Is Honda’s new CR-Z hybrid two-seater trying to be all things to all people by looking rakish and being both fun to drive and fuel-efficient enough to be “green?”
This gasoline-electric 2011 hybrid combines sportiness with efficiency, with its zoomy two-seat body, lively performance and adroit handling.
But the front-drive CR-Z is no sports car—or even much like the automaker’s tiny 1990 Insight two-seater, which was the first hybrid vehicle sold in North America. The more-practical Toyota Prius sedan then arrived and soon buried the Insight.
Despite its “CR” designation, the CR-Z isn’t much like Honda’s nifty, feather-light (1,890-pound) two-seat 1980s CRX because it’s much heavier, at 2,637 pounds,with its weight-adding hybrid system and modern crashworthy improvements.
You wouldn’t want to get hit in the old CRX, but the rigidly built CR-Z has a bunch of air bags, vehicle stability assist and what Honda calls an Advanced Compatibility Engineering Body Structure.
The CR-Z has list prices that start at $19,200 for the base model with a six-speed manual transmission, which is the first put in any hybrid auto. Prices go to $23,210 for the more upscale CR-Z EX with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with shift paddles and a navigation system.
The standard CR-Z has such comfort and convenience items as automatic climate control, power windows and locks, cruise control, six-speaker audio system and keyless entry. The EX adds a superior audio system, steering wheel-integrated audio controls, alloy pedals and more. The navigation system with voice activation and a 6.5-inch screen is offered for the CR-Z EX version.
There’s a small, easily gripped racer-type steering wheel, and a high-tech instrument panel puts commonly used controls close to the driver’s hands. The dashboard takes on a complex and immersive form, with a dark upper portion appearing to “float” above a matte gray lower dash section, which is continued into the center of the inner door panels.
But don’t look for such items as a sunroof, heated seats or keyless ignition. An it’s too bad there’s no backup camera because the car’s stylish rear end seriously blocks rear vision. At least the large outside mirrors help out here.
A CR-Z I drove was a $22,560 EX version of the car with a manual gearbox and navigation system, although the CR-Z EX with just the manual goes for only $20,760. The transmission helped make the car a blast to drive, with short-throw shifts and a linear clutch action.
The CR-Z reportedly isn’t as much fun with the CVT, but gets better estimated fuel economy with that transmission: 35 mpg in the city and 39 on highways. That compares with 31 city and 37 highway with the manual.
None of those fuel economy figures are especially impressive, considering this is a relatively small two-seater without an abundance of power. But the car still is within the top five 2011 models for best combined fuel economy using the most current available 2010 or 2011 EPA data.
This Honda has Sport, Normal or Econ (Economy) modes. The way to go for driving kicks is with the manual and the car set in Sport mode for the best throttle response, steering effort and electric motor power assist. Still, I found Normal mode to work fine. Econ mode does such things as reduce the air conditioning’s impact on fuel consumption.
The 0-60 mph time is around 9 seconds, and decent 65-75 mph passing should be done in third or fourth gears with the manual.
Steering is quick, and the turning circle is small. A low center of gravity, short wheelbase, wide track and performance-oriented suspension components allow sporty handling. Brake feel is excellent and the ride over most roads is quite good for a short-wheelbase car, although uneven pavement causes a bouncy ride at lower speeds.
The CR-Z has a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine that works with Honda’s compact Integrated Motor Assist system to supply both power and efficiency Combined horsepower of the gas engine and electric motor is 122. No plug-in is required for the electric motor.
That motor assists in acceleration and also acts as a generator during braking or coasting to capture kinetic energy that can recharge the 100.8-volt IMA nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The gas engine automatically turns off during vehicle stops such as at a stop light to improve efficiency. It promptly restarts when you want to get moving again.
Doors are long and heavy, but seats are supportive and the interior is quiet, with easily read gauges. A digital speedometer resides in the middle of a large tachometer in front of the driver. The tachometer’s inner ring illuminates red when the car is in Sport mode.
The large, heavy hatch opens to reveal a high cargo opening. The cargo area is fairly large and can be enlarged by folding the cargo divider behind the seats forward. The hood has a simple prop rod. Fluid filler areas can be easily reached.
Honda doesn’t expect the CR-Z to be a high-volume model, if only because it’s a two-seater. But it should give the automaker a sportier image, not to mention a “greener” one.
On the TFLcar.com recommendation scale of:
– Buy it
– Lease it
– Rent it or
Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a busines news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times–far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008. For of Dan’s thoughful and insightful reviews please visit his web site HERE.