Thumbs Up: Classic CR-X styling and vibe; priced right
Thumbs Down: It’s not a replacement for the CR-X Si
Buy This Car If: You need a sporty, fuel efficient commuter and miss the classic CR-X
Let me get this out in the open up front: I don’t like hybrids and I’m a huge fan of the original Honda CR-X. That said, you’d expect me to flame the new Honda CR-Z, wouldn’t you? It is, after all a hybrid, relying on both batter power and an internal combustion engine to reach its peak power rating of 122 horsepower. Worse, it deviates from the original CR-X’s mission, which was to bring an affordable car with exceptional handling to the masses.
Or was it? Time blurs our memories until we only remember the good stuff, like tossing a ’91 CR-X into a corner. You forget the unpleasant parts, like how slow the CR-X HF was to accelerate; sure, it got great fuel mileage, but you always kept an eye on the rearview mirror, looking for approaching semis or even full sized sedans when you went to pass another car. You forget how noisy they were, especially on long interstate drives, and you overlook the fact that they lacked modern safety features like side impact door beams, stability control and advanced airbags. Yes, the CR-X was a good car for its time, maybe even a great car for its time, but it wouldn’t stack up against today’s cars.
Enter the CR-Z, whose only fault is that it has some extremely big shoes to fill. Compared to the last CR-X DX sold in the U.S., the CR-Z is 1.3 seconds quicker to 60 miles per hour (10.1 seconds for a 1991 CR-X DX, versus 8.8 seconds for a 2011 CR-Z) and returns 34 MPG combined fuel economy, 4 MPG better than the 1991 version. As for safety and comfort, it’s light years ahead of its ancestor: we barely had cell phones in 1991, let alone Bluetooth phone integration, MP3 players, electronic brake force distribution or electronic stability control. Maybe that’s the real issue: the new CR-Z isn’t a successor to the CR-X Si, but it is a suitable replacement for the CR-X DX.
When you look at the exterior of the new CR-Z, it’s impossible to miss the car’s heritage. Simply put, the CR-Z looks exactly like an updated version of the CR-X, down to the funky see-through trunk panel. Unlike other redesigns, which have packed on a few pounds over the years, the CR-Z still looks agile, and it’s avoided the current trend of ridiculously oversized wheels and fake aerodynamics. Like the original CR-X, I think this will prove to be a design that looks as good in 20 years as it does today. Even if I positively hated the CR-Z, there’s still that little voice inside my head that says, “buy one and drop a Civic Si motor in it”, just because it looks so good.
But here’s the twist: I didn’t hate the car, once I understood its mission. If you want an über-efficient hybrid, look elsewhere. If you want a car to autocross on the weekends and strafe the occasional canyon, look elsewhere. If you want a fuel efficient commuter car that’s relatively entertaining to drive, and if you only need two seats, then the CR-Z may be just what you’ve been looking for.
Climb inside, and there’s no mistaking this is a Honda. The cloth seats are well bolstered for spirited driving, and the seat fabric breathes well for year – round comfort. The only thing I could possibly fault the seats for is lack of lumbar support, which is only an issue on long drives. A lumbar pillow is a quick and inexpensive solution to that particular problem.
The three spoke steering wheel is similar to the one in the Civic Si, and is well shaped and extremely comfortable. Steering wheel controls cover the operation of the audio system, cruise control, Bluetooth phone interface and the voice commands for the nav system. On the left of the dash are three buttons, which determine the drive mode. Normal is the default, while Eco maximizes your fuel economy at the expense of performance. Sport is the ideal setting for enthusiastic driving, as it tightens up the steering and improves throttle response. Other buttons on the dash left turn off the traction control or switch between MPH and KPH, helpful if you spend time north or south of the border. On the right of the dash are the controls for the HVAC system, which are intuitive and easy to operate; my EX tester came with automatic climate control, a luxury touch not often seen at this price point.
The instruments are straight out of a science fiction movie, complete with a luminescent blue glow. The main pod, in the center of the instrument cluster, contains a backlit tachometer with a digital readout speedometer in the center of the gauge. This layout works well, as it allows you to monitor both engine speed and road speed simultaneously. In Sport mode, the center of the tach is illuminated in red. In Normal or Eco modes, the center glows green if you’re driving to conserve fuel, but switches to blue if you’re not. To the left of the main cluster is a battery charge meter, a Charge / Assist graph (which shows when the electric motor is in use or when the batteries are being charged), a shift arrow and a mode display. On the right is the fuel gauge, the fuel economy display and the driver information display. There’s a lot of information to be had, but adapting to the various displays takes no time at all.
Look behind you, and you’ll notice the absence of rear seating, just like the original CR-X. The CR-Z gives you relatively deep storage bins, which are perfect for holding a small backpack or a laptop. Fold the rear divider down, and the partition gives you covered storage bins for added security. Unfortunately, these don’t lock, but they do keep valuables out of sight.
Start the CR-Z’s 1.5 liter motor with the push of a button, and you’ll immediately notice how quiet it is. My tester had Honda’s excellent six speed manual transmission, but the CR-Z is also available with a CVT transmission. With the manual, the CR-Z makes a combined 122 horsepower, which has to move 2,654 pounds of technology-infused automobile. In Sport mode, acceleration isn’t bad, with zero to sixty happening in just under nine seconds. Normal mode is noticeably slower, and Eco mode is horrifyingly slow. In fact, I’d recommend using Eco mode only on the highway; should you use it in city driving and actually follow the shift point recommendations, you’ll get plenty of angry glares from the drivers stacked up behind you. I found Sport mode ideal for city driving, and opted for Normal or Eco on the highway to boost fuel economy. I got a total of 38.4 MPG in mostly highway driving, which is better than the EPA’s projection of 37 MPG highway.
In Sport mode, the steering is nicely weighted and feels just like the non-power assist steering in the old CR-Xs. Shifts are a bit on the long side, and the feel isn’t quite as good as that of a Civic Si; still, the transmission is quite a bit better than what most of the competition offers, and I’d strongly encourage you to choose the manual over the CVT. Brakes are also used to replenish the batteries, but have the most natural feel of any regenerative braking system I’ve driven.
Once the road gets twisty, you’ll soon learn that the CR-Z is a sporty car and not a sports car. Tires are the weak point, and the car understeers when pushed faster than it wants to go. It’s best to carry as much speed as possible into turns, since acceleration isn’t in the sports car league, either. That said, the CR-Z is still plenty of fun to drive, as long as you have modest expectations.
My 2011 CR-Z EX tester came with the factory navigation system, so it was as loaded as you can get. Despite this, it carried a modest sticker price of just $23,310, including destination charge. That’s more than $1,000 less than a Civic Si with nav (on the sportier side), and about $500 less than an Insight with navigation (on the more fuel efficient side). Since no one else really makes a sporty hybrid, the CR-Z is currently top of its (very lonely) class.
To sum it all up, I actually liked the CR-Z more than I thought I would. Tuners will soon be improving the cars acceleration and handling, but Honda has no plans (that I’m aware of) to offer an Si version of the CR-Z. That’s a shame, because I think a little more sport would go a long way to increase the CR-Z’s popularity. It’s a decent car saddled with a big legacy, but if you drive it with reasonable expectations, I think you’ll be surprised. time, but it wouldn’t stack up against today’s cars.