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2011 Honda CR-Z Performance

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Performance

The CR-Z would need magical handling that could inspire every showroom gawker to join the SCCA, just to match the old CRX’s timeless feel. It doesn’t, but with a caveat in place—“for a hybrid”—the CR-Z does manage to graft a sliver of driving joy on the usually dull gas-electric experience.

Power comes from the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder and battery/motor pack found on the Insight. Honda’s mild hybrid technology means a sum of 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, but doesn’t mean you can drive this on electricity alone. Luckily the gas engine has the light, revvy feel that used to grace every Honda, and the displays let you watch when you’re burning BP levels of oil and when you’re coasting on the coattails of transistors and resistors.

The CR-Z elevates the usual hybrid driving dynamic, but can’t deliver the gas mileage or spunk it should

The available six-speed manual gearbox is another loving memory of Honda’s greatness. It’s quick to click into gears, and the clutch pedal is almost dainty. Our extremely short test drive around New York City didn’t give us the chance to sample the CVT, but based on our Insight drives, we’re sure it’s as joyless an experience as any CVT—even with available paddle shifters and pre-programmed, simulated “gears.”

The CR-Z also has three buttons flanking the left side of the dash: Sport, Econ and Normal. Flick them and they set throttle and steering feel to mirror their nametags. In Econ mode, there’s a distinct amount of fluff in the gas pedal—a subtle spacer to keep you from sinking into the sub-30-mpg range. Econ mode also stops and starts the car at stoplights more quickly, to boost gas mileage, and even takes over the climate controls for improved fuel economy. For our money, Sport feels about right to us, with the least amount of pedal resistance and a quick, zippy steering sensation--just more eco-angst.

Like the Insight, the net result is less fuel economy than the benchmarks in the class. The CR-Z is rated by the EPA at 31/37 mpg for manual-transmission versions, and 35/39 mpg for CVT CR-Zs. In hard driving, we saw from 29 mpg to 33 mpg in our short test loop. The Insight, meanwhile, gets 41/43 mpg. Even with two fewer doors, the CR-Z weighs just about the same as its more functional cousin, and gives up more fuel economy than we’d imagined. Telling fact: The 2011 Ford Fiesta gets from 29/38 mpg to 30/40 mpg—without hybrid technology.

Despite the middling hybrid fuel economy, the CR-Z rates as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) under the California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards, and as an EPA Tier 2, Bin 2 car for all states.

Unfortunately, our arrow-straight drive route also gave no indication how the CR-Z might handle the worst curves. The electric power steering has decent heft and feel in mid-speed maneuvers. Ride quality’s another relative unknown; on first pass it’s fine, but several times we felt the CR-Z’s torsion-beam rear suspension use up all its travel. Manhattan might not be the most forgiving test of a sport coupe’s ride quality—but the CR-Z’s retro-tech rear end might be giving up a little too much in sophistication. We’ll take a longer, closer look when we’re able to drive it on a wider cross-section of roads.

The CR-Z’s brakes also do their part for fuel efficiency—and like almost all regenerative braking systems, they lack the sensual, grabby feel that good old hydraulics deliver without thinking.

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