Honda’s CR-Z is a pretty cool little hybrid. There’s a bit of sportiness that comes through the steering wheel and shifter as you putter along in city traffic or other roads that don’t require much more than 45 mph to be enjoyable. What amazes me the most about the CR-Z is how little it reminds me of the Fit and the Insight, two Hondas I haven’t really enjoyed.
The standard six-speed manual transmission does a lot to involve the driver. With most hybrids, you mash the gas, listen to a small engine rev up near redline, and wait until the vehicle hits cruising speed. The CR-Z allows drivers to race up to redline, quickly shift, and repeat the exercise. It isn’t as fun as a Civic Si would be, but it beats the snot out of an Insight.
For an urban dweller without kids, it would be tough to beat the CR-Z as a fun-to-drive gas sipper. The incredibly small footprint of the car offsets the lazy acceleration, and the starting price of $21,500 is very reasonable. I don’t think the CR-Z would be a good choice for those with long highway commutes, but if you’re only on the highway occasionally it works well.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
Honda really did manage to combine frugality and fun with its CR-Z. It’s a much more impressive effort than the Insight hybrid sedan, a much more coherent piece. It has a much nicer interior, with far better dynamics. It rides surprisingly well, too, for such a light, short-wheelbase car.
I like the way it looks on the street. It’s small, sporty, and purposeful, and it definitely evokes the CRX from the 1980s. I respect the fact that there are no rear seats; instead, there’s lots of well-designed storage space and cubbyholes. The interior is a huge step up from the Insight; I love the silver cloth seats and the chrome trim on the interior door handles.
Most important, the CR-Z is a ball to drive, especially with this light-effort, six-speed manual transmission. Nice steering feel, good body control.
The greatest compliment I can convey is that I kept forgetting that the CR-Z is a hybrid while I was driving it.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
In order to appreciate the CR-Z properly, it’s important to make clear from the start what this car isn’t: The CR-Z is not a super-high-performance pocket rocket. It doesn’t rev to 9000 rpm or handle on rails like an Acura Integra Type-R. It will not singlehandedly restore Honda’s fading credentials as an enthusiast’s automaker.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I can tell you what the CR-Z is: a really fun, sporty, and cheap hatchback that also happens to be a hybrid. It’s good looking, too. The oft-noted resemblance to the CRX is actually more pronounced on the street, where the CR-Z’s tiny dimensions and low roof stand out as a throwback to the days when small cars were actually small. Honda also did an excellent job fashioning the CR-Z’s interior, manipulating familiar bits from the Honda Fit and Insight into a genuinely sporty cabin. I especially love the simple gauges, with a basic digital speedometer surrounded by a large tachometer.
I only wish that tach contained some higher numbers. The 1.5-liter four-cylinder revs smoothly and builds power nicely at around 4000 rpm, but at 6500 rpm, where a good Honda engine should just be waking up, it abruptly dies. Where’s the V-TEC? Nevertheless, it’s fun to milk every last horse out of the little hybrid with the six-speed manual gearbox. I spent all weekend in anti-hypermiling mode-running right up to the rev-limiter and slamming into second or slicing from sixth to third for a highway off-ramp. Make no mistake, the manual is more than a gimmick, it’s the pièce de résistance. Given that I was in charge of the gear swaps, I wasn’t expecting the various modes-“Sport,” “Normal,” and “Eco”-to do all that much. In fact, they provide a very noticeable change in throttle mapping. I found myself leaving it in Sport save for long slogs down the highway, where I would use Eco mode as a sort of overdrive.
With drag racing not on the menu, I was hoping the CR-Z would be exceptional in the steering and handling departments. Instead, it’s merely very good. The small wheel could use just a bit more feedback, and all the weight at the nose makes it difficult to flick the car into a corner the way one should be able to with such a short wheelbase. Still, the CR-Z is a guaranteed smile maker when zipping around a parking lot or a tight curve.
As it stands, the CR-Z is a fun little hatchback. With a few improvements, including a more aggressive suspension setup and a higher-revving engine, it could be a great sports car. Like just about every gearhead on the planet, I sincerely hope Honda “gets it” and introduces a more aggressive Si model, but I’ll bet that even if corporate doesn’t go crazy with the CR-Z, tuners will.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The CR-Z doesn’t conform to what we’ve come to think of as the hybrid norm, what with its sportier profile and manual transmission. It’s certainly no powerhouse, but its agile chassis and the ability to shift gears for yourself make it more involving to drive than a run-of-the mill hybrid such as the Prius. I especially like the layout of the center gauge cluster-it makes you feel as though you’re looking into a three-dimensional tunnel, in the center of which your speed is digitally displayed. The rest of the interior is highly functional, if not luxurious. The climate controls are particularly well located just to the right of the main gauge cluster rather than an arm’s-length away on the center console.
