Brussel sprouts. Small, yappy dogs that couldn’t hold their own against a squirrel. The Dallas Cowboys. Hybrid cars. I have no issues if you like any of the above, but they’re simply not for me. I’ve never eaten a brussel sprout that didn’t make me gag, I’ve never met a small dog that I’ve liked, I can’t stand the Cowboys and I’ve never driven a hybrid that was tolerable, let alone enjoyable.
Until now, that is. If you think you hate hybrids, go test drive a CR-Z when they hit dealer showrooms at the end of this month. If you’re like me, I think you’ll be more than a little bit surprised, especially if you drive the six speed manual CR-Z.
That’s right, I did say six speed manual. Sure, you can get the CR-Z with a shiftable CVT, but you can also get it with a superb six speed manual transmission. If you punch the “Sport” mode button on the left of the dash and run the CR-Z up through the gears, you’d probably never know you’re driving a hybrid. Is it fast? No, not by today’s standards, with a zero to sixty time of 8.7 seconds. Still, it’s a very engaging ride, and it certainly isn’t slow. As a driver, you feel connected to the car, much like the original Honda CRX, and even the exhaust note of the CR-Z is satisfying. The clutch, the steering and even the brakes give you a very good amount of feedback, and you get the sense that Honda may be onto something here. Maybe there can be such a thing as a hybrid for those of us who like to drive.
If you select the “Econ” mode, on the other hand, the CR-Z feels rather emasculated. The A/C compressor runs intermittently to save power, not a good thing on a summer afternoon in Miami. A shift arrow feature prompts you to change gears at 1,500 RPM or so, which robs the car of anything resembling reasonable acceleration. Steering feel changes, and the overall steering effort is reduced; in fact, it’s like you’ve pressed a button that turns the CR-Z into a Honda Insight.
In between these two extremes is the “Normal” mode, which is the default setting when the car is started. In the Normal mode, you feel a slight reduction of steering effort and a more linear delivery of power than in Sport mode. Air conditioning functions normally, and the car feels almost like the old base model CRX, at least from what I remember.
The best way to think of the various modes is like this: Sport mode is what I’d use 90% of the time, because it really does make the CR-Z a fun car to drive. Normal mode is what I’d use on the highway, especially if I had a long commute to contend with each day. Eco mode would be reserved for those times when I was just too lazy to stop for gas on the way home and wanted to squeeze the highest mileage from a tank. The fact that one car can give you three distinct personalities is pretty cool by itself.
Outside, the CR-Z looks like a modern rendition of the CRX, and Honda gets two thumbs up from me for keeping the production car as close to the original design sketches as possible. Even the vertical glass tailgate “window”, a trademark of the original CRX, is back and gives an enhanced look to the rear of the car while helping rear visibility. The wide track and low profile give the CR-Z an aggressive appearance that says. “this is no ordinary hybrid”.
Inside, the cloth seats are comfortable and controls fall easily to hand. The steering wheel in the CR-Z EX models is leather wrapped and well shaped for spirited driving. The instrument cluster has an electroluminescent center tach with a central digital speed display. On the left, the tach is flanked by the battery charge indicator and the battery discharge meter; on the right, the driver sees the fuel gauge and the multi information display.
Bins behind the seats hold small items and offer covered storage if the rear partition is folded flat. With the partition folded, rear space is surprisingly large, which adds to the CR-Zs functionality. An included cargo cover can be used to keep larger items (backpacks, computer bags, etc) out of sight.
The CR-Z is powered by a 1.5 liter four cylinder motor and a 10 kW electric motor. Combined, they give the CR-Z 122 horsepower and 128 foot pounds of torque. That may not sound like a lot, but consider this: peak torque is available at 0 RPM, so the CR-Z pulls surprisingly well from low RPMs in Sport mode. If you want to compare it to the original CRX, power-to-weight is the best way to do so:
• 2011 Honda CR-Z has 21.6 pounds per horsepower
• 1991 Honda CRX Si had 20.1 pounds per horsepower
• 1985 Honda CRX Si had 20.8 pounds per horsepower
As the numbers show, a stock 2011 CR-Z is comparable to an early CRX Si. If you still think the CR-Z isn’t fast enough, just wait until this year’s SEMA trade show; rumor has it that the CR-Z will be the most popular tuner car in this year’s show.
So here’s the key question: would I buy one? The answer, surprisingly, is “yes, if my circumstances required it”. I used to commute 110 miles per day in New York traffic, and the CR-Z would be just about ideal for a drive like this. The cockpit is a pleasant enough place to grind out the miles, and the driving experience is entertaining enough that I wouldn’t mind taking the long way home on occasion. Factor in the fully loaded EX Nav sticker price of just $23,200, and the CR-Z really does look like a great bargain in a sporty commuter car. Don’t get me wrong; the CR-Z isn’t a sports car and I don’t think it would be very satisfying for track day use, but there are plenty of inexpensive used cars to fill that niche. If you like to drive and you’re in the market for a hybrid, the CR-Z should go to the top of your “must drive” list.