- Has the magic "hybrid" badge
- Superb gauge graphics teach better driving
- Higher fuel economy than virtually any other coupe
- Six-speed gearbox adds sportiness to hybrid
- Weighs as much as an Insight, uses more gas
- Suspension crashes over rough roughs
- Driving fun doesn't come with the CVT
- Very little cargo room
The 2012 Honda CR-Z is the only hybrid sports coupe, but that's not quite enough for us.
The 2012 Honda CR-Z is the second model year for a car that hasn't quite lived up to the high hopes raised for it. The idea--or the dream--was a quick, nimble sports coupe in the mold of the classic CRX, married to Honda's fuel efficient hybrid drivetrain.
But when it was launched, the CR-Z delivers decent but hardly stellar gas mileage, and it's not the rollerskate-on-wheels reincarnation of the CRX--even if it is the only hybrid available with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The 2012 CR-Z is closely related to the 2012 Honda Insight subcompact hybrid hatchback, but Honda calls it a hybrid sports coupe. Still, at 2,600 pounds and 122 horsepower, the CR-Z doesn't channel the handling magic of the CRX--which was 700 pounds lighter. Perhaps Honda should have named it something entirely different, to avoid comparisons the CR-Z is bound to lose. We might view it differently if it were simply called the Insight Coupe or Insight Sport?
For a sporty car, the 2012 Honda CR-Z is reasonably quick and delivers good gas mileage. It's a comfortable car for two people to travel in, as long as they pack light, and it looks good from most angles.
With a base price of less than $20,000, with top-of-the-line versions reaching about $24,000, the CR-Z competes with the MINI Cooper, and probably the all-new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, as well as the less compelling Scion tC. But in reality, CR-Z buyers may also be looking at the new Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic subcompacts. Both are good cars, deliver close to the same highway gas mileage, and run in the same price range. And they have far more interior room and seat four or five people.
2012 Honda CR-Z
The 2012 Honda CR-Z lines echoes the classic CRX, but the design is more cacophonous on the outside, and the color changes of the instruments may remind you of a pachinko parlor.
The 2012 Honda CR-Z bridges two decades, working to bring a modern look and hybrid persona to a shape derived from the small, sporty CRX of fond memory a generation ago. It's not altogether successful, but the CR-Z is definitely distinctive--and manages to look substantial despite its small two-seat footprint.
It's spawned from the Insight five-door hatchback, and the CR-Z's front end--containing modern-day crash structures the CRX designers couldn't have imagined--is so long relative to the cabin that the car looks a bit unbalanced. The windshield is laid back, and the tail is high, complete with vertical glass panel in the tailgate to improve rearward visibility, which is greatly restricted through the all-but-horizontal rear window.
The side view looks thick, though, and the triangular rear windows are very small due to the rising beltline. It makes the CR-Z look high and low at the same time, and the long doors emphasize the truncated tail. It's one of a kind, but while it's distinctive, we're not convinced that it rises to the level of attractive.
The interior is based on the two-level Honda display found in not only the Insight but the Civic as well. The upper part of the dash, capped in pleasantly soft plastic (unlike other, grimmer Honda interiors) wraps around to envelop the driver. The blue, red, and green gauges add dashes of bright color, reminiscent of the "Tokyo by Night" aesthetic of Japanese cars made during the mid-Eighties. The colors are meant to guide you toward more economical driving, too, or at least let you know when you're using the most gasoline. Angry, jangly red indicates maximum performance (high consumption), while cooling, soothing green and blue denote more economical driving styles.
2012 Honda CR-Z
The 2012 Honda CR-Z has better performance and handling than most hybrids, but its gas mileage isn't all that impressive for a small two-seat car.
The 2012 Honda CR-Z probably starts with two strikes against it: Memories of the old CRX may make it into more than it was, and because the CR-Z is a hybrid, it will never have the crisp purity of performance that the CRX embodied. If you take it on those terms, and add a caveat--"for a hybrid, anyway"--the CR-Z can be fun to drive.
The powertrain is roughly the same as the one used in the Honda Civic Hybrid, with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 15-kilowatt (20-horsepower) electric motor sandwiched between it and the transmission. Together, the engine and motor produce a maximum of 122 hp and 128 pound-feet of torque. But, like all Honda mild hybrids, you can't move away from rest on electric power alone--the battery pack delivers its energy only to supplement the engine power and restart the car after it comes to a stop and switches off the engine.
