• Jun 18th 2010 at 11:55AM
  • 165
2011 Honda CR-Z – Click above for high-res image gallery

Let's get this out of the way right now: the 2011 Honda CR-Z is not a CRX redux. To compare the two – no matter how much Honda may want to – is to misunderstand the former and besmirch the latter.

No, the hybrid CR-Z is an entirely different beast. Despite its three-door shape and two-seat configuration, it has about as much in common with the O.G. hatch as a big-screen remake of your favorite childhood TV show. The basic components are there, but the whole concept has been throttled to within an inch of its life with high-tech gadgetry, odd casting decisions and a questionable demographic.

But to Honda's credit, its rhetorical comparisons to the CRX have died down considerably since the CR-Z debuted in concept form and then progressed into a production model. Honda may have recognized after a lukewarm introduction outside the U.S. that glomming onto nostalgia will only get you so far (see: Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro). And to make something special – a vehicle that transcends the emotional baggage of its predecessor – you've got to evolve the concept and avoid relying on rose-tinted sentimentality.

To an extent, that's exactly what Honda has created. It hasn't built another hot hatch – the lightweight, K20-powered three-door enthusiasts crave – and instead it has attempted to meld the technology of the moment into a greenified competitor to the Mini Cooper. Think of it as the rogue lovechild of the original and current Insight, with a few sporting genes spliced into its DNA. But can a hybrid hatch be an entertaining steer? We took to California's twisties and clipped a few cones to find out.

Photos by Damon Lavrinc / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Originally published at 3:00AM EST 06.18.10.

If you were completely smitten by the CR-Z concept from the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, the retail model may leave you a bit cold. Viewed side-by-side, the basic elements are there – high hatch, wedge shape, massive snout – but as with so many designs rotating on pedestals, everything's been watered down in the production process.

The deeply recessed grille and its center mounted "H" have been dispatched for a more pedestrian-friendly nose, while the blistered fenders, glass roof and aggressive haunches have all been relegated to the designer's trash bin. We won't call it neutered, nor will we result to the roller-skate cliche, but the CR-Z's 16-inch wheels (the only hoops available) and higher ride height have laid to waste the concept's edgy aggressiveness. And the first time a state-mandated front license plate is fitted, crouching Bugs Bunny references won't be far behind.

On the positive side, the blacked-out A- and B-pillars combined with the highly contoured windshield and greenhouse provide a pleasant wrap-around effect, while the high, split-glass hatch and triangular taillamps lend the CR-Z a more purposeful stance. The visibility afforded by the thinner A-pillars – something that's largely absent on modern vehicles – is a breath of fresh air, but on the flip side, the tall hatch and massive C-pillars make lane-changes a double- then triple-check affair.

Viewed as a whole (and if you hadn't seen the concept), it's a smart, youthful design with dozens of subtle stylistic elements that catch your eye over time. The only thing that's obviously missing is a visible exhaust outlet – something akin to the integrated exhaust tips on the Euro-market Civic would've been a nice touch.

The interior does a better job of tipping you off to the CR-Z's sporting pretenses, beginning with a pair of sufficiently bolstered seats and a small diameter steering wheel. All the controls are canted towards the driver, including the optional sat-nav, standard climate controls and drive mode selectors. The dash doesn't extend as far forward as we would have expected given the steeply raked windshield, nor does it completely encompass the occupants (note the odd cliff-face on the passenger side of the dash).

Mercifully, Honda has decided to ditch the Civic's two-tiered instrument panel for a center-mounted pseudo-3D tach with a technicolor digital speedo mounted in the middle. Battery and charge status, shift indicator, fuel level and real-time consumption flank the sides and look both futuristic and slightly half-baked. If you must, think of it as a low-rent version of the Ferrari 458 Italia's driver command center, complete with a user-customizable Multi-Information Display for standard trip readings, along with an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) flow indicator, "Eco Guide and Eco Scoring" and exterior temperature reading.

Fit and finish is on par with anything from Honda in the $20,000-25,000 segment, with soft-touch materials lining the major touch points and an interesting vacuum-formed metal coating the door handles (an industry first). The rear cargo area was obviously designed with kid seats in mind for the European and Japanese market, but in the U.S. we get a pair of recessed, carpeted plastic trays in their stead. The upright panel can be folded down to expand the standard 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space, although the only way to fold or snap it into place is to move the front seat forward and reach through the door opening. Thankfully, it's a single-handed affair.

With all the techno-tidbits available inside (along with standard USB audio and a 12V power source), oddly, our favorite interior feature came in the form of a configurable cargo cover. You can mount the vinyl overlay in three different ways to either completely obscure the cargo area or leave it open for luggage, golf bags or small bodies. But the third setup – humorously dubbed "Secret Mode" – creates a small parcel area at the very end of the hatch to hold smaller items (grocery bags, laptop and camera cases) so they won't shuffle around during spirited sprints. Speaking of which...

