Honda’s new CR-Z appears at first blush to be a remake of the much beloved econo-sports car the CR-X of the 1980s. But it isn’t because it is a hybrid and weighs about 500 pounds more notwithstanding its diminutive size. And small it is, with an overall length of just 160 inches on a long wheelbase of 96 inches. It stands low and aggressive with a substantial width of 69 inches and short at 55 inches.
Styling is a wedge that is sleek, with a top line that is almost horizontal while the cabin tapers into the rear of the car, which creates huge rear wheel flares. A massive front end adds muscle while its lithe sidelines create an air of athleticism. CR-Z gets plenty of stares and compliments when out in public. It is a bit of a looker.
Hybrid power comes mainly from the gas engine, which is borrowed from the Fit in a slightly lower state of tune. In the CR-Z, this long stroking 1.5-liter inline four with dual overhead cams and 16 valves that have variable timing and lift on the intake side, pumps out 113 hp at 6,000 rpm and 106 pounds of twist at 4,800 rpm.
But this Honda gets a kicker electric motor sandwiched between the engine output shaft and the tranny in the form of an electric boost from Honda’s 13 hp (IMA system (Integrated Motor Assist) plus 58 pounds of twist from 0-1,000 rpm. But it is limited by the 0.6 kWh battery so the combined maximum output of the system is 122 hp at 6,000 rpm and 123 pounds of twist from 1,000 to 2,000 rpm. The battery is only .6 KWh and can be run down quickly to the point it will not assist the gas engine and at that point performance suffers a bit.
CR-Z also offers a choice of two trannies, a six-speed manual or a CVT that gives you seven pre-selects via paddle shifters when in sport mode. There are two other modes — normal and ECO, which remaps the throttle and limits power and torque by about 4 percent, but still goes full tilt boogie when floored. My tester came with the CVT and after reading about the manual, the CVT may be the best choice. In Sport mode the tach/speedo glows red, in the other modes it is either blue or green.
When the CVT is in Sport mode it runs at higher rpms, making the CR-Z more responsive and powerful. In normal mode the engine spins between 2,200 to 2,400 rpm at 70 mph, but in Sport those numbers climb by about 600 to 800 rpm. Sport mode does improve performance as 0-60 mph was knocked off in an average of 8.76 seconds. Times I have read with the manual put those numbers at about 9.6 seconds, or almost a second slower. The extra $650 for the CVT is well worth the money.
Passing times showed times of 4.77 seconds required to run from 50-70 mph and 6.87 seconds for the same run up a steep grade. Throttle response is good, especially in Sport mode, a bit more leisurely in normal and less so in ECO. The engine it very smooth and does make some noise when pushed, but overall it is a quiet ride. The stop/start function is also very unobtrusive as the engine shuts down when stopping for red lights and refires on releasing the brake. One of the better hybrid stop/start systems. Otherwise the only time or way that you know it is working is when you look at the bar graph on the dash to the left of the large analog tach that encases the floating digital speedo. It is a very unobtrusive hybrid.
Fuel economy is rated at 35/39 mpg city/highway for the CVT and 31/37 mpg for the six-speed manual. Another reason to go with the CVT. By the way, the CVT paddle shift system (only when Sport mode is engaged) works quite well. However, fuel economy didn’t quite live up to the billing, as this Honda averaged just 32-33 mpg overall with a best tank of 36 mpg. Highway mileage at 70 mph did average 40 mpg
In reality the Fit and several other compact and subcompact cars return the same fuel economy. If the same CR-Z had a pumped up Fit engine, which actually only has 5 less hp than the Fit, the mileage would be about the same, so what’s the point of the hybrid complexity. But then again, Honda hybrids only return an mpg or two better fuel economy than their conventional counterparts because of the mild nature of the hybrid itself. One negative is the very small fuel tank of 10.6 gallons.
Handling is small car smart with good grip from the 195/55X16-inch rubber on 16X6-inch alloys. Honda offers 17X- inch alloys with 205/45 rubber, which would be a plus in the handling department. Suspension is fairly standard: MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam semi independent setup in the rear. It works well as the CR-Z exhibits good grip and high cornering loads. Electric power steering is very quick at 2.48 turns lock to lock and that makes turn-in crisp as well. Understeer is also mild. Overall the handling is very sharp and a blast in the twisties.
Ride quality is actually quite good, especially on the highway. Sure it can be a bit choppy on the rough stuff, but never jarring. And it is quiet on the highway unless you give it the boot and if in Sport mode the rpm climb quickly as does the noise from the four banger. The body is bank vault tight.
Braking is also excellent from four-wheel discs with all the acronyms including ABS. This CR-Z was denied forward progress from 40 mph after just 37 feet. The pedal was strong and firm. Also included is a buffet of safety with six airbags, VSA (vehicle stability assist) and more.
Inside is a typical Honda interior with loads of hard plastic although it is nicely done. However, the seats are well done in a cloth that is both attractive and feels heavy duty. It is also not slippery, which helps when the cornering loads get high.
The panel is a bit unique and quite east to use. Containing a digital speedo inside the tach is a great was for the driver to get info. But the trip computer has a continuous mileage graph plus a trip computer on the right and flanking left is a battery condition and charge/discharge meter.
Again the sound system has no tuning knob. When are the manufacturers going to learn that a tuning knob for the radio is a must? Otherwise the system is easy to use and the climate system is a series of knobs with a pushbutton or two and is also a breeze to operate. The rear hatch gives copious luggage space of at least 20 cubic feet.
Pricing starts at $19,200 plus $750 for delivery or $19,950. Funny how that works out. An EX will add about $1,560 with an EX auto listing for $21,410 plus $750. NAV will add $1,800. I can live without that and spend a few bucks for free maps at the Auto Club. There is no question that the CR-Z is a lot of fun notwithstanding the hybrid label. But there is stiff competition in this small coupe market and achieves almost the same fuel economy with perhaps improved performance. Perhaps Honda should have given us a new CR-X which this car tries too hard to emulate in many ways.
Price $19.950 to about $24,000
1.5L DOHC 16 valve inline four 113 hp @ 6,000 rpm
103 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm
Permanent magnet 13 hp @ 1,500 rpm
58 lbs.-ft. of torque @ 0-1000 rpm
Combined rating 122 hp @ 6,000 rpm
123 lbs.-ft. of torque @ 1,000-2,000 rpm
CVT, with seven pre-select ratios and paddle shifters
Transverse front engine/front-wheel drive
Wheelbase 95.9 inches
Length 160.6 inches
Width 68.5 inches
Height 54.9 inches
Track (f/r) 59.6/59.1 inches
Weight 2,707 pounds with CVT and NAV
Weight distribution (CVT) 59.8/40.2 inches
Wheels (std/opt) 16X6/17X7-inch alloys
Tires (std/opt) 195/55X16/205/45X17
Steering lock to lock 2.48 turns
Turning circle 35.4 feet
Passenger volume 49.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity 20 cubic feet (est.)
Fuel capacity 10.6 gallons
0-60 mph 8.76 seconds
50-70 mph 5.21 seconds
50-70 mph uphill 6.87 seconds
Reported to be drag limited at 122 mph
Fuel economy EPA rated at 35/39 mpg (CVT) 31/37 mpg. Expect about 33-36 mpg in overall driving and 40 mpg on the highway.