The engine still likes to rev, like most Hondas, and unusually for a hybrid, buyers can opt not only for the usual continuously variable transmission (CVT) but also a six-speed manual. That makes the CR-Z the sole manual-transmission hybrid car sold this year, though it comes with a gas-mileage penalty. The six-speed was fun to drive, though we still haven't had a chance to drive a CVT-equipped CR-Z. We suspect it's not nearly as enjoyable as the manual, despite paddle shifters that provide simulated "upshifts" and "downshifts" to wring more power out of the otherwise uber-economical engine programming.
Like every new Honda, the 2012 CR-Z includes an "Econ" button on the dash. But it also offers a Sport mode (the default Normal mode makes three). Each mode offers different mapping for throttle response, transmission shift points and ratios, and steering feel. Econ mode is joyless, slow, and frustrating, with slower acceleration and a disconcerting ability to lose momentum rapidly on hills. Even the climate controls produce less heat or cool air in this mode, and only the masochistically green will use it regularly.
Sport brings the CR-Z much closer to the character of a two-seater roller skate, though there's still the odd feeling of electric power switching in and out. The steering is quicker, the engine response is faster, and there's less resistance in the pedal to hard acceleration. If we had our way, we'd keep the CR-Z in Sport mode all the time--and suffer the gas-mileage consequences.
The EPA rates the 2012 CR-Z at 35 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, for a combined 37 mpg--if you get the CVT. Opt for more reward behind the wheel with the six-speed, and the ratings drop to 31 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, for a combined 34 mpg. Former CRX owners (of which there seem to be many) will immediately howl that their car got better mileage than that--which it likely did. It also had far less safety equipment, fewer standard features, emitted more pollutants, and weighed 700 pounds less. In other words, that CRX of memory couldn't be sold today. The CR-Z may be as good as you're going to get.
The Insight, on the other hand, has more interior space and two more doors, but still gets higher mileage ratings--42 mpg city, 44 mpg highway for 2012. It also has a smaller engine and slower acceleration, so you picks your money and you takes your choice. But we suspect that the CR-Z won't be cross-shopped against a five-door hybrid hatch, but rather the dwindling number of small, inexpensive coupe models in the compact and subcompact class. All of those, however, have a nominal four seats, even if the rear ones aren't habitable for full-size adults.
Handling-wise, the CR-Z is small and chuckable. It has nowhere near the balance of a Mazda Miata, but with a lower seating position, a shorter wheelbase, and more power than the Insight, it may be the most fun hybrid on the road south of the German and Japanese luxury makes. It's not quite a sports car, but it's definitely not a traditional hybrid hatchback. Like most front-wheel drive Hondas, it understeers at the limit, scrubbing off speed with the front tires. It's not so much fun to drive that you'll find yourself testing the limits regularly, though.
The electric power steering was decently weighted and provided some feedback (not all Japanese makers have mastered that trick), but the short wheelbase and torsion-beam rear suspension mean the ride starts at firm and can degenerate into crashy on particularly bad road surfaces. Drivers will feel the transition from electric assist to regenerative braking as the electric motor switches tasks, and they may occasionally feel the transition from regenerative to friction braking as well.
The one advantage of the CR-Z is that if you're an urban dweller who parks on the street, the CR-Z is probably second only to the unpleasant Smart ForTwo in ease of parking. It'll slot into spaces that a Prius driver can't even dream of attempting. Competing with the Smart ForTwo, however, would be a grim and reductive fate for this mixed-mode sports-economy two-seat coupe.
2012 Honda CR-Z
Comfort & Quality
Driving the 2012 Honda CR-Z may mean giving up a lot--luggage, pets, and all but a single, carefully chosen friend.
Okay, the 2012 Honda CR-Z is a two-seat coupe. But its low roofline, high-voltage battery pack, and modern crash safety and roof-crush regulations all conspire to make it small inside as well as out. There's not even the pretense of a rear seat, and the high floor of the load deck means you won't be carrying any large rectangular boxes either.
In other markets, Honda does fit vestigial rear seats, but new rear-seat headrest requirements conflicted with the angle of the roof--so they were dropped. Their traces remain in a pair of storage wells the size of dishpans, and a panel that flips down to cover them. The lid over that area resembles nothing so much as the cover of an Igloo cooler.
