The Honda CR-Z sports hybrid combines a good-looking sporty car with a hybrid engine and the result is … underwhelming. the fuel economy is in the mid-thirties and the infotainment systems show their age, this for a model less than a year old. the CR-Z overall can’t deliver what the sleek exterior and Star Wars instrument panel promise. the CR-Z typically sells for $20,000-$24,000, depending on trim level.
Love the Cockpit Layout
Hop inside the diminutive CR-Z and you’ll fall in love with the cockpit. It feels like what the dashboard of a personal starfighter would look like.
The lighting even changes color with the economy mode of the car.
I especially liked the big digital (only) speedometer front and center, and the matching pair of glossy black buttons arrayed vertically, framing the outer edges of the instrument panel: economy/performance on the left (photo), climate control on the right.
Seeing the instrument panel in the dealer showroom sets you in the right frame of mind to like the car.
Hard-to-Read Gas Gauge
I was not a fan of the horizontal segment graph that displays fuel level (see red overlay). It was hard to tell at a glance how much fuel you had left. Better the 20 segments were arranged in a small circle or perhaps vertically.
The charge-discharge indicator (lower left in the picture, but not showing any action since the car was parked for the photo) is a model of simplicity: Bar extends left of center, the battery pack is charging; bar extends right of center, the battery pack is providing power and discharging. the difference here is that you want to know with some precision how much fuel remains, whereas all you care about charge / discharge is which way it’s going, and if it’s a little or a lot. the first time you buy a Prius, you go gaga over the swirl of arrows and diagrams showing the flow of power that takes up the LCD display, but for all but the most rabid hypermilers and the soon-bored neighbors forced to endure the demonstration, it gets old in a hurry.
Olde Tyme Navigation System
The car is new. the navigation system feels old. (It is old.) It gets you where you’re going is the best you can say of it. Oddly for a car so narrow, I had a hard time reaching over to the buttons on the right side of the navigation system. Maps are 2D only, the streets are like stick figures, and there’s no real time traffic or satellite-based weather feed as on more current Hondas and Acura navigation head units. For this, you pay an $1,800 upcharge, and that does not include a badly needed rear camera, which is not available.
iPod Adapter in a Nice Cubbyhole
A USB adapter sits in a cubbyhole just below the navigation screen. It holds an iPod and the cubby has room for your cellphone as well, but no 12-volt jack inside. Honda should have lined the bottom of the cubbyhole with a rubber pad to protect that easily scratched iPod case. the USB jack comes on all models. There are two voice command buttons, unlike more modern systems such as Ford Sync. Both are on the lower left of the steering wheel; the phone button is the one farther back.
Accepts PC Cards as Well
On cars with the navigation package, you access the CD/MP3/WMA player by pressing a button that makes the faceplate slide out and down. not elegant, but you’re probably not playing many CDs. Just above the CD slot is a shocker – an opening marked “PC Card.” Find a PC Card adapter for an SD Card or CF Card, and you’ve got one more way to bring music into the car. so you could have an iPod connected to the USB jack and more tunes on the PC Card. the PC Card is ancient technology, but it works.
Why an iPod Beats a Music Key on the CR-X
Often, the best and cheapest way to have a lot of music in the car is to buy an 8GB or 16GB USB memory key for $25-$50 and load it with songs. You can do that here, but unless you’re happy hitting Random Play, you’ll find it’s difficult to scroll down what is essentially a flat list of artists or albums. the CR-Z is for fans of AC/DC, Abba (forgive us), or Britney because they’re at the top; you’ll take too long scrolling down to Rihanna or ZZ Top. with the iPod, you’re best working from playlists. the voice input doesn’t let you call out the name of artists.
The audio system on the CR-Z EX is fine, give or take the interface. You have a decent amount of music choices. Satellite radio is a dealer-install option only, at $310 for the module plus installation, or $400-$500 total. Honda could have integrated it into the radio head unit for a few dollars, but didn’t.
Separate Button, Voice Input for Bluetooth
Honda’s voice interface requires you to use separate buttons for navigation (lots of control over navi) and audio (basic control) on the one hand, and for phone control on the other. To access the phone button, you have to reach back in the lower left corner behind the steering wheel. It’s a bit awkward.
Looks Like a back Seat. It Isn’t.
