• Aug 31st 2010 at 11:58AM
  • 156
Take off your rose-colored glasses, CRX fans

2011 Honda CR-Z – Click above for high-res image gallery

Okay, so the 2011 Honda CR-Z isn't exactly the modern-day CRX redux that we were all hoping for. Mildly upsetting, yes, but perhaps this disappointment tarnished our initial impression of this newest hybrid offering from Honda. We still have many questions about its form and function, but need to accept the fact that times have changed, Honda's product strategies have been realigned to the times and the CRX shall remain a modern classic – especially the Si. Besides, this little two-seat hybrid isn't really all that bad. Really.

What we have here is an inherently good vehicle that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It only has two seats and its EPA fuel economy numbers are underwhelming. A Ford Fiesta, for example, is more functional, less expensive and gets nearly the same combined fuel economy – at least compared to a manual-equipped CR-Z like our tester.

But don't write off the CR-Z completely. It may be a tough sell when looked at from a big picture perspective, but on its own, it's a pretty good little whip. Follow the jump to find out why.

Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

After spending a week with our North Shore Blue EX test car, we grew to rather like the CR-Z's design, though it is a bit awkward at first take. The oversized front maw doesn't really match up with the short, wedgy proportions of the rest of the car. What's more, the side profile highlights the fact that the front overhang is noticeably longer than the rear, and from most front three-quarter views, the CR-Z looks rather nose-heavy.

Out back, however, things are a little more put together. The split glass rear hatch and triangular taillamps are reminiscent of the original CRX, but we can see a bit of its larger brother, the Insight (both the original and new one), as well. Interestingly, though, the rear view seems to be the most polarizing among the general public. Within the span of 30 minutes, we had one passer-by make mention of the CR-Z's "butt-ugly butt" and another commented on how modern and high-tech it looked. To each their own, but we're quite fond of the rear design, even though the split in the glass cuts right through the middle of your rear-view mirror sight-lines. Even so, it's no worse than trying to look out the back of a properly winged Subaru STI.

Visually, the only difference between our loaded-up EX tester and the base CR-Z are the addition of front foglamps. All models get the same set of 16-inch alloy wheels you see here, though Honda does offer an attractive set of 17-inchers as a dealer-installed accessory. The larger wheels would better fill out the relatively large wheel wells, not to mention add an extra dose of sportiness, since Honda is, after all, trying to convince us that the CR-Z is a sports car... of a kind.

Looking inside, the whole "hybrid sports car" theme is nicely presented. The futuristic dash display speaks to the eco-mindedness of the CR-Z, and the nicely bolstered, supportive seats and short, nubby six-speed manual shifter are sporty visual cues. Furthermore, all of the car's controls are canted toward the driver, and we're big fans of the smaller-diameter steering wheel. Especially with the navigation screen in place, the interior looks great when lit up at night, though Honda is long overdue for an upgrade to its infotainment display technology – things are starting to look a bit pixelated onscreen.

The CR-Z's hatchback design would lead you to believe that it's relatively functional, and we don't have any complaints about the 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space. Instead of fitting a second row of seats, Honda has opted for clever storage compartments and a divider that can be folded flat to accommodate larger haulables. Would we prefer a two-plus-two seating arrangement? No. We can't imagine that those rear seats would be used for anything except shopping bags and the original CRX didn't have rear seats, anyway.

But while the phrase "hybrid sports car" works for the interior design, it's not as well played out when it comes to the CR-Z's on-road manners. Power comes from Honda's Integrated Motor Assist technology, pairing a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine with a small electric motor. The gas-powered mill is good for 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque and the electric motor churns out 13 hp and 58 lb-ft, though unlike most parallel hybrids, the CR-Z is a mild hybrid and can't be powered by its electric motor alone. Honda says that maximum torque thrust is available as low as 1,750 rpm, but these i-VTEC four-pots aren't known for their low-end twist – it's all about the high-revving power here, which goes against the point of a hybrid powertrain.

Because of this, fuel economy is meager for a hybrid – our six-speed manual-equipped tester is only rated at 31/37 miles per gallon city/highway (CVT-equipped models hit a more respectable 35/39 mpg). A larger Ford Fusion Hybrid will net you 41 mpg in the city, and even a standard gas-sipping Hyundai Sonata will get you 35 mpg. This proves to be the CR-Z's biggest selling hurdle, as consumers expect cars with a hybrid badge to be substantially more fuel efficient than similarly equipped cars powered solely by an internal combustion engine, and mild hybrids like the CR-Z don't meet that expectation. We wish we could report that real-world fuel economy is better than expected, but we only averaged about 33 mpg during our test.

