The 2012 Honda CR-Z hybrid sport 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 seats two.
The CR-Z is the most efficient two seater sold in America, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which apparently are now in the car review business. The EPA rates the CR-Z at 35/39 mpg City/Highway with the optional paddle-shifting CVT, or 31/37 mpg with the sportier 6-speed manual transmission.
The Honda CR-Z is about the same length and width as a Honda Fit, but lacks Fit's function and practicality. The Fit seats five. Cargo space in the CR-Z is vast, but storage space within arm's length of the driver is lacking.
Acceleration performance is zippy, the engine revving to a redline of 6300 rpm. 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 (1984-91), 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 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 CR-Z EX are excellent.
There's a blind spot 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. If they had used a turbocharger instead of an electric motor, fuel economy would have suffered.
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 CR-Z was an all-new model for 2011. Honda has made only one minor change for 2012: Black CR-Zs are now available with your choice of silver or new black seat fabric. Silver remains the only interior choice with all other exterior colors.
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 CR-Z is 1 inch shorter than a Honda Fit, almost 2 inches wider, and 5 inches lower at the roofline. Inside roughly the same footprint, it seats two, not five. It's more aerodynamic than the Fit, but 100-160 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 5-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 6-speed manual gearbox, matching its EPA Combined rating of 34 mpg. CR-Z with 6-speed manual is EPA-rated at 31/37 mpg City/Highway. The CR-Z costs about $4,300 more than does the Fit.
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. 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. CR-Z 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.
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 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, for example a starry sky we couldn't shut off, maybe it came with the clock.
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 mesh fabric sport seats (silver on most models) 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 accelerate 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 version gives up 5 pound-feet of peak torque in exchange for a slightly broader range; but the 6-speed manual gives the CR-Z more zip.
In other ways, 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. The range with its 10.6-gallon tank is easily 300-350 miles or more. 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.