2011 Honda CR-Z EX
The thing about the 2011 Honda CR-Z: It is not the CR-X of days of yore nor is it a hybrid that needs to compete with the other hybrids in the Honda lineup.
You’d think that this would be straightforward and obvious. That is, the CR-X went away in 1991. Sure, the CR-Z has the same sort of split-level rear glass hatch that was used in the second-generation CR-X, and it has a similar sloping, shallow roof line. And yes, Honda obviously cites that CR-X as a predecessor. But CR-X fanboys ought to come to grips with the fact that this is an entirely different car, so get over it.
Arguably, this two-passenger coupe, with its low hood, wide stance, and wonderfully formed rear side shoulders is to today what the CR-X was to then. Arguably, there is nothing as visually stylish in the market as the CR-Z at its price point (the starting MSRP is $19,200, and the top-of-the-line EX trim with continuously variable transmission (CVT) and navigation is $23,210). Which makes this car comparatively affordable.
Then there’s the other complaint, that the car as hybrid doesn’t really get all that great fuel economy, especially as compared with the Honda Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Each vehicle equipped with a CVT has the following comparative numbers: CR-Z, 35/39 mpg; Insight, 40/43 mpg; Civic, 40/45 mpg.
Yes, the CR-Z gets its butt kicked. And what’s more, it can only handle two passengers, not the five (four normal, one tiny) that the other two can.
What’s more, even Honda acknowledges that the Prius and the Ford Fusion Hybrid get better EPA fuel economy numbers.
But do you know what? If you want to get greater fuel efficiency and greater capacity, Honda has a car for you. And so do the Other Guys. If you want to get something that is smaller, sleeker, sexier, then there is the CR-Z.
Clever of Honda to offer hybrid choice, isn’t it?
The CR-Z is powered by Honda’s sixth-generation IMA—or “Intelligent Motor Assist”—technology. There is a 122-hp engine that is supplemented by a 10-kW DC brushless electric motor. The electric motor kicks in to assist in acceleration, as well as serves as a generator to capture energy during braking and coasting. There is a 100.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack. One somewhat disconcerting feature—at least until you become familiar with it—is that assuming that there’s sufficient power in the battery system, the engine may shut off while you’re stopped at a light to save fuel. Don’t worry, though, it comes right back on.
On the left side of the instrument cluster there are performance mode buttons: Sport, Normal, Econ. The default mode is Normal. By selecting one of the buttons, there are changes to the performance of the vehicle, as in the Sport mode adjusts throttle responsiveness, steering effort, and the motor assist. (It also changes the color of the ring surrounding the digital speed display red from its normal blue color.) Econ mode provides more economical settings, and there is truly a discernable difference even going from Normal to Econ. Here’s what some of the differences look like:
If we were giving awards for Best Interiors, the CR-Z would get one. Not only does it have a highly sophisticated and technical array of colors and seeming three-dimensionality on and to its gauges, as you can get a slight sense of here:
. . .but it also has a use of materials that is really, on balance, well done. Of particular interest is the interior door pull’s surface, which is the result of a metal vapor deposition process. Some of the door trim and seat fabrics seem to have been sourced from the same place from which the NCC-1701 was fitted:
Selected Specs as Driven
Engine: 1.5-liter SOHC four with intelligent variable-valve timing
Material: Aluminum block and head
Horsepower (engine alone): 113 @ 6,000 rpm
Horsepower (w/electric motor assist): 122 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (engine alone): 107 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Torque (w/electric motor assist): 128 lb-ft @ 1,000 to 1,750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheelbase: 95.8 in.
Length: 160.6 in.
Width: 68.5 in.
Height: 54.9 in.
Curb weight: 2,637 lb.
Fuel economy: 31 mpg city; 37 mpg highway
Although the term “continuous improvement” is generally associated with another company, Honda is certainly pursuing that approach, as is evidenced by the Accord, which is now in its ninth generation.
The little car that could still can. And this time as a car that not only gets great fuel economy, but which has ride and handling that makes it more than an econo-box (and its styling is anything but boxy).
Dan Nicholson is vice president of General Motors Global Propulsion Systems, the organization that had been “GM Powertrain” for 24 years.