Honda CR-Z Is Award-Winner in Japan, Dissed in U.S.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Kan Naoto, is presenting Japan’s Good Design Grand Award today to the Honda CR-Z sporty hybrid. This follows yesterday’s news that the CR-Z was named the 2011 winner of Japan’s prestigious Car Of The Year award. These honors punctuate a triumphant first year for the CR-Z, in which the hybrid greatly surpassed sales expectations in Japan and enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive reception in its home country. In March 2010, its first month on the Japanese market, the CR-Z moved more than 10,000 units—10 times Honda’s monthly sales target for the vehicle.

Meanwhile, back in the United States—where the CR-Z was released this summer—critics have been rough on the vehicle, with most complaining that it lacks performance or fuel efficiency, or both. The CR-Z offers 122 horsepower and average fuel economy rating of 37 mpg.

Depending on your slant, it’s true the CR-Z isn’t the most fuel-efficient hybrid out there, or the sportiest subcompact. For many American critics, the CR-Z’s inability to be best at anything rendered it a failure at everything. The 2010 CR-Z failed to reach the short list of candidates for this year’s North American Car of the Year award.

Luckily for Honda, the U.S. consumer market has been somewhat more forgiving. Since its first full month of availability in August, the CR-Z has become the fourth most popular hybrid in the U.S. Sales have been consistent, with Honda racking up more than 3,300 sales in about 9 weeks. Those figures may not be as robust as sales numbers in Japan, but neither is America’s current appetite for hybrids or small cars.

Get Over the Nostalgia

The CR-Z has suffered bad reviews mostly because U.S. auto critics have not been able to rekindle their love affair with the discontinued Honda CR-X—the 1980s automotive icon that served as an inspiration for the new hybrid CR-Z. The CR-X is remembered for its blend of sportiness and efficiency in a small package, as well as its adaptability as a tuner car. But like many memories of past loves, they can deceive.

“People forget what the CR-X really was, or they think it’s something that it’s not,” said Woody Rogers, who owned and loved his 1988 Honda CR-X. “By today’s standards, that old CR-X is painfully slow, small, unsafe, cramped, and has poor visibility. Yet, it was fun to drive. Compared to everything else that was available in 1988, that thing was a gas.”

Rogers, a tire information specialist at, was very impressed by his recent experience with the CR-Z on the company’s test track. “Compared to our old CR-X, the CR-Z’s engine was more well-refined. The fit, the feel, the look, the fittings in the car, it was so reminiscent.” After reading the bad reviews, Rogers didn’t want to like the CR-Z—but after his drive was considering trading in his Mini Cooper S for the hybrid.

For those who have been turned-off by the CR-Z’s perceived lack of power, Automotive News recently suggested that Honda will produce a high-performance version of the hybrid. Rogers likes the idea. “If the CR-Z had just a little more power, I think they’d really have something,” he said.

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  • Nelson Lu

    I will still repeat this: this is a “sporty hybrid” that doesn’t outperform or use less fuel than the Ford Fusion Hybrid. It is not that it is “not best” at anything that makes it bad. It is that it doesn’t do anything well (relatively) that makes it bad.

  • Shines

    I think the CRZ is a great little car. I can understand critics wanting it to be perfect, but what do you get for about $22K?
    It looks beautiful! I’m not sure there is a better looking car for the money. It is the 4th most fuel efficient vehicle on the road. Of all cars only the Prius, Fusion, Civic/Insight get better mileage. And although it is not as sporty a some would like, it is most certainly the sportiest hybrid for the money. Anyway sales are proving the critics wrong. Honda is capitalizing on the hybrid technology it has which works best on small vehicles. It is not a Volt nor a Leaf but it is a winner.

  • Anonymous

    I just saw one on the street, and I was immediately smitten by its looks. My wife was too. We were on our bikes and stopped to get a better look.

    Yes, the CR-Z is a compromise, but we are looking to replace a older Saturn (second car that we don’t drive much) and this could be a good compromise for our urban location, lack of kids and generally limited driving habits. Like the current car, it would not be driven very often, but it would be nice to drive something a little more stylish and fun than a Prius when we do need to get somewhere by car. We’re not exactly spendthrifts on cars. The Saturn is a ’92 and our “newer” car is a ’03 Element. Now if only Honda made a hybrid Element…

  • Anonymous

    of course, fusion costs $5k more…

  • Anonymous

    ” I will still repeat this: this is a “sporty hybrid” that doesn’t outperform or use less fuel than the Ford Fusion Hybrid. It is not that it is “not best” at anything that makes it bad. It is that it doesn’t do anything well (relatively) that makes it bad. “

    Too bad. Can you shift the gears in a Fusion hybrid (other than P->R->N->D)?

    Furthermore, reviews from MT and CR proved that Ford gamed Fusion hybrid’s mileage rating. In real life, it performs similar to a Camry hybrid, i.e. 31/35 city/hwy.

    BTW CR-Z CVT is rated 35/39.

