Renaissance Zero) was envisaged by Honda as a guilt-free means of sporty motoring. During our time with the car, we concurred wholeheartedly with the sporty sentiment … it was dynamically entertaining. However, we were well aware that guilt-free motoring came at the cost of decidedly modest outputs and a sometimes-unforgiving ride despite its handy 6,00 L/100 km frugality and 116 g/km CO2 outputs. Even so, its funky styling and niche appeal still lent it a leftfield charm.

Whats IMA all about?

The CR-Z’s IMA system comprises an electric motor sandwiched between the 1,5-litre combustion engine and the transmission. Fed by a nickel-metal-hydride battery topped up via regenerative braking, this unit served as both a starter motor in start-stop driving and a traction motor that would contribute 10 kW to the petrol engine’s outputs for a total of 91 kW and 174 N.m.

The CR-Z was unusual among hybrids in its adoption of a manual transmission. Along with the addition of a CVT, the CR-Z’s 2013 facelift saw the output of the petrol engine jump to 89 kW, while the IMA – now powered by a lithium-ion battery – was bumped up to 15 kW for combined outputs of 101 kW and 190 N.m.

This update also ushered in a Sport Plus function that accesses extra power from the electric motor for 10 seconds under full throttle if it has more than 50% charge. Unlike more complex hybrids, the CR-Z can still operate if its IMA system fails, albeit with a reduction in performance and fuel efficiency, so you won’t be stranded roadside.

What to watch out for

This is no doubt the greatest area of concern for anyone looking at a second-hand hybrid but, in this case, such concerns are unfounded; just have a sift through online CR-Z owners’ forums and consumer reports, and you’ll soon realise there’s little wrong with these robust hybrids. Like most Hondas, the CR-Z’s combustion engine is almost bulletproof, benefitting from normal servicing and maybe a change of oil and oil filter every 12 months or so.

Phoning a few Honda dealerships was met with the assertion they don’t often encounter the CR-Z in their workshops, which is heartening. One service centre manager mentioned a rare instance where the cooling fan for the IMA can sometimes stop working at certain revs, leading to some heat build-up in the battery compartment. The IMA light occasionally remains on in the instrument binnacle and listen for the fan operating after a lengthy drive. Replacing the module is a straightforward fix that doesn’t involve too much spanner work. IMA batteries have proven stable, with many local service centres struggling to recall any replacements.

On a test drive, watch the battery gauge; a fully functioning battery should be good for at least three full-bore acceleration exercises. Battery replacements are rare and, because of the high voltages and intricate wiring, should be undertaken only by Honda workshops. Speaking with the head of one of Cape Town’s larger Honda workshops, it’s a two- to three-hour exercise.

It’s worth checking if the car has undergone the most recent software upgrade (2012) as it introduces better battery-discharge management, especially on pre-facelift models.

Availability

Thanks to its niche positioning and a fairly short run in our market, there aren’t scores of CR-Zs available. Specification is generous, with the likes of a panoramic glass roof, LED daytime-running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control and Bluetooth, as well as safety equipment like ABS, EBD, EBA, VSA (vehicle stability assist), Isofix child seat anchors and six airbags among the standard features.

A full-service history is a must with such a complex car and, consequently, owners tend to have taken good care of their cars. Mileages sit between 70 000 km and 180 000 km with high-mileage early models going for around R90 000 and clean 2015 automatics around R230 000.



FAST FACTS

Power: 91 kW at 6 100 r/min
Torque: 174 N.m at 1 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,17 seconds
Top speed: 200 km/h
Fuel index: 6,00 L/100 km
CAR test: August 2012
Second hand cars for sale