2011 Honda CR-Z Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
New Car Test Drive
All-new sport coupe uses hybrid drivetrain to lower emissions.
The all-new Honda CR-Z sport hybrid coupe starts with Honda's great little 1.5-liter i-VTEC engine and adds its Integrated Motor Assist technology in the form of a 13-horsepower electric motor powered by an 84-cell pack of nickel-metal hydride batteries under the cargo floor. The CR-Z doesn't feel like a hybrid, especially not with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, and that's either a good thing or bad thing depending on your hybrid point of view.
The CR-Z achieves an EPA-rated 35/39 mpg City/Highway with the optional paddle-shifting CVT, or 31/37 mpg with the sportier 6-speed manual transmission. It comes well equipped, including Hill Start Control with the manual transmission. There will doubtless be a ton of aftermarket and performance accessories, because its aerodynamic wedge makes the car so cool looking.
The CR-Z is about the same size as a Honda Fit, but lacks the Fit's function and practicality, being a two-seater instead of five-seater. Cargo space is vast, but storage space within arm's length of the driver is lacking. Acceleration to a zingy redline of 6300 rpm is zippy. The cornering is quick, and the ride and suspension are taut, but with time in the saddle it starts to feel sharp over freeway bumps.
Styling follows Honda Accord design cues, with lovely shoulders, a low hatchback roofline, and chopped tail not unlike the departed and much-loved CRX Si (1983-91), which the CR-Z doesn't pretend to be. Deep lines sweep back and up from the front wheels, creating a sculpted wedge on the side of the car. The headlamps are simple and elegant like the wings of a hawk.
The CR-Z is targeted for a young audience, with electronic capabilities galore, and no rear jump seats even though there's room (there's a 2+2 version in Japan). There are jump benches that fold down for storage, however.
The instrument panel is busy, with a dominant light ring changing colors from green to blue to red depending on how hard you're driving. The dashboard is sculpted to be futuristic, and we wish more design time had been spent on being practical rather than cool. The cloth mesh seats are supportive with good bolstering, and the HID headlamps on the EX are excellent.
There's a world-beating blind spot over your shoulder on account of the roofline, and visibility in the rearview mirror is restricted on account of the nearly flat roofline.
The CR-Z uses its electric motor to go faster. That's not quite what hybrids were made for, to boost acceleration like a turbocharger, but after all, it's a sport coupe.
The CR-Z can be set in Sport, Normal or Econ modes, and you can feel a big difference. It's strong and responsive at 75 mph in Sport mode. Emissions are AT-PZEV, tier 2 bin 2, the cleanest ratings a vehicle with an internal combustion engine can achieve. And it can go 100,000 miles before needing a tuneup.
The 2011 Honda CRZ comes in two basic models, CR-Z and CR-Z EX, both using a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and 13-horsepower electric motor with a nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery. Honda counts CVT and navigation as separate models, for pricing purposes. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and can change at any time without notice.)
The Honda CR-Z ($19,200) comes with a 6-speed manual transmission and automatic climate control, silver mesh fabric sport seats, power windows, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 160-watt sound system with MP3, USB, and other digital media capabilities, and removable retractable cargo cover.
Honda CR-Z EX ($20,760) adds HID headlamps, foglights, Bluetooth, leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum pedals, polished interior accents, ambient console lighting, and 360-watt sound system.
The CVT (continuously variable transmission) with paddle shifters is available for the CR-Z ($19,850) and CR-Z EX ($21,410). Navigation is available on the EX ($22,560) and EX CVT ($23,210).
Safety equipment includes dual-stage frontal airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, ABS with EBD, electronic stability control with traction control, tire pressure monitor, side impact door beams.
There's a ton of accessories, such as 17-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, and no less than five spoilers, in the front, side and rear. Also a full nose mask, whatever that is. Armrest with storage, and we wonder why that's not standard equipment.
The CR-Z will go a long long way on its looks. The headline could be Honda achieves style breakthrough, instead of Honda builds hybrid sports car. The new CR-Z comes out of the box threatening to be popular, especially with California hot-rodders. Aftermarket pieces will perfect the styling, and make the CR-Z (especially in white) look like a European thoroughbred.
To get a perspective of the size, the CR-Z is 1 inch longer than a Honda Fit, 2 inches wider, and 5 inches lower at the roofline. In that larger space, it seats two, not five. It's more aerodynamic, while being 150 pounds heavier. The CR-Z has 122 total horsepower, Fit 117 hp. The Fit gets an EPA-estimated 28/35 mpg City/Highway with the five-speed automatic. The CR-Z with the automatic-like CVT is EPA rated at 35/39 mpg. We got 33.7 mpg in 520 miles of combined driving in a CR-Z with six-speed manual gearbox, matching its EPA Combined rating of 34 mpg (31/37 City/Highway). The CR-Z costs about $5,700 more. It's a cool-looking eye-catching sports car.