  • Anonymous

    “of course, fusion costs $5k more…”

    I think it’s more likely to be a ~$8k difference.

  • Russ

    I agree that it’s a great little car. This is not a 75k Porsche…it’s a relatively inexpensive Honda. I’ve owned a Honda since 1983 and this is the best Honda I’ve owned. It has decent power, fuel economy, handles well and look kind of cool. That’s enough for me.

  • Nelson Lu

    Anonymous wrote:

    “Furthermore, reviews from MT and CR proved that Ford gamed Fusion hybrid’s mileage rating. In real life, it performs similar to a Camry hybrid, i.e. 31/35 city/hwy.”

    Could have fooled me. I don’t think that I’m an optimal driver, and I beat those numbers easily — getting worse than the EPA rating in the city and better than the EPA rating on the highway, ending up with the same 39 overall that the EPA yielded, and I’ve driven the car over 40K miles.

    Of course, the CR-Z costs less. It is also far less comfortable, far less capable, and far less practical.

  • Dr. Bob

    We love our CR-Z. One advantage is that it is the only hybrid you can buy with a manual transmission. My wife uses it to commute back and forth to work, and gets about 39mpg in mostly rural driving. On long highway trips, we averaged 44 mpg. Despite what reviews say, the eco mode makes a big difference, so to get good mileage you need to drive in that mode. Lack of power has not been a problem. It handles very well.

  • JJspawn

    @ ” Ford gamed Fusion hybrid’s mileage rating. In real life, it performs similar to a Camry hybrid, i.e. 31/35 city/hwy.”

    This lie. I have a Fusion Hybrid and average overall is 40MPG. Most of my driving is highway, ~40 miles to work. If I push like I did this morning, averaging 70 mph, it drops to about 38 MPG.

    I’m not going to say you can’t get those numbers driving the car. But it is probably a relatively short distance with a lead foot.

  • John K.

    I look forward to it getting more powerful Li ion batteries and seeing how that affects its mpg and 0-60 mph times. If Honda could get it to break the 40 mpg and sub-8.5 sec 0-60 barriers, it will be a HOT item in the U.S.

  • RobertJ17

    I purchased a CR-Z and am very happy with it. Yes, it could have a little more power and doesn’t get the best gas mileage of other hybrids. However, it is so much fun to drive and certainly drives better than the Prius II or III. The seats are comfortable. I am 6 ft tall and fit comfortably. It gets considerable looks, whether I am driving or it is parked. If you want practical, get a Prius or Fusion. If you want fun and economy, get a CR-Z, if you can find one!

  • Anonymous

    @JJspawn & Nelson Lu:

    Don’t take my word for it. I read it from CR. Both Fusion hybrid and Camry hybrid got the same 34 mpg in CR’s ‘real-world test measurements based on city, highway driving and road trip’.

  • jims1961

    The Fusion is American. The CR-Z is un-American.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry. You’re mistaken.
    Fusion is Mexican, not Amerikan.

    Don’t confuse next time. Plz.

  • Anonymous

    Too bad you can’t shift yourself in a Fusion hybrid, or any other economy/family hybrid now on market.

    I feel bad for those who were stuck in a family hybrid thinking they’re enjoying the ‘thrill of driving’, like that of a small, agile two door, in a 3,700 lb four door mammoth.

  • SethDove

    I have a CR-Z. I traded in a MINI Cooper for it, and could not be happier. It gets better gas mleage than the MINI with very similar performance. And it feels so much more refined than the harsh Cooper. Yeah, the MINI has a back seat. But no one buys a MINI for that back seat. No adult would want to sit there long. And in the 3.5 years I had it very few peolple eaver sat there. Everyone raves about the MINI yet goes all out to criticize the CR-Z. It’s bizarre. It is not a car for everyone. But for those whose life fits it it is a really great car. I am concerned about emissions but just hated the way all hybrids drove. Like boats. Finally a car for me.

  • Oasis Well

    Great car, buy one. All you judges are not truly anything but critics that wish they had this car in mind before they bought their car that Hybrid owners would not consider even if gas prices where $0.25 a gallon.

    Wake up and smell the roses this is a high-tech hybrid with a sports car enthusiast in mind. The Honda CR-Z has a pure bred mother and father. 🙂

    The Beach boys said it best… she’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun until daddy takes the CR-Z away.

    It’s time to grab this car at a reasonable price… Fun, Fun, Fun.

    By the way I own one, great car.


  • meccano

    I’d like Honda to have a four seater version of the CR-Z in the US as they do in Japan. Japan’s four seat CR-Z is no a bigger car because it utilizes existing space so I’m sure those two back seats are tight. Still, it is a easier to sell a car that is primarily a two seater, but could accommodate four in a pinch than not have that option at all.

  • Kurtis Hildebrandt

    The people have spoken: We want another CR-X. I want a 3rd generation CR-X. Take the CR-Z, drop in a Honda Civic EX engine, upgrade the handling & braking system, and give it an SI badge. The power-to-weight ratio alone will bring back nostalgic memories.