Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Honda CR-Z GT-T, Driven and Reviewed

Honda CR-X 1987 model

Honda CR-X 1987 model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the 1980’s, before imagination in car design went through an age of prohibition, when Honda were producing some of the finest F1 engines ever seen, a distinctive silhouette emerged from the rising sun in the form of a quirky little fastback called the CR-X.

Although not miles apart from the omnipresent Civic (it was marketed as the Civic CR-X in some regions), it offered an air of originality and panache that simply weren’t an option on any available hot-hatch, a breed that was all-conquering at the time.

Skip forward a few decades then, and what we have here is the spiritual successor to the CR-X, in the shape of the Honda CR-Z – Honda wisely chose to leapfrog the CR-Y model, for obvious reasons.

The 2013 Honda CR-Z

The 2013 Honda CR-Z

The styling is unmistakably similar. With its characteristic roof-line flowing seamlessly into the, near horizontal rear hatch before deviating dramatically south to form part of the flat rear end. There are yet more familiar styling cues elsewhere, in particular, the sweeping nose and long bonnet which share nearly the same gradient as the windscreen, cutting through any annoyingly resistant air like the proverbial hot knife through butter.

So, the family lineage is undeniable, they even both sport a fairly uncommon 1.5 litre engine, so can we assume that the CR-Z is simply another retro reproduction? I delved further in, to find out.

Love it or loathe it, the styling of the CR-Z is impossible to ignore. With its squat stance and more lines and folds than an origami swan, it gets attention wherever it goes. initial reaction from people I asked was roughly 50/50 for the love/loathe camps but this swung heavily towards love once the ‘Energetic Yellow’ aspect of our test car was hypothetically removed. I’m inclined to agree.

Near-horizontal rear windscreen is a familar CR-X trait

Near-horizontal rear windscreen is a familar CR-X trait

That said, the look of the CR-Z isn’t for everyone, but it’s great to see a car spark debate. Our roads are jam-packed with generic automobiles that are best described as ‘quite nice’. This isn’t one of them.

Assuming that you like the taste of  Honda’s Marmite car then, what else does it have to offer, apart from being a great initiator of discussion at dinner parties? Well, this is where things get a little paradoxical. If we were to judge this particular book by its cover, we could assume that it was a thrill-seeker, pure and simple, on a mission to rid the world of fossil fuels. Not true. You see, the CR-Z’s 1.5 litre petrol engine has a support band in the shape of an electric motor which throws its own 20bhp, and, perhaps more importantly, 78Nm of torque  into the equation.

2013 Honda CRZ FrontBetter still, there’s a little blue button on the steering wheel, marked S+. This stands for Plus Sport and is linked to the CR-Z’s 15KW electric motor (up from 10KW for the 2013 model). One press whilst accelerating and all of a sudden you’re Jensen Button, using his KERS facility to overtake Vettel on his way to a Grand Prix victory. It does take a while to recharge if it’s used to it’s full extent but it’s certainly more than just a gimmick and can quickly become very addictive.

There is, of course, a price to pay for the extra help the batteries provide and, as usual, it’s weight. The CR-Z does an admirable job of disguising its additional mass and rarely gets ruffled, even on rapidly altering roads. Gear-changes are neat and precise with a very satisfying ‘clunk’ between each ratio. I personally prefer a little more weight behind my ‘box but the CR-Z’s light, clinical, short-shift approach will undoubtedly appeal to many.

17'' alloys are standard on GT models

17” alloys are standard on GT models

What no car can do though, even one this clever, is totally rewrite the laws of physics; push the CR-Z hard and the electronic assistance will disappear fairly quickly, leaving the 1.5 litre engine to singlehandedly lug around a pretty-heavy coupe with no help from the now redundant, weighty batteries. When this does happen, performance suffers greatly and economy figures will rapidly tumble from Honda’s claimed 54.3 mpg combined.

Quite a distinctive view from the driver's seat

Quite a distinctive view from the driver’s seat

A very pleasant surprise in the CR-Z comes by way of its innovative interior. Japanese cars have long been dogged with a reputation for blandness and a lack of quality in this department but the CR-Z brings a whole host of new toys to the table. If, like me, you’re sick of dull grey plastics and those generic LCD clocks that have cheapened Japanese cars for years then this will surely be a breath of fresh air. With its neon bright, 3-dimensional driver’s gauges that forcefully grab one’s attention, the cabin could possibly be described as ‘busy’ and I imagine that it could become slightly irritating on a long journey. I, for one, appreciate its originality though, it reinforces that this car is a little leftfield and quirky, just like it’s CR-X ancestor.

2013 Honda CRZ BootOne aspect of the CR-Z that should be made perfectly clear is that this is no family hatch – it’s a true 2+2. The rear seats are only large enough for the youngest of children – and even then I’d recommend short journeys only. Getting aforementioned small children in and out of the rear seats will quickly prove irritating too, as the front seats don’t return to their original position after access to the rear has been gained. This, and the lack of boot space due to the position of the Lithium Ion batteries, reinforce the assumption that Honda weren’t aiming at the family market when the CR-Z was pencilled. Anyone who wants a little more in the way of practicality should possibly hang on for the return of the Civic Type-R that’s recently been announced.