We drove the CR-Z in all three of its driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport), though left the car in Normal mode for the majority of the week. Sport mode is nice, as it tightens the steering and improves throttle response, but fuel economy will suffer under these conditions. Eco mode isn't a total bore, though – Honda's light, involving steering rack still keeps things interesting, though the reduction in power delivery makes the CR-Z feel extremely sluggish off the line. There's really no perfect blend of sport and efficiency, though the CR-Z still has enough moves to keep things entertaining on the road.

The CR-Z isn't quite a canyon carver, but its firm suspension and adequate steering feedback are enough to provide an engaging experience for the driver. It's certainly more engaging than your run-of-the-mill Prius, but a Volkswagen Golf TDI will is more enthusiastic, not to mention more fuel efficient. The do-it-yourself gearbox is super smooth, allowing you to fire off quick, slick shifts while still keeping the revs planted in the CR-Z's powerband. Honda's start-stop system works well with this application, with the engine firing up instantaneously when you click the shifter into first gear. Having six cogs to work with means plenty of shifting is required to keep the car hustling, but good throttle feedback and a linear clutch action make for happy cogswapping all day long. As mentioned earlier, the CR-Z can be had with a continuously variable transmission, though we've yet to find a CVT that's preferable to a manual if given the choice. If you just want the CR-Z with the best fuel economy, however, the CVT is the clear winner.

Overall, the CR-Z isn't worthy of a sports car badge, but it is by far the best-driving low-cost compact hybrid we've come across. It feels less like an appliance (Prius) and more like a focused driver's car, even though you won't have much to show for in terms of sheer performance or mileage numbers. And this is where the CR-Z starts to lose its appeal. As soon as you consider the larger scope of what the Honda hybrid is trying to accomplish, your disappointment will start to outweigh any of the good vibes felt from behind the wheel.

It's a tough sell, this CR-Z, but with prices starting below $20,000 and topping out just above $23,000 with a CVT and navigation, Honda will attract a few buyers who are sold on the car's appearance and unique positioning within the marketplace. It's a relatively pleasant car to drive, the interior looks and feels great and its forward-facing design should easily stand the test of time, but we'd be fools not to consider a raft of other options before deciding upon a CR-Z. Your $20-23K may be better spent on a base Mini Cooper, Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit – all three cars are just as good if not better to drive as the CR-Z, and their similar fuel economy and far more practical shapes far outweigh our desire to break the mold of the traditional subcompact set. So take off your rose-colored glasses, CRX fans. This is the future, though it really isn't so bad.

Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I finally saw this car in person and it confirms what I initially thought---Honda continues with its recent trend of polarizing (ugly) styling). The car looks like a bloated doorstop in its profile and its proportions are all wrong. I think Honda may be starting to realize the car doesn't look all that good as I noticed its ads only show the car from a 3/4s rear view and it looks more like a stylized artist rendering than a photo of the actual car. After seeing this car, I was left even more dispappointed in Honda as sadly not only does it have a lousy powerplant (making it slower than slow), and as one reviewer noted, that on curvy road a mini or a BMW 1 series would leave it for dead, its ugly too! For the record I am not a Honda hater as I own two Hondas and I have bought Hondas faithfully for over 20 years. It's just that I feel Honda has lost its way as it has not produced anything in the last couple years that I could truly say was impressive and class leading (the new Pilot really is not much of an improvement over the old one and its styling is bland and boring, the Accord has become to big and bloated and it still only offers an outdated 5 speed automatic (yes, I know the 6 speed manual is great--but all of my dealers tell me that they don't order any as no one buy them). I suspect it will be the same story again with the CR-Z the dealers will stock only cars with the CVT and as far as I am concerned the only redeeming feature of the CR-Z is the 6 speed. Unless Honda gets its act together and stop producing car like the CR-Zzzzzzzz, I think my next car will likely be a Hyundai or Kia.
      • 5 Years Ago
      A year ago, I tried to buy an Accord coupe lx-s with the stick. After 4 months I walked down the street and ended up with a Mazda 3 5dr which I love - for 6 grand less than I would have paid for the Accord coupe. I have had so much enjoyment in Hondas of the past, this CRZ is just one more aching disappointment.

