The Honda CR-Z that was introduced in concept form at the recent Tokyo Motor Show isn't simply a groundbreaker from the technical point of view; it also signals a new direction for Honda design, according to Nobuki Ebisawa, the corporate managing director and general manager of styling and design development. The CR-Z emphasizes dynamism, he told us, but the design is also infused with functionality and efficiency. It is this new emphasis on efficiency in an emotionally charged package that sets the CR-Z apart from previous Hondas.

A look at the expressive design reveals the new while at the same time it incorporates classic Honda elements. Ebisawa noted that through the years there have been two simple and over-arching themes for Honda design -- dynamism and functionality. He said the company's designers still draw inspiration from the functional designs of the first-generation Civic and first-generation Accord that were drawn in the same humble design studio in which Ebisawa and his group work today. And, at the same time, they look back all the way to the 1963 S500 sports car, a vehicle virtually unknown to the American audience, to inspire the dynamism that helps set the brand apart. Ebisawa is proud of what he calls "an unbroken chain of dynamism and functionality" that stretches through the Honda lineup over the decades.

Certainly the headline aspect of the CR-Z is its six-speed "manual" transmission, which promises to change the way enthusiasts regard hybrid vehicles. It is part of an innovative powertrain that includes a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine plus a new version of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. But that efficient sportiness is certainly carried through in the car's exterior and interior design. For efficiency the CR-Z has a long roofline and nearly horizontal rear hatch, while the interior offers a straightforward cockpit with and instrument panel that extends from the windscreen toward the driver, giving a feeling of command. For functionality, frequently used controls are clustered on either side of the steering wheel.

The CR-Z represents the next expression of Honda's highly praised ergonomic interiors, and Ebisawa cites his group's intense study of the "man-machine interface" for this, noting that Honda has long relied on the philosophy "Man maximum, machine minimum" in its designs. This means that Honda's controls are intended to be intuitive, not intrusive -- to help the driver, not to challenge the driver or to make a design statement for design's sake. Special efforts are made to achieve natural hand position and create buttons that are easily understood.

So the upcoming production Honda CR-Z, set to be launched next year, is not only exciting to look at; it will also continue Honda's long heritage of giving drivers and passengers what they want when they want it.

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