Spaceships are tight for space. the Honda CR-Z is a bit cramped for width although legroom is fine and there are two shallow bins where the two back seats would have been if it weren’t for the hybrid batteries. To me, those non-seats were a constant reminder of the tradeoffs to make this car a hybrid. the not-the-rear seatback flips down for better luggage storage and/or to hide what’s sitting on the on-the-back-seat cushions.
Listen to Katy Perry’s Advice: Don’t ever Look Back
The CR-Z’s limited rear vision is problematic when you’re changing lanes or looking through the inside rear view mirror because the horizontal rear window divider is in the way, or when backing up. usually when you get the navigation system, you also get a backup camera. not here. Nor does the car come with backup sonar and blind spot detection. if ever a car would benefit from a few electronic driver-assistance technologies, this is it. Even cars destined for winding country roads have to parallel park once in a while.
On the Road: Fun to Drive. Stiff. good thing It’s not a Sport Suspension
Driving the Honda CR-Z was fun for the most part. It’s zippy when you stand on the gas but it’s no rocket ship. I had the six-speed manual transmission and it was fun to shift when you wanted rather than when an eco-minded computer made up its mind. the manual is more fun but the majority of buyers are going with a CVT and they get paddle shifters on the steering wheel, seven virtual gears if you use the paddles, and almost 10% better mileage, 37 mpg overall vs. 34 mpg overall. Honda also benefits from a low-resistance design include plastic shrounds on the underside to minimize wind resistance. my mileage with the stick was around 30 mpg but that included some late winter weather.
Still, you can tailor your driving and the car’s response by pushing the Sport-Norm-Eco buttons. Pressing Eco lowers throttle response; Sport is more responsive, at the cost of some fuel economy. unlike on $75,000 European cars, the Eco (or Comfort) and Sport settings have no effect on suspension tuning since the CR-X has a purely mechanical suspension.
The suspension felt sporty, which passengers will translate to “stiff,” and with the short 96-inch wheelbase, the CR-Z was not fully at home on broken pavement. There is no sport suspension variant from Honda, which I think is fine for this almost-a-sports-car car, although you can order up $3,600 worth of aerodynamic panels and big wheels that look sporty, and third party tuners will add more handling and power if you desire. Honda has a deal with Mugen to provide some go-fast parts as dealer accessories.
The gasoline engine is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder producing 122 hp, aided by a 13-hp electric motor driven by a 101-volt, 5.75-Ah nickel metal hydride battery. Honda calls it Integrated Motor assist. think of the electric motor as a big starter motor that provides a bit of turbocharging-like assistance when you step on the throttle (the sporty part), reusing power from when you last decelerated (the green part). the battery pack fits under the rear deck and extends into the rear seating area. unlike the Toyota Prius, Honda hybrids only run the electric motor when the gasoline engine is on. Honda hybrids don’t run on electric power alone. Honda, an engineering company at heart, says the mpg and environmental benefits are modest for a hybrid that at times uses electric-only propulsion. Toyota’s marketing side knows that whatever the benefits, buyers love cars that can go for a mile or two on battery power. Long term, a small hybrid battery pack may find its way into lots of cars to recapture the energy lost from deceleration. Honda may have the right idea long-term.
Hybrids use deceleration and braking to recharge the battery pack. the CR-Z brakes felt like traditional brakes and didn’t suffer the sponginess that infects other hybrids when the brake pedal is influenced by the drag of the motor generator.
In summer if you’re in economy mode, the air conditioner shuts off when you come to a stop and the engine stops. Many hybrids now let you keep the AC running via battery power.
The Honda CR-Z Models The base Honda CR-Z runs $20,995 with shipping, the CR-Z EX with xenon headlamps and better audio runs $21,655, and the CR-Z EX with navigation runs $23,455. Add $650 for the CVT (automatic) transmission. Other than five paint colors, there are no other factory options. the exterior color determines the seat color. from the dealer you order the overpriced satellite radio and an auto-dimming mirror plus the usual carpet mats and door edge protectors.
Should You Buy?
Sometimes when a lumpish Harvard MBA wizard of Wall Street marries a vapid swimsuit model, they breed good looking kids with enough smarts to return in 18 years to the Ivy League for schooling. Other times, the combination yields airheads struck by the ugly stick. Honda wound up splitting the difference between these two scenarios with the CR-Z.
