In a world of ho-hum looking hybrids, the Honda CR-Z attempts to infuse panache into an otherwise bland segment. Dubbed a hybrid sport coupe, the CR-Z is a compact hatchback that seats two. CR-Z is the only hybrid available with a manual transmission.
The 2014 Honda CR-Z carries over unchanged from 2013, when the CR-Z got an updated look with a revised front fascia, new rear diffuser and new 16-inch alloy wheels, as well as some extra standard features. Underneath, a new lithium-ion battery pack and more powerful electric motor helped to bump up horsepower and torque for 2013.
The CR-Z is what's called a mild hybrid, pairing Honda's 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 15-kilowatt electric motor. The electric motor is used to make the car go faster, but the CR-Z will not operate on purely electric power at low speeds, like full-hybrid vehicles will. On the CR-Z, the electrification serves to boost acceleration almost like a turbocharger. This allows the use of a smaller, more-efficient engine.
Combined with the 144-volt battery pack, the CR-Z is good for a combined power output of 130 horsepower. Torque is 140 pound-feet on models equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, and 127 pound-feet on models that use the continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
CR-Z models come with a Plus Sport system, which gives the driver what's essentially a push-to-pass button. Pressing the S+ button will give the CR-Z an acceleration boost for five seconds, provided the car is going 20 mph or more and the battery is more than 50 percent charged.
Cars equipped with the manual transmission get an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 31/38 mpg City/Highway. With the CVT, fuel economy is greatly improved around town, with an EPA rating of 36/39 mpg City/Highway.
The Honda CR-Z is about the same length and width as a Honda Fit, but CR-Z lacks the Fit's function and practicality. Fit seats five. Cargo space in the CR-Z is vast, but storage space within arm's length of the driver is lacking. 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 point of view.
The CR-Z can be set in Sport, Normal or Econ modes, which adjust throttle sensitivity, steering assist, air-conditioning usage and transmission programming on cars with the CVT. You can also get additional electric-motor assist on cars with the manual transmission.
Inside, 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, but 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 caused by the roofline, and visibility in the rearview mirror is restricted, due to the nearly flat roofline.
Competitors have sprung up since the CR-Z launched in 2011, which best the Honda hatch in spaciousness and efficiency. The Toyota Prius C seats four, gets an impressive 53/46 mpg City/Highway, and starts at about a thousand bucks less. Ford has C-MAX, which is larger and a few thousand dollars more, but offers tons more space and is available in either a hybrid or a plug-in version.
Non-hybrid hatches like Honda Fit and Mazda3 are also worth considering. If style and performance are your main concerns, there are the Fiat Abarth, Hyundai Veloster or Mini Cooper, which all offer distinct designs and good gas mileage. The CR-Z is a good choice if you like its sporty looks, but for practicality and value, we'd look elsewhere.
Styling is the Honda CR-Z's most compelling attribute. The 2013 refresh was minor, but good enough to keep the CR-Z bold, youthful, and dare we say, even a little bit mean.
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 want to see the futuristic, aggressively aerodynamic lines of your car. Red shows off the styling well.
A big-mouthed mesh black grille swoops low and round along the bottom, with a straight horizontal edge along the top, as if flashing a big empty-toothed grin. The CR-Z does shoulders best. Headlamps cleanly sweep back, like the wings of a soaring hawk with crystal wings.
But it's the profile that carries the car. 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. Their outline makes another wedge, with a graceful curve. A small sharkfin antenna perches dead center on the roof.
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 mimics 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.
Honda calls the CR-Z a sports car, so one shouldn't expect oodles of comfort and convenience. The instrument cluster is dominated by the tachometer, with a 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: light foot green, heavier foot blue, leadfoot in Sport mode red. The tachometer has blue lines at every 100 rpm, amounting to blue-line overkill.
One gauge shows battery charge, and another displays the electric motor's power flow: It shows power flowing in from regenerative braking, or outward to help the engine. Manual-transmission models have arrows that suggest shift points for higher-mileage driving; we've never been fans of shift lights, but some drivers welcome them. There's a multi-information display, including ECO guide and ECO scoring, with leaves. It's similar to the one in the Insight hybrid, and most people we've talked to think it's goofy, even though these days nearly all carmakers use similar interfaces for their hybrid and electric models.
The optional 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.
There's no center console, or armrest, as the parking brake lever hogs all the space between the seats. The cup holders 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 armrest in the left door is low and unpadded, not of much use. 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. The glovebox has a vent that will cool a 16-ounce 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. The CR-Z offers a spacious 25 cubic feet of cargo volume, easily reachable through the hatchback.
Visibility out the rear window is restricted. Prius and other hybrids have the same problem, because its 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. Furthermore, looking over your shoulder to pull onto a highway, it can be scary blind, because of the roofline. Forward visibility is better, with strong HID headlamps that come standard on the EX.
Mesh fabric sport seats (silver on most models) have a lot of work and thought put into them. The bolstering is designed to fit all sizes. They slide forward and back easily, and ratchet up and down two inches. The EX's 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.
Fuel economy ratings for the 2014 Honda CRZ are an EPA-estimated 31/38 mpg City/Highway with the manual gearbox, and 36/39 mpg City/Highway with the CVT. Obviously, the CVT is much more fuel-efficient around town. Regular gasoline is recommended, so there's no need to spend the extra money for Premium. Emissions are AT-PZEV, tier 2 bin 2, the cleanest ratings a vehicle with an internal combustion engine can achieve.
Zippy is the best word to describe CR-Z performance, one step above peppy. This hybrid hatch is stable in the wind, even with its light weight, a benefit of its wind-cutting aerodynamics.
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 mode, which might make you want to stay in Sport all the time. In Normal mode, the engine keeps running when the manual-shift car is at idle, even with all power accessories shut off.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is tight, although one could argue that it doesn't belong in a hybrid. When you get up to speed, the engine is smooth and quiet. 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.
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.
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 the car starts to drift backward.
The brakes feel good: ventilated disc in front, solid in rear. Honda has managed to take the hybrid feel out of the pedal, while 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 hybrid, but there are better options out there for those who seek greater fuel economy and a roomier interior.
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; with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.