If you're not already aware, the CR-Z's roots are based on the new-for-2010 Insight hatch. You can groan now if you wish, but take solace in the fact that Honda has managed to shorten the wheelbase to 95.8 inches, widen the track to 59.6 inches in front and 59.1 inches in the rear, with a total length of 160.6 inches. MacPherson struts work in concert with 18-mm front and rear stabilizer bars, and the whole setup has been fitted to a suitably taut chassis. The bad news: We're stuck with a torsion-beam suspension in the rear. The worse news: the curb weight comes in between 2,637 and 2,707 pounds depending on the transmission and equipment levels. For reference, the four-passenger, five-door Insight tips the scales at 2,734 pounds, which isn't much difference at all.

As you'd expect, Honda's focus lies on the CR-Z's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system and its 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder pulled from the Fit. In the five-door runabout, the four-pot is good for 117 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque, but combined with the IMA system's Ni-Mh battery and brushless DC motor, Honda rates the CR-Z with the six-speed manual at 122 hp at 6,000 RPM and 128 lb-ft of torque from a deceivingly shallow 1,000 to 1,750 RPM. Honda says the electric motor is good for 13 hp and 58 lb-ft of twist on its own, so we're not entirely sure how the maths work out on that. We've left it to our engineering-savvy Mr. Abuelsamid to parse out the details, so let's get to the driving.

Judged by the stats alone, we started up the CR-Z with more than mild trepidation. In the Fit, the 1.5-liter isn't exactly an inspired engine and sadly, that hasn't changed in this application. The engine note is more hotel-grade Oreck than the manic, high-revving Hondas of yore, and as you move up through the rev-range, the wasps under the hood get angrier but fail to deliver a sting.

With the traction control switched off, the IMA delivers just enough torque to spin the tires when you launch around 3,000 RPM. Acceleration through the first two gears is on the high-side of acceptable as the four-pot strains towards its 6,500 RPM redline, but by the time you reach third, most of the steam has escaped the engine bay. Our best guesstimate on a 0-60 mph time is somewhere in the 10-second range. Hardly stirring, but not unexpected.

However, off-the-line performance isn't the CR-Z's forte. If Honda's "Hybrid Cafe Racer" line is to be believed, this hatch's true calling is in the canyons. And here, a faint light shines through.

In Normal and Eco mode, the CR-Z trundles along as you'd expect; a lazy commuter focused on efficiency. However, press the Sport button and the steering and throttle tighten. Inputs are more direct as you crank the quick ratio steering (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) and the shifter effortlessly slips through the gears. The six-speed manual tranny is slightly notchier than other Honda 'boxes, but it inspires you to row up and down the ratios to find the meat of the powerband. Lay into the throttle in third or fourth and there's more noise than motivation, but when the first corner appears, the brakes haul down the CR-Z at a decent clip. On the road, brake fade remained absent, but during a few hot laps around a makeshift autocross course, pedal feel got progressively mushier as we pushed harder and braked later, particularly when attempting to stop in a cordoned-off cone box.

Steering is typical Honda: direct, if slightly overboosted. Initial turn-in and mild mid-corner corrections were encouraging, as is the additional weight of the rear-mounted battery pack, allowing the CR-Z to rotate quicker than other short-wheelbase three-doors we've sampled. That additional pounds and 60:40 weight split inspired confidence through high-speed sweepers, but the downside is a fair amount of body roll through trickier, twistier bits and a penchant for understeer without a good flick of the wheel or a fair amount of trail-braking.

We only had a brief stint in a CVT-equipped model, and the seamlessness of the start-stop system in the manual version was replaced with a more abrupt shudder when switching back on from a stop – exactly as we've experienced on the Insight. As with most CVTs, the "elastic band" sensation is there, albeit slightly more refined, holding the revs at around 6,000 rpm when matting the throttle and allowing you to shift through seven faux ratios when the mood strikes you. As you'd expect, the manual is easily the more sporting setup, but Honda estimates somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of all CR-Z's will be equipped with the quasi-automatic. Which brings up the obvious question: Who's the CR-Z for?