2013 Honda CRZ BadgeSo, just what is this little car then? Is it a sports car or an eco-warrior? A ’80s throwback or a glimpse of the future? The truth is, it’s a bit of everything and Honda have admirably provided a bit of eye-catching glamour without the usual associated guilt. At nearly £25k though, this top spec GT-T model is sailing dangerously close to some tasty competition, in particular the Toyota/Subaru GT86/BRZ. Look at the cheaper Sport spec models however and for just over £20k, you could have a desirable little coupe with some very impressive numbers – 56mpg and 116g/km CO2. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Honda CR-Z GT-T, Price – £24,045, Engine – 1.5l petrol + 15KW Electric Motor, Layout – Front engine,  FWD, Power – 137bhp, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 9.5s, Maximum Speed – 124mphEconomy – 54.3mpg combined, Emissions – 122g/km CO2

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Ford Focus vs Ford Fiesta; A Tale of Two STs

Ford Escort Mexico

The legendary Ford Escort Mexico

Since the dawn of time, well, since 1963 anyway, our quirky little island has been caught up in an unrelenting love affair. Yes, we’re quite keen on GTis, SRis, GTEs and various other alphabet-soup inspired monikers, but what we ceaselessly lust after is a certain breed of breathed upon family hatches and rep-mobiles, namely Fast Fords.

To suggest that every nutty Blue Oval has been fantastic would be somewhat ill-informed, there have been a few dogs. But through good times and bad, booms and busts, Ford have bravely persevered in their quest to bring affordable fun to the blue-collared masses.

So, in these times of double-dip recessions and soaring fuel costs, what do Ford have on offer to tempt out the cheque-books and exactly where does a Fast Ford fit into our precariously balanced lives?

Have we seen the back of RS Fords? Don't you believe it!

Have we seen the back of RS Fords? Don’t you believe it!

Well, the RS badged cars are currently conspicuous in their absence (only temporarily, apparently), so have Ford turned their back on their responsibilities? Are we destined to seek our thrills elsewhere?

They may not be RSs but, like steroidally enhanced buses, out of the mire appear two excitable, ST (Sports Technologies) badged hatchbacks to answer our question. Both are hellbent on not only getting you from A-B, ASAP, but also bringing the family along and thus extending the Fast Ford bloodline that can be traced back over 50 years.

Previous ST badged Fords have suffered something of an identity crisis. Most have danced around their almighty RS siblings, being careful not to tread on their toes and ending up waltzing in no-mans-land, stuck in limbo somewhere between ‘come and ‘ave a go if you think your ‘ard enough’ and ‘I’m awfully sorry if you hurt your knuckles on my face’. These two STs are different though, they’re currently at the top of the Ford tree and are unashamedly set in the nation’s psyche as THE Fords to have if you want to make a statement.

The question is, which one is ready to face the upcoming fight against the auld enemies – Peugeot (208 GTi), VW (Golf GTi) and Renault (RenaultSport Clio)? Driving Torque has driven the Focus ST and the all-new Fiesta ST to discover whether either are true heirs to the throne.

Ford Focus ST1

The 2013 Ford Focus ST

The Focus ST has been around for some time now. It first saw the light of day in 2006, sporting the adaptable 2.5 litre Volvo-sourced lump as seen in the loony Focus RS. It performed well enough and was updated visually to provide adequate impact but horrendous fuel and tax costs just weren’t going to cut it in today’s society. Step forward the EcoBoost. Without sounding overly dramatic, this range of direct injection, turbo-charged engines could be hailed as the future. Not only for Ford, but for petrol engines in general.

The 2.0 litre engine found in the Focus may lose half a litre of displacement on the previous model but, through various use of witchcraft, its output rises from 222bhp to 250bhp whilst, at the same time, pushing claimed economy figures up a third from 30.9mpg combined to nearly 40mpg! Perhaps more importantly, it’s quicker too, not only in a straight dash but it’ll tackle the twisty bits with added assurance, having lost some unsightly weight up front.

Fiesta ST garage

The three ‘ST only’ colours – Race Red, Spirit Blue and Molten Orange

It’s more difficult to draw a direct comparison between the Fiesta ST and its predecessor as the last incarnation was deleted in 2008. It hardly made a dramatic impact on the world and could undoubtedly be placed in the ‘must try harder’ bracket. This 2013 model has far loftier aspirations and, again, it’s relying on the EcoBoost engine to thrust it into the spotlight. What the 1.6 incarnation loses in size, it makes up for in enthusiasm and it uses all of its 182bhp to propel the lighter Fiesta ST to 60mph in 6.7 seconds; only 0.2 seconds slower than the Focus – barely noticeable in the real world.

Ford Focus ST2

Those exhausts are dual trapezoids – don’t you know!

