Tomorrow, the only hybrid to offer a manual transmission option – the 2014 Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid – will be offered for sale.
The line was fully refreshed for the 2013 model year, and for 2014 it carries forward with an EPA mpg rating of 31 city/38 highway/34 combined for the manual transmission, and 36/39/37 mpg for the continuously variable (CVT) transmission.
Although cool looking, the CR-Z has been perceived by some as suspended between categories as a hybrid with sporty pretensions. It has not been embraced to the degree that Honda’s former CR-X non-hybrid two seater enjoyed in the ’80s and ’90s.
The CR-Z’s manual transmission option and a combined peak of 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 140 pounds-feet of torque gets it reasonably within performance parameters of the originator of the genre, but by today’s standards, there are hotter hatches in the “hot hatch” category.
Superior mpg is a plus however, and Honda’s means of delivering that comes by way of its gas-electric “integrated motor assist” hybrid powertrain.
The engine is a 16-valve, 1.5-liter four-cylinder SOHC design. Its “intelligent” Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (i-VTEC) gets power blended in from the DC brushless motor. Said motor is a 15-kilowatt unit powered by a 144-volt lithium-ion pack.
Selectable driving modes consist of Econ, Normal and Sport which enable the driver balance between economy and performance.
Pricing for the car is competitive, and it does fill the bill for a fair number of consumers who proved this by voting with their bank accounts.
Last year sales totaled a modest 4,192 units. This was however down over 63 percent from calendar year 2012. The CR-Z’s sales trailed the 5,846 units of the Insight Hybrid which was down 62.4 percent for the year. These declines in the 60-percent range are among the steepest for hybrids in a generally up year for the same, and Honda’s sales look limp next to more thoroughgoing eco hybrids from Toyota.
The similarly priced, class-leading, five-passenger Prius c – undoubtedly less fun to drive, but far more frugal and arguably more practical – sold 35,733 units in only three-quarters of the year by end of December since launching in mid-March 2012.
As another point of comparison, Honda’s own 2014 Accord Hybrid, although a larger midsized sedan weighing hundreds of pounds more than the 2,657-plus-pound CR-Z Hybrid, will also exceed the mpg of the ostensibly minimalist CR-Z.
Honda’s new hybrid tech – which potentially leapfrogs even the venerable Camry Hybrid – promises an EPA rating of 50 city/45 highway/47 combined.
True also, Honda’s hybrid Accord will sticker for much more – $29,155-$34,905 plus $790 destination fee – but it will show what a determined Honda can do in hybrid engineering after years of flagging sales for its IMA system.
Will this reality affect CR-Z market acceptance this year, or will it soldier on valiantly as the sporty niche hybrid with manual option until Honda decides to package its cutting-edge hybrid tech into this and its other hybrid cars?