In person, our dark metallic blue-greenish test model did not do justice to the low-slung shoulders, nose, and hips of the CR-Z. Don't get that color, if you (and others) want to see the futuristic, aggressively aerodynamic lines of your car. Get that unique color if you want people to comment on the color. All the flattery below comes while looking at pictures of a red one.
That bold black grille in the nose looks hot, not unlike the Audi grille that inspired the trend, which the CR-Z runs with, flashing a big empty-toothed grin. Character, for sure; but then you see a CR-Z Photoshopped with a Fit mouth, and you're struck by the elegance, and possibilities. The CR-Z does shoulders best. And headlamps, cleanly sweeping back like the wings of a soaring hawk with crystal wings.
But it's the profile that carries the car away. It follows Accord design cues. Deep lines sweep back and up from the front wheels, creating a sculpted wedge on the side of the car. The bottom rises only slightly, like a shapely rocker; while the top line climbs under the windows. Whose outline makes another wedge, with a graceful curve. The small sharkfin antenna perched dead center on the roof is perfect.
Sheetmetal over the rear wheel rises to the near-horizontal hatchback that ends in a high chopped tail. Seen as part of the roofline, this bit of bodywork is like a C-pillar slanted sharply forward; in two-dimension, with some imagination, it makes the profile of a big-winged 1970 Plymouth Superbird. The rear fenders bulge as if bigger tires were under there, fattening the fleet stance somewhat, but it's still cool.
Our notes on the interior are voluminous, like a long wish list for the driver. In a sports car, one can't expect the moon in the way of comfort or storage; but the CR-Z is also a two-seat coupe, whose interior is not nearly as functional and convenient as it should be.
The instrument panel features a deeply sculpted design to create the sensation of depth and expansiveness. Honda's words. Not sure we got that sensation. The gauges are supposed to be in 3D. Not sure we got that either.
The Honda navigation system, for all its 7 million points of interest, was unclear, and we struggled with it. The 6.5-inch-wide screen had distracting visuals even on empty, for example a starry sky we couldn't shut off, maybe it came with the clock. Sometimes when you're driving at night you just want to turn off all your messages, including from your car. And when you turn on the car and want to see what time it is, to check if you're running late, you first have to press I AGREE. Who even asks to what any more?
But the electronic capabilities go on, linking your android phone to the MID, for example. Young geeks should love the CR-Z.
The cupholders are hard to reach, tucked ahead of the shift lever and squeezed under the dash so a 16-ounce cup is hard to fit.
The instrument cluster is dominated by the tachometer with digital speed readout in the center that sort of floats in 3D. It's surrounded by an illumination ring that changes color with your foot: lightfoot green, heavier foot blue, leadfoot in Sport mode red. The tachometer has blue lines at every 100 rpm, blue-line overkill. Your eyes feel besieged by the instruments.
There's a gauge that shows battery charge, and another showing the electric motor power flow, in from regenerative braking, or out to help the engine. Manual transmission models have arrows that suggest shift points for higher-mileage driving. There's a multi-information display, including ECO guide and ECO scoring, with leaves. It's similar to the Insight, and most people we talk to think it's goofy.
Trim components are a composite material with a metal film coating, a first-time process for Honda.
There's no center console, or armrest, as the parking brake lever hogs all the space between the seats. Lots of cars have both, some plus cupholders. The armrest in the left door is low and unpadded, which leaves you driving long distances with your elbows in the air: 4 hours one night, in our case. There's a small glovebox, and door pockets in the driver's door, but a grab handle gets in their way and chops them up. We had two checkbooks, and couldn't find a handy place for them. The glovebox has a vent that will cool a 16-oz. bottle of water, but try finding a place to put it.
Behind the seats, two benches with flip-down backs look like seats without padding. There's even legroom. There's a 2 + 2 model in Japan, but not in the U.S.
As is, the seat-like benches are good for storage, especially for laptops, which can be hidden when the non-seatbacks fold down. There are a spacious 25 cubic feet of cargo space, easily reachable through the hatchback.
Visibility out the rear window is as restricted as it gets. Prius has the same problem, because the aerodynamic slope makes the glass nearly horizontal. On the CR-Z, there's a structural bar in the glass that wipes out the view in the mirror; sometimes at night it totally blocks the headlights of the car behind you, and by day it obscures most of the following car. And, looking over your shoulder to pull onto a highway, it can be scary blind, because of the roofline.