If we were a cynical bunch, we'd assume it's yet another vehicle designed to improve overall CAFE ratings. And with fuel economy ratings of 36/39 mpg city/highway with the CVT and 31/37 on the manual model, it's certainly going to help. But that's too easy. If you believe Honda, it's estimating that the average buyer will be a style and eco-conscious consumer between 25 and 35, smitten by the small size and blue Hybrid badge on the boot. That we can almost buy, particularly given that Honda will be pricing the base model under $20,000 and the fully-kitted EX with Navi will slide in under $24,000 when it goes on sale August 24. But is it an enthusiast's vehicle? Hardly. With more power, bigger brakes and a more sophisticated suspension (we're sure Hasport is working on a engine mount kit as you read this), this could've been the CRX for the 21st century. Instead, it's a capable fuel miser that can muster some sport when summoned. Unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless.

Photos by Damon Lavrinc / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      In the article the author wrote that this Honda was "niched" to meet the MINI head to head in the market. OMG...are you kidding? The Honda will have exactly 2 things over the MINI: price advantage and mileage advantage. Other than that...? This car could NEVER, in my opinion, "out-MINI" the MINI! I would rather tighten my belt, save an extra year, and just buy the standard MINI...MSRP about $2,500 more than this CR-Z, and a WHOLE lot more car and FUN!
        • 5 Years Ago
        honda fans would rather shoot themselves than drive a mini

        me included
      • 5 Years Ago
      Honda's brilliant designers are completely at a loss on this whole "green" thing, aren't they? I wish they'd just get back to making damned good cars instead of listening to market trends.

      Honda needs to fire all their marketing people. They're killing the company.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So the CR-Z is 600 pounds heavier than the original CRX Si, but only has 14 more horsepower. Not to mention it has a less sophisticated rear suspension than the original.

      We call this progress?

      Epic fail, Honda. Epic fail.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I really wanted to like this car, but it's just not doing it for me. In my eyes, the best marriage of enthusiast appeal and eco-friendliness is still the base Mini Cooper. The Honda is too heavy, too soft, too slow, too impractical (tiny rear seats are better than none at all), and not quite green enough (28/37 vs 31/37) to be anything but "nice...for a hybrid." Maybe an Si version will change my mind...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Another thought I had about this car, vis-à-vis my current MINI Cooper: I have hardly any blind-spot now because my 360∘greenhouse is that good in the MINI, and that fact is SUPER important in the dense, difficult city where I live now. I could never accept the massive C-pillar, which, according to every review I've read, make for a gigantic blind-spot. It's simply too dangerous. Even if I loved every single aspect of this car, the C-pillar alone would be a deal-breaker for me.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Get rid of the hybrid engine and give it around 150hp and this thing would be a winner.

      The loss of weight from the electrical would most likely increase the mpg to even higher numbers than in its current setup.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Bingo! Add an option for the regular Civic mill and the Si could have the Civic Si mill.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was just thinking the same thing about the engine. Hell, that statement also applies to the Fit! Honda seems to be forgetting about enthusiast drivers. I'm holding on to my RSX Type-S two more years and am hoping that by then Honda comes up with something for me to buy. If I had to buy right now I think I'd get the Subaru WRX.
        • 5 Years Ago
        honestly, a total no brainer

        the world is so ready for a new crx that uses the fit powertrain

        if this car was exactly the same except that instead of the hybrid only engine, it came with the less powerful Fit engine i would have put down a deposit already
        the 1.8 from the civic would have worked perfectly as a crx si powertrain and added minimal weight to the front end

        what on earth possibly motivated them to look at that obvious option and say 'nah, people dont want simple small cars anymore so to try and justify the price we are going to add about 50 systems to the car and hundreds of pounds
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm a MPG Fan - but I too would give up 3mpg for 75hp more. That's not a big loss by any means.

        If someone said "Prius with 190hp and 47mpg" People would be lining up for it.

        I can't believe the ratings on this thing. Why are they LOWER than the Ford Fusion Hybrid?

        Ford Hybrid engine has more HP and is 50% larger, put into a much bigger car and yet STILL achieves better fuel efficiency!

        I'm not a huge Honda Fan - but with their latest offerings I'm starting to wonder if they have become too complacent (like the Domestics of the 90's) and let others severely pass them by.

        Their last good car is the current civic (that should be redesigned soon). The fit is decent, but the fuel efficiency isn't there either.

        Hyundai could really steal the thunder is their next compact car is a hit. I might be willing to try them again. (my Hyundai experience with a 2003 Tiburon didn't fair so well).

        • 5 Years Ago
        Funny thing is, with the K20A3 in my 5-speed RSX, I get 30 mpg around town regularly and have topped out at 42 mpg on the highway.

        ... but I'm sure that's just my weekday driving style. Maybe with a hybrid powertrain I would get 50 mpg in the city. My point is that there's no reason they couldn't have put the K20Z2 or into the CRZ and still get great gas mileage returns while having a sporty performance hybrid.

