In a weird way, the CR-Z reminds me of the original raison d’etre behind the Pontiac Fiero. To push its own small two-seater into production, Pontiac brass had to sell the car as being a fuel-efficient commuter runabout that happened to look (and, by 1988, drive) sporty.
The CR-Z, especially when fitted with the CVT, seems to abide by that formula. The CRX-like profile is strangely endearing, as is the interior, chock full of funky fabrics, useful storage cubbies, and gee-whiz gauges to distract you from the Fit-like plastics that abound. On the road, the CR-Z neither delights nor disgusts; the steering is somewhat quick, but the chassis, loaded with batteries and saddled with soft suspension tuning, errs on the side of understeer when pushed hard into corners.
That’s fine for a commuter car, but the not-quite-green and not-quite-sporty CR-Z may be stuck in its own niche. The $23,000 sticker for our loaded EX-L tester can bring home a more practical hybrid, or a pocket rocket for the boy-racer crowd. Heck, both parties can even buy their dream machines from Honda’s own showroom (the Insight and the Civic Si, respectively).
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I drove our test Honda CR-Z 154 miles over a weekend and averaged 35 mpg according to the readout on the dash. This was in a mixture of city, rural, and freeway driving, and I was in “Normal” mode probably 60% of the time, and “Econ” and “Sport” modes each about 20% of the time. I enjoyed the car. I like the steering, I thought it had plenty of power, and I found it to be comfortable on the freeway, although my longest nonstop freeway drive was only an hour. I was afraid I would find the CVT boring, but on the occasions when I wanted a little more aggressive shifting, I just used the steering wheel mounted paddles to downshift and upshift and I was satisfied with that.
One of my friends, a 40-something woman, deemed the CR-Z ugly, but I certainly noticed lots of people looking at it this weekend. I think most people readily identify it as being the modern-day version of the CRX; at least that’s what the guy manning the parking lot booth said.
The CR-Z has come in for some scorn from some of us here at Automobile Magazine for being neither economical enough nor sporty enough. I don’t agree. I like the car and could see it making lots of owners happy.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Compared to the many hybrids I’ve driven, including the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion, Lexus HS250h, Hyundai Sonata, and Porsche Cayenne, the Honda CR-Z offers the least isolation from the small shudders that happen when the engine kicks on and off. Those who are committed to consuming less fuel won’t mind this tiny nuisance, but it does highlight that Honda’s hybrid technology is different from the systems used by other automakers. Specifically, it’s less complex (and less costly). Since Honda can’t move the car under electric power alone, there’s a greater urgency to get the engine started soon as the driver’s foot comes off the brake and less time to smooth the transition. In a six-speed-manual CR-Z that we tested earlier this year, the engine comes on much more smoothly, thanks in no small part to the clutch.
The CVT-equipped CR-Z also peeves me with its behavior in sport mode. No matter how long you casually loaf along at 70 mph, the transmission refuses to drop the engine rpms to a reasonable level. Even when in the manual-shift mode, you can’t drop into the seventh “gear.” Having a rev-holding sport mode is nice, but I don’t want to fuss with switching between sport and normal modes every time I enter or exit a highway.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
My opinions haven’t changed much from the last time I drove a CR-Z, other than the fact that this particular test car is equipped with a CVT with shift paddles rather than a manual transmission. The three-dimensional gauge cluster still intrigues me, and I appreciate the functional interior. The CR-Z is reasonably entertaining to drive, although I wouldn’t describe it as sporty. Rear visibility is not good at all, however, although the hatchback does provide for some useful storage space in the back.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Base price (with destination): $21,510
Price as tested: $23,960
1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine
Integrated motor assist
6-speed manual transmission
3-mode drive system (sport/normal/econ)
4-wheel ABS with EBD
Vehicle stability assist
Tire pressure monitoring system
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
MP3/auxiliary input jack
USB audio interface
Automatic climate control
Tilt/telescoping steering column
LED brake lights
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation system — $1800
CVT transmission — $650
Key options not on vehicle:
Auto-dimming rearview mirror — $287
XM satellite radio — $311
35 / 39 / 37 mpg
Size: 1.5L SOHC I-4
Horsepower: 122 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 1000-2000 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable
Curb weight: 2707 lb
Wheels/tires: 16 x 6.0-inch alloy wheels, 195/55R16 Dunlop SP Sport 7000 all-season tires