- Smart styling stands out
- Only small hybrid with stick shift
- 'Boost' mode adds power jolt
- Superb gauge, display graphics
- HPD finally offers some more power
- Fuel efficiency not all that high
- Ride deteriorates on rough roads
- CVT hurts any pretense of sporty driving
- Remarkably little luggage space
If you want small, fun, and fuel-efficient, there are other options to consider, but if you're looking for a two-seat hybrid hatchback coupe, the 2015 Honda CR-Z is really your only choice.
Even now, after five years of slow and dwindling sales, the 2015 Honda CR-Z remains a bit of an oddball in the market. It's a hybrid, but not a terribly fuel-efficient one. It's a two-seat sports coupe (technically a three-door hatchback), but it's not all that sporty to drive. However, it does remain the sole hybrid you can buy with a manual gearbox.
In the beginning, the CR-Z was meant to channel happy memories of the sporty, nippy, fuel-sipping CR-X two-seater of two decades ago. That beloved Honda CR-X was a small Civic-based hatchback with an emphasis on handling and low weight. The CR-Z was going to take that car's concept, add a simple hybrid powertrain for fuel economy, and keep the fun dream of a thrifty, nippy sport coupe alive.
Unfortunately, modern safety and the hybrid powertrain added a lot of weight, and the feeling that resulted just couldn't compare to the CR-X, a car from another era entirely. In a car market that increasingly opts for utility vehicles over passenger cars, the CR-Z's small size and two seats present a major drawback for many--and its very limited cargo capacity undermines its suggestion of hatchback practicality. And its gas mileage--rated by the EPA at 37 mpg combined for the more fuel-efficient model--is walloped by the 50-mpg combined rating of the far larger, more capacious, five-seat Toyota Prius
The 2015 CR-Z's styling blends elements of the classic CR-X--long hood, long doors, not much behind that--with a few cues from the first-generation Insight hybrid two-seater. Those include the narrowing tail and the extra vertical rear window in the hatch. It's a good-looking car from most angles, but its sporty looks aren't adequately backed up by its driving character.
Inside, the two-tier instrument panel uses bright colors to convey vehicle operating information as well as the usual speed and engine revs. The seats are well bolstered, although a number of reviewers have suffered back aches as a result of their limited range of adjustment.
The CR-Z's engine is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder unit that's paired with a 15-kilowatt (20-horsepower) electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission. A 2013 upgrade boosted the output to 130 horsepower, and the six-speed manual version now has rated torque of 140 lb-ft. CR-Zs now also include a boost function: a "Plus Sport System" lets the driver press a steering-wheel button marked "S+" that directs the motor to deliver an extra jolt of electric torque for up to 5 seconds if the battery's charge is sufficient. The battery pack uses lithium-ion cells--the CR-Z was the last Honda to make the switch--which are lighter and have higher energy density than the nickel-metal-hydride pack used in early CR-Zs.
To address some of the criticism that the CR-Z isn't quite sporty enough--finally--Honda will begin offering a kit that should go a long way toward transforming the car's character. For CR-Zs equipped with the manual transmission, the Honda Performance Development (HPD) kit includes a supercharger for the engine, an HPD clutch, a limited-slip differential, new front brakes, a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, a sport exhaust, and several aero and dress-up parts. Engine output climbs to 187 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. For CVT-equipped models, the engine is left alone but the other dynamic and aesthetic improvements apply. It's likely that fuel economy will suffer a bit, swinging the CR-Z's balance farther toward sport, but since it's a dealer-installed kit, the setup doesn't get tested by the EPA.
The 2015 CR-Z weighs 2,600 pounds--fully 700 pounds more than the CR-X of 30 years ago--and its fuel efficiency ratings are notably lower than those of the original (much slower) Insight. It has a full complement of airbags for two people, and its longer front end reflects considerably more robust crash structures. The old CR-X had no airbags and would likely be horrifying in today's tougher crash tests.
Fuel efficiency depends on the transmission you choose. Get the continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the car is rated a combined 37 mpg (36 mpg city, 39 mpg highway). It's also available with a six-speed manual gearbox--making it one of very few hybrids indeed with a stick--which gives it a sportier driving character, but reduces mileage to 34 mpg combined (31 mpg city, 38 mpg highway).
The CR-Z's challenge is that there are sportier cars out there, but there are also more fuel-efficient models. The Chevrolet Sonic and updated-in-2014 Ford Fiesta are both five-door subcompact hatchbacks that offer more space and real-world fuel efficiency in the low 30s for less money. If you want sporty, there's the Fiat 500 Abarth, the Chevy Sonic RS, the Ford Fiesta ST, and the standard Mazda 2. Or if you're all about fuel efficiency, four separate Toyota Prius models are all rated higher than the CR-Z--though none of them are remotely sporty. The CR-Z has suffered from this betwixt-and-between identity since its launch, and sales have been correspondingly low.