As a hybrid, the CR-Z doesn’t blow you away with fuel economy. a hybrid that only uses the electric motor when the gasoline engine runs is a called a mild hybrid and that’s an apt description here. At around 8-1/2 seconds 0-60 mph, it’s not a strong performer on the sporty side. so you’re left with niches for the CR-Z such as: You want a hybrid car that has a six-speed manual. or simply: You want a hybrid that feels like a sports car. in that, the CR-Z is unique. It’s fun to drive.
The other downside is the mediocre infotainment technology in a year-old vehicle. the navigation system is aging, it costs $1,800, it lacks a backup camera, and the navigation-equipped car runs $3,360 more than the entry CR-Z.
In terms of competition, there are non-hybrid cars with about the same fuel economy, performance, and cachet, particularly the Mini Cooper (review), which also has something that passes for a back seat. You could also take a 40 mpg (highway) Hyundai Elantra (review), a notably non-sporting car, equip it with a better suspension from a tuner, or just go to a Hyundai Genesis Coupe with its stiff (really stiff) suspension (review), all for roughly the same price. Staying within the Honda family, you could simply choose to hot-rod a Honda Civic.
Should you buy this car? You need to think long and hard. It’s not much of hybrid if you measure it by fuel economy, and it’s not much of a sports car if you measure it by all-out handling. Nor is it much of a cockpit-technology car once you’ve seen the navigation system. if this were baseball, that would be three strikes and out.
For Honda, this is a period where the recent past misses outnumbered the hits. in the previous year Honda unveiled by best minivan of all time, the Honda Odyssey (review), but that was preceded by the CR-Z and the offbeat, crossover-ish Accord Crosstour (review). Better times may lie ahead. Big brother Acura is getting away from the in-your-face grille shield with the excellent Acura TSX wagon (review) and the next-generation Honda Civic is getting good vibes even in advance of its spring debut.
2011 MODEL KEY FEATURESInfotainment Base audio – AM/FM CD/MP3/WMA with six speakers, 160 watts amplificationUpgrade audio – AM/FM CD/MP3/WMA with seven speakers, 360 watts USB / iPod jack – StandardLine-in jack – Standard Bluetooth – N/A CR-Z, Standard CR-Z EX Bluetooth audio – N/A Satellite radio – XM, $310 dealer accessory plus installation, $400-$500 total HD Radio – N/A 12 volt adapters – 1 120 volt adapter – N/ANavigation – $1,800, includes PC Card slot for audio Rear seat entertainment – N/A
Driver Aids Parking sonar – N/A Rear camera – N/ABlind spot detection – N/A Lane departure warning (LDW) – N/AAdaptive cruise control (ACC) – N/A
Safety Airbags - 6 (2 front, 2 side, 2 side air curtain) Antilock braking system (ABS) – Standard Dynamic stability control (DSC) – StandardTraction control – StandardElectronic brake force distribution (EBD) – StandardTire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) – StandardEmbedded telematics – N/AMayday calling – N/A Also: LED brake lights all models, xenon headlamps (CR-Z EX)
2011 Honda CR-Z Specifications General specs – Front-engine, front-drive two-passenger hybrid sports coupe. 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, 122 hp. Electric motor, 13 hp. NiMH batteries, 100.8 volts, 5.75 Ah. 161 x 69 x 55 inches (L x W x H), 2,637 – 2,707 pounds.
EPA fuel rating – 31 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, 34 mpg overall (manual transmission). 35/39/37 mpg (CVT). Regular gasoline.
Price – $20,095 (CR-Z, including $750 shipping) to $24,105 (CR-Z EX with Navigation and options) to estimated $25,000 (adding satellite radio, auto-dimming inside mirror)
Competitors – Mini Cooper (non-hybrid, similar mpg, handling)
2011 Honda CR-X in Brief
Pro - great dashboard, handling, manual transmission, exterior design, standard USB. Con – Mediocre economy for hybrid. Old navigation system. Poor rear vision. Stiff ride. No Bluetooth on base model. $400-$500 satellite radio option. Bottom line -The Honda CR-Z’s dashboard-to-die-for doesn’t compensate for the compromises of a new car with an old navigation system, a hybrid with so-so fuel economy, and a suspension too stiff for some passengers and not sporty enough for serious drivers.