- Distinctive shape and size
- Sole hybrid with a stick shift
- Power jolt from "Boost" mode
- Good gauges, display graphics
- More power on tap with HPD kit
- Fuel efficiency now matched by Fit
- Rough-road ride is harsh
- CVT not remotely sporty
- Very little luggage space
The 2016 Honda CR-Z hybrid hatchback two-seater is the sole car in its segment, but other cars are sportier, more fuel-efficient, and carry more people and luggage.
The 2016 Honda CR-Z sets out to do what only a few vehicles in history have done: blend high efficiency with a high-style, hot-hatchback profile.
Like the BMW i8—only not so extravagantly engineered—the CR-Z mashes up its fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain with the profile sporty two-seater. It ends up not terribly convincing in either aspect. It's not all that entertaining to drive, and its gas mileage is handily outpaced by bigger, more accommodating hybrids.
Its sporty credentials lie almost exclusively in this factoid: It remains the sole hybrid offered with a manual gearbox.
The original design goal was to add a modern hybrid system into a modern version of the sporty, nippy, fuel-sipping CRX two-seater of two decades ago, much beloved even today. But the requirements of modern safety, plus the hybrid powertrain, added a lot of weight—it's about 700 pounds heavier than the old CRX. The feeling that resulted just couldn't compare to the lightweight coupe from another era entirely.
The long hood and long doors of the CR-Z lead to a narrowing tail with a vertical second rear window in the hatch, borrowed from the now-defunct Insight hybrid. It's a good-looking car from most angles, but the sporty looks aren't adequately supported by its actual driving character. It's now the only surviving Honda with a two-tier instrument panel, which uses bright colors to convey vehicle operating information as well as the usual speed and engine revs. The seats are well bolstered, although their limited range of adjustment gave several reviewers back aches. And luggage space is limited to a couple of small, soft bags—forget about carrying any rectangular cardboard boxes.
The CR-Z is powered by 1.5-liter inline-4 and 15-kw (20-horsepower) electric motor sandwiched between engine and transmission. Output is 130 hp, and the 6-speed manual version has a rated torque of 140 pound-feet. In Sport mode, a boost function known as the "Plus Sport System" lets the driver press a steering-wheel button marked "S+" that delivers an extra jolt of electric torque for up to 5 seconds if the battery's charge is sufficient. The small lithium-ion battery pack is located under the cargo-bay floor, one of the reasons luggage space is so minimal.
The much heavier structure lets the CR-Z comply with modern safety tests the CRX's designers never even dreamed of, though its ratings are only so-so. It has a full complement of airbags, and a rear-vision camera is standard. For 2016, Honda has added its clever LaneWatch system, which shows an image of the lane to the right of the car on the central dash display when the driver signals a right-hand turn. It has a full complement of airbags for two people; the CRX had none at all.
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. There are both sportier cars and more fuel-efficient models out there. The CR-Z has suffered from this betwixt-and-between identity since its launch, and sales have been correspondingly low. Many four- and five-seat small cars are now almost as good on gas mileage, including the Honda Fit subcompact—a perennial favorite for its clever Magic Seat and enormous interior flexibility—that is rated at 37 mpg and sits next to the CR-Z on showroom floors.
Fuel efficiency is better with the continuously variable transmission (CVT), at a combined 36 mpg city, 39 highway, 37 combined. The CR-Z is also available with a 6-speed manual gearbox—making it the sole hybrid with a stick—which gives a sportier driving character, but cuts mileage to 31/38/34 mpg. For context, three models of the Toyota Prius—larger, more comfortable, and offering four or five seats--get 50 mpg combined.