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 Tirerack.com, 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.