The CR-Z's powertrain is much the same as in the Honda Insight (and close to that of the Honda Civic Hybrid). A 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine is supported by Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) mild-hybrid system, together making 122 hp and, Honda says, producing a torque curve equivalent to a non-hybrid, 2.0-liter four.
Three modes, three personalities
At the far left of the instrument panel are three buttons: Sport, Normal, and Economy. Each of these modes alters the way the electric power steering feels, along with throttle response. And the difference between any of the modes is something you can feel almost right away—especially going from Normal to Sport, where the steering gets a firmer feel and throttle response is very aggressive, with the IMA programmed to churn out a quick burst of torque at tip-in. Taking off from a standing start also feels quite a bit different in Sport because of the touchy throttle.
The CR-Z's character completely changes in Sport mode. The firmer yet quicker steering calibration makes the CR-Z feel not only more nimble at low speeds but more settled, with better straight-ahead tracking, at highway speeds. Switch back to Normal or Econ, and the lighter steering feel can be an annoyance on the highway, even with mild tramlines or choppy surfaces, as we kept overadjusting back and forth. If this editor could have his way, he'd combine the less aggressive Econ or Normal throttle settings with the firmer steering feel of Sport mode.
With the manual gearbox, the CR-Z is a little fussy about when the engine will shut off; once it's warm, and if the battery is in a full enough state of charge (and, likely, if you don't have too many accessories on), and the shifter is in neutral or one of the higher gears, the engine will turn itself off and automatically restart when you snick the shifter into first.