2011 Honda CRZ Hybrid Eric Peters Autos

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Honda CR-Z Electric Cars

2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid

by eric • September 10, 2010 • 4 Comments

Life is often about compromises and so is the new CR-Z coupe from Honda.

It s the first sporty (decent acceleration and handling; available six-speed manual transmission; doesn t look like a sad-sack Al GoreMobile) hybrid.

But to deliver all that driving goodness and hipster style, it sacrifices much in the way of everyday functionality. And perhaps more seriously, it gets not-so-great gas mileage for a hybrid.

I say perhaps because to a great extent hybrids are as much about image as they are about economy. The truth is that many people buy hybrids to make a statement as much as they do to save gas. Doubt it?

Then recall how well the obviously hybrid Prius has sold vs. the torpid sales of the not-so-obviously hybrid Honda Civic (and Accord hybrid) sedans.

Some people want to look green at least as much as they want to save green.

So the CR-Z may prove very popular even if it s not especially fuel-efficient.

The CR-Z is a compact two-seater mild hybrid coupe with a small gas engine supplemented by a small electric motor and battery pack.

It s the first two-seater hybrid since the late 1990s-era Honda Insight coupe, but unlike the original Insight (which was capable of more than 60 mpg) the CR-Z s gas mileage is about the same as most conventional (non-hybrid) subcompacts some of which (like the new Ford Fiesta) actually get better gas mileage.

Prices start at $19,200 for the base model and top out at $23,210 for a loaded EX with GPS navigation and CVT automatic transmission.

WHAT S NEW FOR 2011

The CR-Z is a brand-new model for Honda, although the car shares many of its components with the current Insight hybrid sedan.

WHAT S GOOD

The first hybrid that s not all about fuel economy.

Available six-speed manual transmission a feature no hybrid to date has ever offered.

Crisp, precise steering; good acceleration; nice engine sound.

Not-box styling; Jetsons interior layout.

Very large (for a compact) 25 cubic foot cargo area.

WHAT S NOT SO GOOD

37 MPG (highway, with the manual) isn t much to write home about; several current econo-compacts (such as the Mini Cooper) accelerate and handle as well or better and can match (or nearly match) the CR-Z s fuel economy without the complexity or cost of hybrid technology.

Two-seater layout limits the CR-Z s everyday usability.

UNDER THE HOOD

The CR-Z is powered by a 1.5 liter gas engine boosted (on demand) by a small electric motor and battery pack, for a total rated output of 122 hp.

A six-speed manual (with Hill Star Assist) is the standard transmission, with a Continuously Variable (CVT) automatic transmission with Sport, Normal and Economy modes the optional unit.

Zero to 60 happens in about 9.6-9.8 seconds, quick for a hybrid.

Fuel efficiency is good but not great. With the standard six-speed manual, EPA quotes figures of 31 city/37 highway; with the more efficient CVT automatic, the highway figure improves to 39 MPGs. Several new econo-compacts such as the 2011 Ford Fiesta actually get better gas mileage (41 MPGs) and the very sporty and uber -cute BMW Mini Cooper (37 MPGs) virtually matches the CR-Z s fuel economy while costing less to buy ($18,950 to start) and probably less to own down the road (no complicated and potentially expensive to fix/replace hybrid components).

No doubt, this is the first hybrid with hustle . 122 hp in a (roughly) 2,700 lb. package is a much more favorable power-to-weight ratio than the Prius 134 hp and (almost) 3,100 lbs. Or for that matter, the current Insight hybrid sedan s rickety 98 hp and 2,723 lbs. (about the same curb weight as the CR-Z).

Granted, a nine-ish 0-60 time isn t exactly Mustang GT territory, but check the stats and you ll discover it s not far off the pace of the base model Mini Cooper (about 8.5 seconds) and a major improvement over the diesel Chevette-slow Prius (11-plus endless seconds). It feels punchy, too, because peak torque is available at a very low 1,000 RPM which is better than even a diesel engine as far as that goes.

The CR-Z also sounds good when you accelerate and that s a quality no hybrid I have ever driven could claim. The exhaust note under 3/4-full throttle is very much like a Civic Si s. And the optional CVT transmission s three push-button settings dramatically alter the personality of the drivetrain.

Engage Sport and throttle tip-in becomes immediately sharper; the engine noticeably more racy and eager-feeling. The transmission gears down, too literally making the most of the available power. In Normal, the transmission s behavior softens up a little and so does the aggressiveness of the throttle; but it s still got more verve than any other current hybrid. To max out the fuel efficiency potential, depress the third button which has a green leaf icon (which also appears on the dash display).