      The solution to he CRZ problem is clear - pull the 6 speed box and disc brakes out and put them in the Fit, then through the rest away.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This car's mission is to be an Economic Hybrid during the week, and a sports car on the weekend. And especially as safe car protecting you from oil industry-Wall Street price spikes. Plus, it's affordable.

      As an 2010 Insight driver, the Insight handling gets better with your experience. It's actually quite competent at handling. The tires look skinny, but the handling and breaking are excellent. How did Honda do that?

      The torsion beam suspension, yes, I wish they would bring back the multi-link, that cannot be denied. But, the ride is taut and acceptable on most roads. You buy a hybrid and get a sports car.

      Most people, who use "econ" get better mileage. Starts off the line are slow, you're not dumping gas into the engine for quick acceleration, maybe every car should have an "econ" button.

      Yes, I wish Porsche built affordable sporty hybrids, but they don't. You're stuck with Honda.

        • 5 Years Ago
        I get 50+ mpg in my Jetta TDI. No "econ" mode.

        Oh, and I don't have a light foot, sorry.
      • 5 Years Ago
      ok, ok, its not what we really wanted from honda. i just witnessed 2 of them here at the Hickory Honda dealership in person, to my surprise, its the very best looking car that honda has. i want one but as a 2 seater its not feasible for me, but if was young and single, hot damn, i would buy one.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Honda either needs to seriously rethink its hybrid strategy and start offering full parallel hybrid systems like, yesterday, or it should just abandon the hybrid market altogether and just focus on making its gasoline-powered vehicles more fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive.
      • 5 Years Ago
      They styling generally good, but what's with the huge front overhang?
      Also Honda/Acura is LONG overdue for an upgrade to cabin tech. One can only hope that they are waiting out Microsoft's SYNC exclusivity.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I saw a brand new CR-Z up close this past weekend. I think it looks better in person than in pictures. Also, the engine seems very easy to work on. Everything appeared to be within easy reach, and the battery for the engine is quite small. I think this car will be cheap to maintain.

      That said, the fully-optioned car I saw stickered for $25k out the door. That is expensive for a 2-door hybrid with less space and efficiency than the Prius. The only selling points for this car IMO are the manual tranny and the handling. But even then, the only plusses this car has over the low-end Mini are that it's fully-optioned, and that it's likely to get better MPG. Not minor plusses, but the Mini wins on looks and cachet.

      I could see myself picking one of these up used and fully-optioned in the $15k range though.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The CR-Z is still a disappointment in my mind I cant see spending the money on one over any other sub-compact thats not only cheaper but quicker and with the money saved you could upgrade it to make it even better handling then this pos... I love the idea but the results arent that great I wish Honda would have even turned the hybrid feature to be more of a kers style, but the IMA has never impressed me to date in the Civic hybrids i've driven. I do give prop's to Honda for being the first to market a hybrid with a manny tranny though that takes alot of bawls. But I hope at some point Honda wakes up and offers the CR-Z with non hybrid option.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I really, really hope others do not follow the interior design direction taken lately by Honda (the Insight looks like they put all the parts in a bucket and threw them onto the dashboard, and the Fit and CR-Z have a similar, disjointed theme) and Hyundai (the coming Elantra is way too wavy - anything for a curve, but it does match the exterior...)
      • 5 Years Ago
      *pours 40oz on the sidewalk*

      This one's for all my dead homies. CRX, Integra, Prelude, RSX, NSX, Civic (not fat)....see y'all at the crossroads.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree, they should of fit the crz with a k20.
        Why does honda suck so much lately.
        Their only car that is even slightly exciting is the civic, and when you can get an rsx type-s for 5-8,000 less with more horsepower and lighter frame it makes the car pointless buy
        • 5 Years Ago
        It already doesn't mean what it used to. Hondas from 88-91 were brilliant. The 99 civic Si was another high point. Since then, they've produced bloated, heavy, crap. It's reliable, but it has nothing that made owning an older honda worthwhile. You might as well own a toyota.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wow - slower than my Ford Fusion (with the automatic, and 4 cylinder no less), worse gas mileage than the Fusion hybrid (mid sized), and the same as a non hybrid Fiesta.