        If you want a hybrid for fuel economy reasons, you get a Prius, Fusion, or Camry. If you want a sporty coupe, you get a Genesis, Scion, or Civic. The CR-Z caters to NEITHER of those categories: it doesn't get good enough fuel economy to be better than the larger ICE-only Civic, and it's not sporty enough to be better than a regular ICE-only Civic.

        If it were a true Insight successor with 60 mpg in the city and super-light weight and aerodynamic, I'd jump on it for a weekday car. If it were basically a Civic Si with IMA, I'd probably be interested in it as a good compromise for weekday and weekend driving. I think sales probably would have ended up being better if they just made this a Fit Hybrid instead of an entirely new model. Seems to me the spirit of this model got mixed up between concept and production by the bureaucratic management.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Fusion Hybrid does very poorly in real world compared to its mpg rating. I don't think it's fair to condemn others by comparing them to Ford's inflated rating. The Fusion barely outdoes the Camry Hybrid even though it is rated 20% higher.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree. Drop the hybrid and go with just the 4cylinder engine. But might i suggest something better than a 150hp. You see another car company that is actually advancing its engine tech (unlike honda and toyota) makes a 3200lb sedan with a 200hp 4cylinder that gets 35mpg on the hwy. And a 275 2.0L turbo that gets 34mpg on the hwy.

        In other words, this insight with those same engines would !easily! be getting at least one more mpg. I would gladly give up 3mpg for 200hp or 4mpg for 275hp.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well, seeing that autoblog do not professionally test cars like other mags do, I always take their opinion with a grain of salt when they "test cars". Read the Motor Trend and Car and Driver ones just released of the CR-Z, and the many released by the British press, and you'll sense a different tone that acclaims the CR-Z's many positive attributes. MT states a 0-60 of 8.3.
        • 5 Years Ago
        R&T tested the CR-Z as well with the CVT and got 0-60 in 10.5sec which is right in line with AB's estimate here with a 6spd manual. The manual does have 11more hp than the CVT version(122 vs. 111 per InsideLine) and that may make the difference, but 11hp isn't going to gain you 2sec 0-60. I'd say that around 10sec 0-60 is a safe bet.


        Not sure how MT managed that.

        • 5 Years Ago
        MT,C&D, R&T are advertising wings of the car companies. You need an even bigger grain of salt. Autoblog is as well to a lesser degree. I am actually surprised Autoblog didn't join the cheer-leading brigade like they did when they first got to drive an Insight.

        Real independent testing will come from Consumer Reports, but you have to wait until they available for normal purchase for that to happen.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'd rather get this over an Insight or Prius. If I was forced to get a hybrid under $25K.
        • 5 Years Ago
        more capable in what way? two seat hatchback that hits sixty in 10s? so it's limited in terms of performance and usefulness... so it's less capable on the track and less capable in the real world.. seriously. more capable in what way? pleasing someone who likes a car which performs worse and is heavier than a TR3? ok... but that's about the most narrow niche I can possibly think of for anyone on this site.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No manual option would be an immediate turnoff.

        At least this offers a manual, and is without a doubt more capable than the Prius.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "this could've been the CRX for the 21st century. Instead, it's a capable fuel miser that can muster some sport when summoned."

      Um....isnt that what the CRX was? The only thing missing is a CR-Z SI model.
      • 5 Years Ago
      mr. honda, would be embarrassed by this vehicle. it's says "we give up, we have no minds of our own. we don't know how to be original anymore".

      how can this car weigh so much?? the added performance of the hybrid system hardly seems to negate the added weight. it seems like the whole auto industry is jumping on the hybrid bandwagon without considering whether or not it really even makes sense. producing batteries is not necessarily an environmentally safe endeavour. electric vehicles are even more of a disaster. where the hell do people think the electricity comes from? please don't tell me nuclear is clean and safe. 30 years from now people will be wondering what to do with all of these mothballed nuclear plants and waste. i owned the original crx si and it got as good or better mileage than this car! it drove like a go cart and was a blast to drive. the mini is the only car i know that drives like the original crx. come on honda!! stop following the lambs and create something innovative and original.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'd guess the battery in this thing weighs 200lbs? Power to weight with the battery assist is 22lbs/Hp. Take out a 200lb battery and lose the 10hp or so and you end up with 21lbs/Hp. You just made the car faster! Now imagine how much weight you drop by removing the motor and associated wiring. I'd wager that fuel mileage, except for stop and go traffic, goes up minus all this weight too. Why did Honda make this a hybrid? It seems to only have made it slower and less efficient.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There are many people throwing out similar ideas. But to give you a small hint into how off some of the assumptions may be: The battery pack in the CR-Z weighs 45lbs.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Give me a loaded Cruze for the price of this loaded Honda turd and call it a day. Ugly, underpowered, impractical... why is this vehicle necessary?
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