Seeing forward is better, with strong HID headlamps on the EX. Beautiful design, excellent function; if the whole car were as good as the headlamps it would be brilliant.
The silver mesh fabric sport seats have a lot of work and thought in them. The bolstering is designed to fit all sizes using support wires like a one-size-fits-all bra or something. They fit us okay. They slide forward and back easily, and ratchet up and down two inches. The EX leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, and leather-wrapped aluminum shift knob are nice. There's good legroom for the driver including a dead pedal. There's a 120 watt power outlet, benefit of a hybrid.
If function and practicality are what you're looking for in a car, it's easy to criticize the CR-Z for not being a Honda Fit. But you can't criticize Honda for not making the CR-Z the Fit it could be. If a Fit is what you need, they have it for you. The CR-Z works fine for young geeks who don't mind reaching all over for things.
Underway, the Honda CR-Z doesn't feel like a gas-electric hybrid, mainly because of the manual transmission. We didn't have the chance to drive a CR-Z with the CVT with 7 ratios and paddle shifters. More hybrid, less sports car. Some reviews say it's the way to go, because for $650 you get 3 more mpg, in addition to the convenience of an automatic. Others say no way, because the CVT takes the sport out of things, partly because it's not responsive to the driver. The CVT gives the engine 1 more pound of torque, over a slightly broader range; but the 6-speed manual gives the CR-Z more zip.
The CR-Z does feel like a hybrid, a sports car/compact coupe. You won't think you're in a Miata. The fastback roofline and rear compartment don't add to a sports car feel. Although that styling sure looks good on the Jaguar XK Coupe.
Zippy might be the best word describe the CR-Z performance. Really zippy. It comes on at 3500 rpm and revs with gusto to 6300 rpm, assisted by 58 pound-feet of torque from the 13-horsepower electric motor. That's not quite what hybrids were made for, to boost acceleration like a turbocharger, but what the heck. It's a sports car. Motor Trend magazine clocked it from 0 to 60 in 8.3 seconds, pretty zippy.
The 6-speed gearbox is tight and good, never mind that it arguably doesn't belong in a hybrid. When you get up to speed, the engine is smooth and quiet, running just 3000 rpm at 73 mph, boosted less by the electric motor at that pace but still getting 36 mpg at that pace. The range with its 10.6-gallon tank is 300-350 miles. It's a six-layer composite tank, reducing evaporative emissions.
For one 13.9-mile stretch, we got 148.0 miles per gallon while averaging 52 mph. Cross our heart. What's that, you ask? Okay, it was mostly coasting down a Cascade Mountains pass.
Emissions are AT-PZEV, tier 2 bin 2, the cleanest ratings a vehicle with an internal combustion engine can achieve.
The CR-Z can be set in Sport, Normal or Econ modes, and you can feel a big difference between them; when you switch modes, driving along at a steady 65 mph, the engine either slumps or surges. It's strong and responsive at 75 mph, in Sport. It makes you want to stay in Sport all the time. It makes you question your values.
In Normal mode, the engine keeps running when the MT car is at idle even with all power accessories shut off.
Hill Start Control is nice with a manual transmission. When starting out on a hill, it gives you about three seconds to disengage the clutch, before it drifts backwards.
The CR-Z handles well in corners, and is quite responsive. Zippy might describe the handling, too. The tight steering ratio of 12.75:1 makes the CR-V a lot of fun to maneuver.
But the suspension doesn't go easy on you. It follows the rises and dips in the road tightly, which is fine as long as the road is smooth. If it's not, well, at the end of our 280-mile freeway run, we were over it. Dull back pain afterward, a problem we rarely have.
It's stable in the wind, even with its light weight, not surprising given the windcutting aerodynamics.
The brakes feel good, ventilated disc in front, solid in rear. Honda has managed to take the hybrid feel out of the pedal, still regenerating energy. But we found the ABS quite aggressive; one time we hit the brakes abruptly at about 30 mph in stop-and-go freeway traffic, and the ABS engaged even though we were far from locking them up.
The Honda CR-Z is for those who want an eye-catching, futuristic-looking, high-mpg two-seater hybrid. It has more cargo space than a sports car, but not much small storage space or driver convenience in the cabin. It corners well but the ride wears on you. Acceleration performance is excellent, particularly with the 6-speed manual transmission.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the CR-Z EX through the mountains and valleys of the Pacific Northwest.
Honda CR-Z ($19,200); CR-Z CVT ($19,850); CR-Z EX ($20,760); CR-Z EX CVT ($21,410); CR-Z EX with Navigation ($22,560); CR-Z EX CVT with Navigation ($23,210).
Options As Tested
Honda CR-Z EX MT Navi ($22,560).
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