        I read that Honda is becoming a 'marketing company' opposed to an engineering company. Many people love Honda because of the 'H' on the grill, but if they keep coming out with stuff like this, or the horrendously ugly Element, that 'H' won't mean as much as it used to.
        • 5 Years Ago
        See you at the crossroads, crossroads, crossroads
        So you won't be lonely
        • 5 Years Ago
        Agreed, + S2000

        It's a shame Honda has gone down this path. The funny thing is there is still a loyal following for Honda based off success from the late 80's and 90's, early 00's.

        Honda needs to shake up their line-up like Toyota or face extinction at the hands of the next generation...they have 'Generation X' until they start realizing how boring and 'Buick' Honda has become.
        • 5 Years Ago
        What, no s2000 love?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I can't believe you just wasted a 40 oz.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Hondas of yore (i.e. the 90's) have about as much to do with this car as the GMs and Fords of yore have to do with current models.

        • 5 Years Ago
        This car could be made great by simply paying attention to the subjective details--i.e. tune your electric steering like a Mazda RX-8's, hone the shifter and clutch to feel like an Si's, program the throttle for the sensitive immediacy of an MX-5's.

        Most of a car's fun-to-drive factor lies in seat-of-the-pants impressions... and by pouring in that last 10% of engineering sweat, Honda could have the CR-Z's hybrid drivetrain secondary to the news that this Honda *felt* like a real Honda again.

        Sadly, Honda isn't run by the engineers anymore--and they'll soon become the next Mitsubishi unless they change that.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Honda's biggest mistake is not offering this with a non-hybrid K20 in it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I would've taken the 40 =(
        • 5 Years Ago
        I knew I forgot something!

        *pours bottle of Merlot*

        S2000.... :(
      Mrs. Minerva G. Morehead
      Cute styling of the CRV but sounds like Honda still hasn't learned awful mistake from the underpowered 4 door Insight....this CRV seems like a 2 door version of that underpowered, sad car. It's a shame it's really only 2 seater. If they made it longer and ample back seats, they could've replaced the boring 2 door Civic currently available or make it an Acura as a replacement for the very successful RS (unfortunately discontinued in 04 but widly successful.) This CRV will be $25K out the door basic, that isn't impressive. Hyundai and Kia are starting to kick all the Asian automakers "you know what's...." I wonder if Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi (what a loser) are worried, they should be. MGM
        Mrs. Minerva G. Morehead
        @Mrs. Minerva G. Morehead
        Ah, thanks, ya got me. CRZ,. I stand corrected but it's basically a CRX replacement so it doesn'rt really make a huge diff if I put Z or X, people know what I'm talking about. I'm surprised you went to the trouble of pointing that out instead of any of the more salient commentary I made. Oh well, must be a slow day for you, I'm jealous. Have a good long weekend and so glad you corrected my horrible error in typing. Thanks!!

        M.G. Morehead
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow, cvt? why on earth would anyone take this over a mini or golf tdi if fuel economy and fun are a concern. looks like we'll be seeing downward revised sales figures again from honda. Maybe they're hoping for organic growth? but even then, why would honda fanbois buy this?
        • 5 Years Ago

        A bone stock Golf TDI Manual is 22,345 and gets a combined 35 MPG

        A CRZ configured to the same spec comes in at ~21,000 without the 17" Rims found on the Golf

        Also missing from the CRZ, two rear seats, independent rear suspension, 15 additional cubic feet of cargo space, rear visibility, ability for certain options like Sunroof, Roof Rack, etc

        Hrm... a CRZ appears to be about 60% of the car at around 90% of the price. Tough to sell that type of value inequality. But your right, its slightly cheaper.
        • 5 Years Ago
        They wouldn't. I couldn't. I wanted to like it, but it is completely illogical to choose it.

        I would get another MINI and/or wait to see what the Hyundai Veloster brings to the table (especially since everyone is calling it a "CR-Z -Killer").

        Another interesting head-to-head I want to see: MINI Countryman vs. Nissan Juke.

        It's not about looks -- it's about performance and value. I suspect the Nissan would win.
        • 5 Years Ago
        For one Zamfir,

        The CR-Z is several thousands less than the Golf or Mini.
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