Both models have ST-only noses grafted on, in order to further enhance the dramatic effects already offered by their ground-hugging body-kits and enlarged wheels. Looks are obviously a matter of personal taste but, whereas the Focus grabs attention at every turn (especially in the Tangerine Scream hue of our test car), it may take more of an automotive aficionado to pick the Fiesta out from its lesser-specced brethren. Head-turning may not be your thing, of course, but Fast Fords aren’t usually aimed at the shy, retiring types and if I’d just bought the Fiesta, I’d forever be wishing that it could dominate a scene like the Focus, with its fancy exhaust tips (dual trapezoids, in case you were wondering).

Ford Focus ST interior

Focus ST Recaros – possibly the grippiest seats ever found in a production car.

The modus operandi of these cars is to combine the practicalities of a hatchback whilst making the driver feel like Sebastien Loeb when the mood takes them. On the practical front, the Focus is head and shoulders above the Fiesta, not only due to its size advantage in every direction but also due to the fact that it’s only available in 5 door guise. The Focus and the Fiesta are both ‘global cars’ according to Ford and yet, the Fiesta ST will be offered in the US with 5 doors, two more than in the rest of the world. Ford must be saving a fortune by not making a 3dr variant of the Focus but I can’t help but wonder if their reluctance to sell a 5 door Fiesta ST in Europe is through a fear of sales being pilfered from the more expensive Focus.

Back to the important bits though – the way these cars drive. Turbo-lag is all but eliminated on both cars and the torque curve is steady and predictable – it really is hard to find fault in either power plant. In the past, Ford have utilised a clever bit of engineering called a Revoknuckle, in order to convince the front wheels that they really can multitask, handling the, not insignificant job of steering the car whilst at the same time, lassoing 250+ horses as they try to escape in unison, usually by torque-steering through a hedge into the nearest paddock. This Focus ST however is Revoknuckleless (?!?) and it leaves the job of keeping Red Rum et al on the grey stuff up to some very clever electrical aids instead. The result is admirable but by no means perfect – floor the Focus ST and there is a slight feeling of hanging on, as the arguments between physics and microchip are echoed through the steering wheel. Each front wheel temporarily breaks free before it’s reined in, leaving it’s opposite number to head for the horizon. I can imagine a child would enjoy a similar sensation if he were to sit atop Usain Bolt‘s shoulders – whilst he competed in the Olympic 100m final.

Fiesta ST cornering

Notice hardly any body roll in the Fiesta – thank the Nurburgring for that

The Fiesta ST, on the other hand, suffers none of these problems. Less is, once again more in this case and the smaller, less powerful car can simply get on with the task in hand without worrying about being overburdened with power. The task, of course, being to provide maximum thrills to all occupants, and this is certainly what the Fiesta ST does. We were lucky enough to take the car to its max on the sublime roads above Nice and whatever was thrown at it was simply returned with interest. Ford have done an incredible job here; they’ve disguised all the electrical aids and excess flab that modern cars are cursed with and made a car that feels raw and unbridled. Acceleration is keen with the engine happy to rev, and the car simply handles whatever corners are thrown at it, without ever getting flustered or confused.

It’s a similar story in the noise department – an aspect I unashamedly place much importance on. Both the Focus and the Fiesta utilise a clever system called a Sound Symposer which, in simplest terms pipes the engine note directly into the cabin without being deafening at the exhaust and failing to meet stringent sound regulations. I found the whole thing a little frustrating in the Focus, sort of like hearing your favourite song on a radio that’s stuck on mute. The Fiesta’s system is turned up to 11 in comparison and provides a hugely satisfying soundtrack that gets better and better as you progress towards the red-line.

Fiesta ST Three wheels

The Fiesta ST doing it’s best impression of a Reliant Robin. This chassis is properly sorted.

So, which one would I take home? Obviously, if size and 5 doors are high up your list of importance, it’s a no-brainer, it’d have to be the Focus as the Fiesta just can’t compete. If it’s pure driver satisfaction that floats your boat though, I’d undoubtedly save a wad of cash and take the Fiesta – it’s just more satisfying. I’m not saying that it’s perfect – the furthest gears were a little hard to reach and the smaller Recaros pinched a tad after a couple of hours but, on first impression, these were honestly my only niggles. I’ll be fascinated to find how the Fiesta ST is to live with when I get my hands on it for a longer test but, for now, I’d go as far as to say that if Toyota’s GT86 represents a return to innocence for coupes, this Fiesta ST is it’s hot-hatch equivalent. Some accolade huh?

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus ST2, Price – £23,495, Engine – 2.0T Petrol, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 250bhpAcceleration –  0-62mph – 6.5s, Maximum Speed – 154mph, Economy – 39.2 mpg combined, Emissions – 169g/km CO2

Specifications; Ford Fiesta ST, Price – from £16,995, Engine – 1.6T Petrol, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 182bhpAcceleration –  0-62mph – 6.7s, Maximum Speed – 137mph, Economy – 47.9 mpg combined, Emissions – 138g/km CO2

For brochures and details on how to order, please go to; http://www.ford.co.uk/Cars/Fiesta/Fiesta-ST

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