- Way ahead of the social-responsibility curve
- Flashy gauges teach you green driving
- Great fuel economy, compared to some coupes
- Six-speed clicks in terrific Honda fashion
- As heavy as an Insight, and thirstier
- City driving uses up all the suspension travel
- CVT dulls all the available driving fun
- Cargo hold doesn’t hold much
The 2011 Honda CR-Z blazes a new trail for eco-performance—but we’re not quite following.
It’s called an axiom for a reason. You can’t have it all, and we can prove it. Our evidence? The 2011 Honda CR-Z. Until now, we held out hope that some car company would find a way to deliver everything we wanted in an environmentally responsible sporty coupe, from great fuel economy to great handling. But the CR-Z falls short of satisfying us on either end of the
spectrum—it’s a wash for both hypermilers and for the ardent believers still waiting on the second coming of the beloved CRX.
As it’s closely related to the 2010 Honda Insight five-door hatchback, Honda is careful to pitch the CR-Z as a hybrid sports coupe, and to put a little distance between its illustrious hot-hatch history. At the same time, on purpose, it invokes the spirit of the CRX with those initials. That’s a problem--the world-saving, 2,600-pound, 122-horsepower CR-Z just doesn’t tap enough of the CRX’s handling magic or simple aesthetic to warrant the name.
The CR-Z might have been better off under a different name. It’s reasonably quick and gets very good gas mileage for a sporty car. The CRX was a halo car for the whole Honda brand; the CR-Z feels just like a two-door Insight with less cohesive looks and worse gas mileage. If this were an Insight Sport, it might be perceived very differently.
Still, Honda’s convinced it’ll find 15,000 fans eager to be the pioneers in the “hybrid enthusiast” segment. With a base price under $20,000 and reaching to about $24,000 for a fully tricked-out version, the new CR-Z will be toughing it out against iconic machines like the base MINI Cooper and the VW New Beetle—and even less compelling coupes like the anonymous Scion tC and the thirsty Mitsubishi Eclipse.
We think it’s going to find its biggest dragon to slay in the tight 2011 Ford Fiesta, which matches its interior room, keeps seating for five, and outpaces it in highway fuel economy, even without any battery backup.
2011 Honda CR-Z
There’s lots of tension and lots of flaws in the CR-Z’s origami body and its Nintendo cockpit.
The CR-Z has to bridge a huge gap in time—between the unadorned, efficient style of Hondas past and the janky, disjointed look of its current lineup.
While the Insight five-door that spawned it looks relatively clean, the CR-Z amps up a very specific, almost chaotic look. We get outrageous, we get eye-catching—but from most views we don’t really get the CR-Z. The long nose betrays lots of crash structure and carryover pieces from the Insight—unsexy stuff, but it’s made a little more appealing here. It falls apart from the rear, where the CR-Z’s laid-back pillars and thick sideview look tall and low at the same time.
The detail that feels most convincing is the dual-pane glass hatchback you might fondly remember from the CRX. Elsewhere, the CR-Z’s sheetmetal makes us wonder more than it makes us smile.
Inside, the CR-Z gets multi-layered instrument-panel displays—a contemporary design feature we’ve come to expect in Hondas—and the upper portion of the dash curves around to envelop the driver. It’s very high-tech and almost retro. Remember the “Tokyo by night” displays from mid-‘80s Japanese cars? This CR-Z picks up that aesthetic and runs with it, its blue-green-red gauges winking softly, using color to signal how you’re using fuel. There’s plenty of plastic and lots of cutlines across the dash, but a nice soft-touch dash cap and tight fits keep your attention focused on the bright displays and their fuel-economy pachinko game.
2011 Honda CR-Z
The CR-Z elevates the usual hybrid driving dynamic, but can’t deliver the gas mileage or spunk it should
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 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.
2011 Honda CR-Z
Comfort & Quality
Be prepared to leave a lot behind with the CR-Z—luggage, pets, and all but one cherished friend.
The CR-Z doesn’t make any pretenses about seating more than two people, and carrying some of their worldly possessions. There’s still less space behind the seats than there could be, along with a noticeable concession to U.S. safety regulations.
At 160.6 inches long, with a 95.8-inch wheelbase, the CR-Z is cut down about a foot from the Insight. It must come mostly from behind the front seats, because they’re as usefully roomy and supportive as the chairs in the Insight. The sport-bolstered cloth seats grip nicely, and they're tall and wide enough for most drivers. It’s marginally wider than the Insight, but the CR-Z’s cockpit still is a bit tight crossways: two adult men will probably touch knees, and the six-speed shifter sits close to the passenger’s left knee.
In the cargo area you’ll notice an unusual pair of dishpan-sized wells and a flip-down panel that covers them. What looks like an Igloo cooler lid is fitted in U.S. cars where a real rear seat would go in other countries. Honda says the rear seats were victim to U.S. headrest regulations going into effect. You’re left with is a three-position “smart” cargo cover that folds down to open a space large enough for two sets of golf clubs—though there’s a high liftover and a narrow hatch opening to navigate.
In all, there are 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space. Flip down the seats in a five-door Fiesta and you’ll expose more space—and still have rear seats to use when needed. In the CR-Z, you’ll always be left with the visual reminder of what could have been.
2011 Honda CR-Z
Safety scores are likely to be strong; the CR-Z's biggest issue is visibility.
The CR-Z has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Honda has a good recent safety track record, and we expect better-than-average scores for this compact 2011 Honda hybrid. The related Insight was rated at four stars for front-passenger frontal impact protection by the NHTSA, and the IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. We’ll revisit this score when the agencies test the CR-Z.
Standard safety features include dual front, side, and curtain airbags; active head restraints; anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control; and hill assist on manual-transmission cars.
Visibility is a glaring issue in the low-slung CR-Z. To the rear quarters, there’s almost no clear angle of view. The thick pillars will have you using every bit of your mirrors, and usually leaning out of the car, to get a safe visual lead.
2011 Honda CR-Z
Honda hasn’t missed a beat on entertainment features, though you’ll have to remix the CR-Z’s looks and details on your own.
Honda is a pioneer in simplifying the order process. The CR-Z comes in just two versions, the sub-$20,000 base CR-Z and the EX, which can cost as much as $24,000.
The base comes with a fair host of standard equipment, including automatic climate control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; keyless entry with one remote; cruise control; and a six-speaker CD sound system with USB connectivity and steering-wheel audio controls.
The CR-Z EX adds high-intensity discharge headlamps; Bluetooth; fog lamps; leather and alloy-metal trim; an extra remote fob; and a upgraded 360-watt stereo. Navigation with voice recognition can be had as an upgrade on this version.
The CR-Z offers few options, and it’s entirely missing the personalization options you’d find at a Scion or MINI or even a Ford showroom. We’re sure the aftermarket gang will have its way with the CR-Z once they reconcile themselves to the idea of hybrid tuning, but Honda’s behind the curve when it comes to high-margin add-ons.