2012 Honda CR-Z

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2011 Honda CR-Z — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.7

Bottom Line:

The CR-Z intends to mate the seemingly incompatible worlds of hybrids and sports cars, but the result isn’t so much a white-hot revolution as a lukewarm try at bringing fun back to the Honda lineup.
Pros:
  • Decent power
  • Clever storage throughout the cabin
  • Tight chassis
Cons:
  • Large blind spots
  • In Eco mode, A/C isn’t up to fighting midday sun
  • Good but not great fuel economy with manual transmission

Honda has intentionally stirred up the ghosts of its once sporting past with the 2011 CR-Z by borrowing design cues from the long-extinct CR-X — a car that managed to be both fuel-efficient and fun to drive.

But while the CR-X developed a massive following that continues to this day, the CR-Z might end up being even more popular because it provides eco-conscious hybrid owners with something they've never had: style.

Model Lineup
Honda has split the CR-Z line into two trim levels: base and EX. The starter CR-Z is loaded with plenty of features we wouldn't have expected, given the car's projected price of approximately $20,000. These include keyless entry, power door locks and windows, and an AM/FM/CD/USB stereo system. Honda also equips all CR-Z trims with its stability-control system as standard equipment.

Buyers looking for a few more bells and whistles can move on up to CR-Z EX trim. Honda hasn't said how much the next level will cost, but we do know that buyers will be able to enjoy a more potent 7-speaker sound system, Bluetooth hands-free calling and a slick, perforated leather steering wheel. If you want Honda's familiar (but dated) navigation system, you'll need to stick with the EX trim level, but it will be an additional cost.

Under the Hood
When Honda announced it would bring a spiritual successor to the CR-X to life, fans of the brand immediately began salivating at the thought of a 200-plus-horsepower hatch with a snappy, naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine under the hood. No one was quite prepared for what Honda unveiled instead: a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with the company's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system. Combined, they produce 122 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque when bolted to the standard 6-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also available, but in that configuration, the engine and motor produce only 123 lb-ft of torque.

Fuel economy for both versions is a little disappointing, considering the size of the CR-Z and the fact that the car is a 2-seater. When equipped with the 6-speed manual gearbox, the car manages just 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway. Those numbers climb significantly with the CVT, to 35 mpg/39 mpg. The figures are derived in Normal mode; the car is said to do slightly better in Eco mode and, you guessed it, worse in Sport.

And finally, in order to keep costs down, Honda decided to build the CR-Z with a nickel-metal hydride battery instead of a more advanced lithium-ion unit. Not a good move, in our opinion.

Inner Space
Honda has always had an excellent grasp of how to make the most out of a small space — just look at the deceptively roomy Fit — and the CR-Z benefits from that knowledge. Despite having a seemingly tiny back hatch area, the hybrid boasts a little more than 25 cubic feet of total cargo volume. Honda has even given thought to stashing valuable electronics out of sight by integrating what it calls a "rear cargo console" — basically an area for things such as laptops, cameras and any other high-dollar items that would typically catch a thief's eye. Similarly, the rear cargo cover can be manipulated in a handful of ways to help divide the cargo space as necessary for small or large items.

Both driver and passenger get treated to cloth sport seats with bolsters set wide enough apart to accommodate big-boned Americans of every variety. Even so, the buckets do a good job of keeping you in place should the going get curvy. The dash and instrument cluster are supposed to give the impression of an advanced technological design, which means there's plenty of plastic, both shiny and otherwise. The dash is asymmetrical with a bias toward the driver, and the instrument cluster features a large, easy-to-read gauge with the tachometer and speedometer information prominently displayed.

The CR-Z also uses a clever system to encourage "green" driving. A color-changing ring nestled behind the speedometer reacts based on your driving habits. Drive like a heathen and the ring will stay blue. Go a little easier on the throttle and brakes, and the ring will glow green. If the CR-Z is in Sport mode, the ring stays red no matter what you do behind the wheel.

On the Road
The CR-Z is capable of operating in three modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. The hybrid will vary things such as throttle response, shift points and power-steering assist depending on which you choose. Stick the car in Eco mode, and the CR-Z will prompt you to shift sooner when equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, though throttle response falls off the face of the Earth and the steering goes from feeling somewhat taut to flopping around like a loose noodle. If it's a warm day (say, 77 degrees Fahrenheit and up), the diminished power of the air conditioning just isn't acceptable, either.

Fortunately, there are Normal and Sport modes to cure those ills. In either of those two options, the engine/motor combo actually feels up to the task of moving the 2,600 pound car around with decent quickness. We wouldn't call the car fast — Honda says the CR-Z will hit 60 mph in a dawdling 9.7 seconds — but the relatively lightweight design and rigid chassis help the car feel like it has a bit of spring in its step.

Even more surprising, the regenerative brakes on the CR-Z are linear and easy to modulate — something that's almost unheard of in hybrids. Combined with a decent weight distribution (60 percent front and 40 percent rear), the hybrid handles twists and turns with a decent flair, even given its torsion-bar rear suspension.

Right for You?
We don't know exact pricing at the moment, but Honda says the base trim will start at less than $20,000. That means it will likely compete against the likes of the Scion tC and maybe quirky cars such as the upcoming Ford Fiesta, so if you've thought about either of those, a look at the CR-Z might be worth your time. The car goes on sale late in 2010.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Honda provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB03 - 9/16/2014 6:35:25 AM