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Honda CR-Z
7/10

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Honda CR-Z 1.5i V-TEC

Driven May 2010

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We started as we didn't mean to go on.

Fresh off an 11-hour night flight from London, the TopGear Honda CR-Z crew - me, photographer Justin Leighton, and film-maker Diz Williams - dealt with the jet lag by buying old records in Tokyo's eye-popping Shibuya district, eating strange food (obviously), and drinking alcohol. This last bit was possibly a bit silly - by now we'd been awake for 28 hours - but over a few pints we looked at our map of Japan, asked some locals how far away things were, and quickly concluded that the places we wanted to go were a lot further away than we'd bargained on. This was despite using Justin's ‘thumbometer' to measure distance. Traditional cartographers can rest easy: Justin's ‘thumbometer' was rubbish.

The idea was to take Honda's funky new CR-Z hybrid coupe on a spiritual journey into the heart of Japan. I reckon the CR-Z is a 21st century version of the Fiat X1/9, and by sticking the Insight's hybrid tech into something that doesn't look like a slapped arse Honda might finally have made eco motoring sexy. With a trip to Suzuka for the opening round of the awesome Japanese Super GT championship as part of the mix, we set off in search of cherry blossom, temples and general spiritual enlightenment.

Fortunately, given the ‘thumbometer' situation, we had a local fixer called George to guide us. George was a sixty-something Buddhist, so general spiritual enlightenment was actually sitting in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, the weekend we were in Japan was effectively a free-for-all on Japan's ETC toll road system, and the traffic was so dense that the most patient Zen master on the planet would have turned rabid by the end of our stay. The day we passed alongside the truly epic snow-capped Mount Fuji, we were actually stuck in a 95-mile tailback. At least we had something nice to look at.

You can read more in the June issue of TopGear, but amongst other things we hung out in a giant green tea plantation, met a garage owner who let me have a spin in his Hino Contessa coupe - one of only two left apparently left in Japan - ate raw horse meat, crossed some of the most gob-smackingly well-engineered bridges I've ever seen, peered at the world's biggest rollercoaster, and got on the wrong side of a Shinto monk. He wasn't all that keen on sharing his spiritual enlightenment.

As for the CR-Z, well, this much I know: I spent so long in its driving seat that I thought I was going to fuse with the car at some sort of sub-molecular level. But at no point when I got back into it did I think, ‘bugger, I wish I was driving something else.' It looks cool, it's proper fun to drive, it's environmentally friendly (though not as economical as you might think), and should the mood take you it actually handles. It's not quite as good as a VW Scirocco, and at 20 grand it's a bit pricey. But it's different, and different is good.

One last thing: Japanese motorway service stations are ALL like something from a David Lynch film. You would not be remotely surprised if a dwarf talking gibberish backwards emerged from the conveniences. Also, on no account order any food from them, particularly the portable stall vendors who sell what looks and tastes like - and I'm sorry about the language - shit on a stick. 

There's your enlightenment right there.

Jason Barlow

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