Still, the most attractive thing about the CR-Z is the price – a base car goes for $19,950 and includes a stereo with USB connectivity, cruise control, and power windows and locks, although you’ll have to do without navigation. Even a fully equipped CR-Z stickers for less than $24,000.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Way too slow to be considered sporty and not sufficiently fuel efficient to appeal to the greenies, Honda’s CR-Z will struggle to earn friends and influence customers. The rear storage space that teases you into thinking extra passengers will fit is an egregious marketing error. Visibility out the back is so bad it threatens to become a NHTSA concern. Please load this one back on the boat.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
I’m glad I’m not the only one in our office who feels the CR-Z doesn’t need to be either fast or furious in order to be successful. Personally, I like the idea of a fuel-sipping commuter car that can still be somewhat sporty, and I’d argue the CR-Z delivers just that. Push the “eco” button, and acceleration mimics that of a Honda 50 scooter-just the thing for eking out a little extra mileage. Pop it into sport, however, and the 1.5-liter I-4 is all too happy to rev, although as David noted, it fails to come alive in the upper echelons of its rev band.
For all the technology Honda packs into this little coupe, you’d think something might have been done to address rear visibility-adding the company’s blind spot detection system or a rear-view camera, even as an option, would go far in helping to counteract the thick rear pillars and narrow windows.
I like the CR-Z as a whole, and as my colleagues have noted, the $21,000 asking price isn’t bad for such a stylish, fun little runabout. That said, I doubt it’ll excite enthusiasts, especially since a few grand more can snag a Volkswagen GTI.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
The packaging, hardware, and marketing of the Honda CR-Z create the most enigmatic vehicle on sale today. Honda bills this new car as a “sport hybrid,” two words that rarely occupy the same page, let alone a phrase. The idea that this is a sport hybrid feels even weaker when you look at the hard numbers: 31/37 mpg and 122 hp.
Perhaps Honda should have sold this car without the hybrid badge. Not without the hybrid hardware, mind you, but without the badge. Instantly, the fuel economy rating becomes acceptable-even impressive. Even if the automotive literate know there’s an electric motor under the hood, ordinary shoppers would lower their fuel-economy expectations if the H word weren’t glued to the car’s rear end. The reasonable $19,950 base price could still stand without the hybrid hype, as it’s in line with other small cars like the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf.
The CR-Z is undeniably slow, but what it lacks in speed, it makes up for with agility. At 2645 pounds, the CR-Z is light not only for a hybrid but even for a gas-only car. The short wheelbase makes for quick turn-in, though the steering feel is just mediocre. Brake feel is excellent.
It’ll take a special person, though, to actually buy a CR-Z. The packaging is just too compromised for the average new-car buyer. It’s a shame that Honda couldn’t make room for four occupants for both practicality and insurance purposes. However, the decision to delete the European rear seats is justified by the complete absence of legroom behind the front seats. Rearward visibility is significantly worse than other split-window designs (like the Acura ZDX) and dampens the driving experience.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2011 Honda CR-Z EX manual
Base price (with destination): $21,510
Price as tested: $23,310
1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with Integrated Motor Assist
6-speed manual transmission
Hill start assist
Automatic climate control
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Aluminum shift knob
Tilt/telescoping steering column
360-watt AM/FM/CD premium audio system
MP3/auxiliary audio input
USB audio interface
Tire pressure monitoring system
Vehicle stability assist with traction control
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation system — $1800
Key options not on vehicle:
CVT transmission — $650
31 / 37 / 34 mpg
Size: 1.5L I-4
Horsepower: 122 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 122 lb-ft @ 1000-1750 rpm
Horsepower: 13 hp @ 1500 rpm
Torque: 58 lb-ft @ 1000 rpm
Total power output:
Horsepower: 135 hp @ 1500 rpm
Torque: 180 lb-ft @ 1000 rpm
Curb weight: 2654 lb
16×6-inch aluminum wheels
195/55R16 86V Dunlop SP Sport 7000 all-season tires