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Driven: 2011 Honda CR-Z

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Take a look at the rumblings from critics and pundits, and it's apparent that Honda has been burned a bit by expectations with its new CR-Z coupe. Old-school CRX fans don't think the CR-Z is sporty enough and say it's missing the old CRX's light, nimble, autocross-ready feel, while green geeks judge the EPA fuel economy numbers—as low as 31 mpg, 37 highway—unacceptable.

Throughout a week with the new CR-Z, I found myself more happy with the obvious compromises than upset about them. The CR-Z crosses a performance look—if not the performance itself—with a sort of “comfortable frugality.” Admittedly, forewarned by colleagues, I didn't expect the CR-Z to be a pavement-scorching machine, rather not much different than the Insight.

The trump card that makes the CR-Z feel a bit sportier even though it's not much different than the Insight: the six-speed manual gearbox. While a CVT is also available—and it brings better fuel economy—the shifter's neat, precise linkage and light clutch remind us of what we loved about simpler, sporty Hondas.

The CR-Z's other strength is that it looks great—especially from the back. It's a profile that most will instantly recognize as a Honda, and though the nose seems bigger and longer than it should be (perhaps the product of safety regulations), the rakish look works especially well from the back. In a week with the CR-Z, we found plenty of nods and thumbs-up, and people seemed to really like the look. On the inside, the CR-Z's instrument panel is quite a bit like that of the Insight, but that's not a bad thing.

A two-seater, with plenty of space for stuff

It's an interesting package. Even from a few paces back, the CR-Z looks like it's a four-passenger vehicle, with a small backseat, but that's not the case—at least in the U.S. market. What we get instead is a makeshift cargo tray that doesn't make the best use of the space but is good enough for a couple of small backpacks. Honda could make much better use of this with a cargo organizer or something more compartmented. Behind that (and over a small divider wall) is a modest cargo compartment; because of where the batteries are (just below), the cargo floor isn't as low as you might expect, but it's flat—and the two cargo spaces, combined, hold a lot of stuff. Turn around, and the CR-Z has a handy lower window to allow a clearer view behind—much like the old CRX, as well as the old and new Insight.

We didn't find the CR-Z's seats to be very comfortable; they looked like they might be more supportive for enthusiastic driving, but they felt flat and lacked lateral support as well as lower back support, though we liked the meshy, breathable fabric. There's lots of legroom and enough headroom; visibility is decent, too, though as you'd expect sightlines are a little obscured when looking to the side for lane changes.


 
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