The most maligned hybrid on the market today is the Honda CR-Z. It comes down to false expectations. Take one look at the sporty design of the coupe, and you might expect it to be a rip-roaring fast automobile. The people who complain most about the CR-Z—as if it’s some kind of personal attack on their worldview—say the same old thing over and over again: “It’s nor fast enough, nor fuel efficient enough.”
But they’re looking at the wrong cues for an understanding of the car, and therefore miss the charms and benefits of the Honda CR-Z—which we rediscovered after another few days of driving the six-speed manual version last week. You need to look at the price tag, and at its three driving modes.
First, the price tag. The base MSRP is $19,345—by many standards an entry car for a young person wanting a mix of fun, technology and efficiency. Sure, you could buy more horsepower for the dollar. The CR-Z only serves up 122 ponies. But it’s the total package: its low-slung position, tight handling, sharp dashboard graphics, and hybrid system mated to a stick shift that makes it a kick to drive. That compelling set of features for an attractive price made the CR-Z the third most popular hybrid in America in April (behind the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight). The 5,000 people who bought CR-Zs aren’t crazy. They see value.
The CR-Z’s three modes of driving—Normal, Sport and Eco—are put to better use in this manual transmission hybrid, than in any other hybrid. (The CR-Z is the only hybrid offered with a manual.) If you’re just getting from place to place, thinking about things other than driving, leave it in Normal for steady easy shifting. Put it in Sport to toss the gears, and squeal around town with some zeal. Or push the Eco mode for a game of shifting at low RPMs to maximize fuel economy. Unlike hybrid automatics (especially those with CVTs), the driving experience radically changes with each change of mode—and thereby provides another reason to make the CR-Z an affordable fun little commuter car.
We used a combination of the three modes in about equal proportions—whatever met our fancy. (To be honest, we pushed the limits of Sport as much as possible.) At the end of a few days, our total fuel efficiency tally was 37.5 miles to the gallon. Impressive.
The CR-Z slamfest will not end anytime soon. But when we hear it, we know it’s coming from folks who fail to grasp the new redefined relationship between vehicle style, power, efficiency and cost in the age of hybrid and electric cars. If you’re in the market for a hybrid, and can live with a two-seater, the CR-Z is worth a test drive.