Now the CR-Z feels like a hybrid but for slow-poking around town or being stuck in traffic, it s the ticket.


Mostly the CR-Z runs on gas, but the IC engine will automatically turn itself off when you re stopped at a traffic light, then cut back on again, automatically, when it s time to drive off. The electric motor/battery pack also provide some extra power for acceleration and passing, but the CR-Z doesn t actually move on electric power alone, as in the Prius and some other hybrids.

Some reviews have criticized the CR-Z for having excessive body roll when cornering. I drive pretty aggressively (let s be honest; I drive very aggressively) and I didn t notice any such until I was literally pushing the envelope of sanity (not to mention legality). Sure, on a road race track, the CR-Z isn t going to keep up with Miata or even a Civic Si. Does that matter? Honda s intent was simply to inject enough personality into a hybrid to make it somewhat fun to drive.

And the CR-Z absolutely is fun to drive and more than just somewhat, too. Hard-core weekend racer types don t buy hybrids anyhow. The target audience is someone who wants something that won t put them to sleep.

Not scare them or get them thrown in … for reckless driving.

If you remember the 80s-era CRX coupe, you ll see hints of it in the CR-Z. It s a stubby, dart-like little thing with a glass-topped tapered rear hatch. Aerodynamic efficiency (and so, fuel efficiency) is enhanced by a molded-in lower body kit/skirt though unlike the 90s-era Insight coupe, the CR-Z rides on performance-minded 16-inch wheels and tires (with 17-inch wheels optional) instead of super-skinny low rolling resistance tires.

The interior is even more aggressively futuristic than the exterior, with lots of swoopy angles and jet fighter-like displays. The main gauge is a jewel-like speedometer with three-color backlighting: It glows red when you re operating in Sport mode, blue for Normal and Green for, well, green (hybrid/economy mode).

You sit low in the sport buckets and visibility for shorter drivers (and passengers) may be a issue; there s also a fairly large blind spot caused by the steeply up-angled cat s-eye rear quarter glass and the fastback bodywork but the back-up camera and the car s abbreviated dimensions (just 13 feet, end to end) make it very easy to maneuver in tight quarters.

The two-seater layout forces comparisons with other two-seaters, none of which (such as the Mazda Miata or BMW Z4 or Porsche Boxster) are hybrids or intended to be particularly economical or even remotely green.

The 90s-era Insight was also a two-seater, but it was capable of motorcycle-like fuel economy (some people got 70 MPGs out of them) and never intended intended to be particularly sporty.

So the CR-Z is somewhere in between a compromise.

Evidence of this can be found behind the front seats, where you ll discover what appear to be vestigial rear seats: A pair of molded-in-plastic cutouts that look like they d accommodate a small person s … along with a fold-down seatback that s actually the floor of the cargo area. There s zero legroom and no seat belts as well as no way to get a person back there without literally crawling in from behind but they sure look like almost-seats.

Though not usable for people, the end result is a decent amount of storage space just over 25 cubic feet for what s otherwise a very small car. That s more than twice as much as the trunk space you typically get in a conventional two-seater, such as the Mazda Miata or BMW Z4 and it does add a dose of practicality to the CR-Z s persona.

A young/single person could use this as their everyday driver with more ease than the typical two-seater and its glovebox-like trunk.

Though economy is a big part of the CR-Z s mission it s not a stripped-down basic car with only a few amenities. Automatic climate control AC, power windows, locks, cruise control and a nice stereo with steering wheel-mounted secondary controls are among the standard features. Many luxury-level features are available, too including leather/metallic interior trim and a high-end audio system with Bluetooth wireless.

The major stand-alone feature is GPS, which works through a large LCD display mounted at the top of the center console and canted toward the driver.

All the latest active/passive safety equipment side-impactand curtain air bags, ABS, traction and stability control is included in the cars base price.

The CR-Z also comes with a longer, hybrid-specific eight-year/80,000 mile warranty on the electric motor, battery pack and related hybrid system components. The rest of the car is covered by a shorter-lived three-yar/36,000 mile basic (and five-year/60,000 mile drivetrain) warranty.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There are equally (or even more) fuel-efficient and as (or more) fun-to-drive non-hybrid little cars out there notably the spunky and 37 MPG Mini Cooper but the CR-Z has the extra appeal of hybrid cachet desired by many people as much  — or even more than either fuel-economy or sportiness.

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