Honda’s upcoming two-seat CR-Z hybrid is intended to evoke the spirit of the original CRX hatchback, a sporty, fuel-efficient runabout that remains well-regarded by many car enthusiasts. On Tuesday, we had our first chance to drive the new Honda CR-Z hybrid around New York City and its suburbs. The idea of an affordable, fun-to-drive hybrid sounds good, and after previewing the car on the auto show circuit, I was anxious to see if Honda delivered.
The CR-Z is based on a heavily modified Insight platform, itself derived from the Fit. In comparison, it is lowered 1.2 inches and shorter by 11 inches. The wheelbase is about four inches shorter. Compared to the Insight, the steering ratio is much quicker, giving the car a sportier feel, and the CR-Z has standard stability control, addressing a shortcoming of the base Insight. The car weighs 2,750 pounds—essentially the same as the larger Insight.
Honda claims the CR-Z’s main competitor will be the base Mini Cooper. And its price will be similar. A base CR-Z starts at $19,950, including destination, and a fully-loaded EX with navigation system will cost under $24,000.
On the road
The CR-Z has a friskiness about it that is reminiscent of the original CRX, but with a lot more refinement and less interior noise. It has three driving modes: Normal, Econ, and Sport. In Sport mode, the electric motor provides more torque and the steering becomes more heavily weighted. Normal mode is less sporty, yet still responsive enough. In Econ mode, the car feels lackluster with lackadaisical throttle response. I found I had to press the gas pedal so far down when cruising on the highway that my foot got tired. The manual shifter is as slick as they come. With a combined EPA-rating of just 37 mpg with the CVT transmission (and just 33 mpg with the six-speed manual), the CR-Z trails behind other hybrids that provide more space and practicality. Its mileage is more like the Mini Cooper’s than other efficient hybrids. I observed 31.3 mpg on my admittedly brisk drive.
We have since borrowed a pre-production CR-Z and will be able to log more collective seat time. While we will share our further, initial findings, the final verdict will only come after we buy a production model, when it goes on sale at the end of August, and run it through our complete gauntlet of more than 50 tests.
Inside the CR-Z
The cabin is attractive looking and full of convenient storage bins. Interior finish is better than that of the cheap-inside Insight. In Japan and other markets, the CR-Z has a rear seat for two. Here the rear seats become simply two large storage bins, making the car strictly a two seater, which could limit its appeal. There is another large bin in front of the shifter, and a shelf with a door to store your MP3 player when it’s plugged into the car’s USB port. The base model lacks Bluetooth, an odd omission for a car aimed at young buyers.
Thoughts and perspective
To put the CR-Z’s fuel economy in perspective, this week the EPA released fuel economy ratings for the upcoming 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, a luxurious version of the Ford Fusion Hybrid we tested that has a much more complex hybrid drivetrain. It’s rated at 41 mpg city, 36 highway. That’s an overall average of 39 mpg--2 mpg better than the most thrifty CR-Z, a much smaller and lighter car. Consider though at these high levels of efficiency, the MKZ hybrid’s extra 2 mpg over the CR-Z CVT would only save you about $50 a year in gas. (See how the 2011 Lincoln MKZ hybrid stacks up in fuel economy ratings.)
At the end of the day, I climbed into our 2011 Hyundai Sonata test car to head home. The high-rated Sonata has great handling and a spacious back seat, making it enjoyable to drive and practical. And I got the same 31 mpg driving just as fast, on the same roads on my way home. And I could seat five. Plus, it costs about the same as a CR-Z EX without navigation.