The three-position cargo cover will fold down so two sets of golf clubs can be carried. But golfers and others will find the liftover high and the hatch opening narrow. Total cargo space is given as 25.1 cubic feet, far less than the capacity of a subcompact five-door hatch with its rear seat folded down. Have we mentioned that the CR-Z is a low car?
The CR-Z is a bit more than 13 feet long, which is about a foot shorter than the Insight five-door hybrid hatchback from which it's derived. The two front seats are roomy and supportive, though the seating position is lower than in the Insight. The cloth seats are well bolstered, and are both wide and tall, meaning most drivers will fit comfortably. Two adult men may still find their knees touching, and the passenger will need to keep his left leg clear of the shift lever for the six-speed manual transmission so the driver doesn't ram it into his knee.
2012 Honda CR-Z
Visibility is the biggest issue in the Honda CR-Z.
The 2012 Honda CR-Z has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the CR-Z its highest rating of "Good" for frontal offset and side-impact crash tests, as well as for roof strength.
It's worth noting that the earlier 2011 model, however, was rated by the IIHS only as "Acceptable" for roof strength.
The CR-Z comes standard with dual front, side, and side-curtain airbags, along with active head restraints for the seats. It has the usual suite of electronic safety systems, including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and tire-pressure warning sensors. It also has a feature we particularly like, known as hill assist, which keeps the brakes engaged on manual-transmission cars when they are stopped on a slope.
Where the CR-Z falls down on driving safety is its visibility, or lack of it. The rear three-quarter view is almost non-existent, with no good angles to show what's to the side and rear. The pillars are thick, the quarter windows are tiny, and the scene in the rear-view mirror is split by the bar connecting the two slit-like tailgate windows, one short and vertical, the other long but almost horizontal. So while the little Honda will slot into minimal parking spaces, the process of getting it in won't be any fun.
2012 Honda CR-Z
The 2012 Honda CR-Z is decently well equipped even in its base version, but the kinds of add-ons that made the Scion brand are missing here.
The 2012 Honda CR-Z was always going to be a low-volume car, so Honda simplified the model lineup. There's a base version, which comes in around $20,000 when you include the mandatory delivery fee, and the fancier EX version--which can be ordered with a navigation package. And that's really the entire range.
The base CR-Z offers substantial standard equipment, including power windows, locks, and door mirrors; cruise control; automatic climate control (a rarity on small two-seat cars), keyless entry; and a CD sound system with six speakers, audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, and standard USB connectivity.
Moving up to the CR-Z EX model adds leather trim; alloy-metal interior accents; high-intensity discharge headlamps; fog lamps; Bluetooth connectivity (which we think at this point should be standard on all cars); and an upgraded 360-Watt stereo system. If you want voice recognition, it comes bundled with the in-dash navigation system.
Want the tuner look? Fancy graphics? Differently colored accents? Fancy doorplates or drilled pedals? You'll have to find them on your own. Honda entirely foregoes the kind of dealer-installed personalization options that have been so successful--and so profitable--for both MINI and Scion. There's already aftermarket equipment for the CR-Z, including a host of wheel designs, but it's up to the CR-Z buyer to seek it all out.
2012 Honda CR-Z
The 2012 Honda CR-Z delivers lower gas mileage than its small size and limited interior space would indicate, while compromising its sports-car ambitions to get there.
In absolute terms, the 2012 Honda CR-Z gets better-than-average gas mileage. With the continuously-variable transmission, it's rated by the EPA at 35 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, for a combined 37 mpg. That falls to 34 mpg if you opt for the six-speed manual gearbox, which gives 31 mpg city, 37 mpg highway.
The problem is that to get there, the CR-Z fits Honda's mild-hybrid system--which compromises the driving fun a sporty-looking two-seat car should deliver--in a vehicle that's as heavy as the five-door Honda Insight, which gets better mileage and holds more people and more of their stuff. Both of those cars are smaller than the Toyota Prius, the ur-hybrid, which delivers a combined rating of 50 mpg. And the CR-Z compares almost straight across to the much larger, far more luxurious Ford Fusion Hybrid mid-size sedan--proving that just because a car is small doesn't mean it's thrifty.
Sadly, the CR-Z tries to strike a compromise between the fuel efficiency of a hybrid and the small, sporty character of a two-seat coupe--and ends up not doing either particularly well.