First Drive: Mileage Comes Up Short on 2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid

122 horsepower. 37 mpg. 2 seats. And $20,000.

Those are the key stats for the all-new 2011 Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid Coupe. We took the car out for a 125-mile loop to see how it fared on the two categories by which the CR-Z will be measured: efficiency and fun. Honda is billing the CR-Z as a zippy sports car that uses less fuel.

Our mileage loop consisted of a broad sampling of road conditions: highways, town streets, and sweeping country roads. We did not apply hyper-mile techniques, but instead moved right with the traffic—a fairly light touch on open roads, and slightly more aggressive in city traffic. At the end of the run, our automatic CR-Z tester tallied 35.3 miles per gallon—a couple of mpgs shy of the EPA ratings of 36 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway with a CVT automatic transmission. (The fuel economy rating of the standard six-speed manual CR-Z, the only manual hybrid on the market, is 31/37 mpg.)

Perhaps other journalists babied the CR-Z to bring the mileage nearly to 40 mpg, but we would expect everyday driving to produce the same results we got: mileage smack in the middle of the 30s. That’s a far cry from a breakthrough on hybrid fuel efficiency, with the midsize, five-seat Toyota Prius earning close to 50 mpg for most drivers.

Still, A Fun Ride

On the other hand, we believe Honda made somewhat of a breakthrough on the hybrid fun factor—especially when most people think of hybrids as the goody two-shoes of the automotive world. During our drive, the CR-Z proved to be nimble, agile, and responsive. The car actually felt quick, and took corners with confidence. The smallness and lightness of the CR-Z, combined with its tuning for a sporty ride, gives it more zip than the 122-horsepower rating would suggest.

The CR-Z’s three driving modes include Sport, Normal and Economy. The Sport mode alters throttle response, electric power steering effort, and electric motor power assist for faster reaction. The inner ring of the tachometer glows red while in sport mode. We spent equal amounts of time in each of the three modes. The torque and acceleration is noticeably higher in sport mode. While the economy mode boosts efficiency by a few points, it didn’t rob the CR-Z of the power required for everyday driving.

Inside, the cabin is comfortable, but a bit tight. The styling is modern, but not futuristic like the all-electric Nissan LEAF. The storage compartment directly behind the seats are a bit odd—not sure what’s supposed to go in there—but when folded down, you get a pretty decent cargo compartment in the rear hatch.

Our biggest criticism was high road noise, especially compared to the usual hush-quiet experience of most hybrids. Noise and vibration often plagues first generation cars, so maybe this will be fixed in subsequent model years.

At $20,000, and with less than stellar fuel economy, the decision to buy the CR-Z is not about saving money at the pumps. It’s about driving something cool and green. The car will stand out on the road—not by advertising its eco-friendliness to the world—but by showing a unique eclectic combination of thrift and thrill.

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  • Eric


    I hope it doesn’t look as bad as that first photo in real life. I’m getting about the same milage in my ’02 Civic without much effort. The more I hear about this car, the more I wonder what Honda was thinking.

  • JamesDavis

    I don’t know what the idea was to make the back tire smaller than the front tire, but that doesn’t look good. Honda, you have a fairly decent looking car there; why don’t you take some tips from Japan and make it all electric and completely move away from hybrids. If that was an all electric, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. And I can tell you what I’d put in that back department…groceries and loud children.

  • Max Reid

    Japanese version of CR-Z gives 55 MPG and its a 4-seater.
    I dont know why Honda launched the CR-Z as a 2-seater and that too boosted power to make it give 39 MPG. If this model does not sell, they will bring the Japanese version.

    Atleast they are launching another hybrid which gives high 30s and we should feel happy about it.

  • Ogden Lafaye

    They can do much better than this. It looks terrible and only carries two? I have a feeling this is a cramped car.

  • calvin

    It’s not a 2-seater. The photo shows the rear seats folded down, as mentioned in the text. Besides, being a 2-seater doesn’t imply it’s more cramped. It just means that it’s got 2 _seats_. It says nothing about how spacious/cramped each seat is. A car that comes in both 5-seat and 7-seat configurations is going to be more cramped in the 7-seat version because you’re cramming 7 people into the same space as the 5-seater.

    And only an idiot would buy a sports coupe as a family car. Get a sedan if you want spacious backseats. This car is Honda’s answer to the lack of an affordable sporty coupe in the hybrid market. It’s not for gaining maximum mileage or for transporting lots of passengers.

  • John K.

    IMO, the sooner they switch to Li ion in the CR-Z, the sooner it will fulfill the “sporty” promise of its looks. If it has Li ion, the 2nd gen might be worth buying.

    Frankly, I’d LOVE a IMA hybrid version of the current Honda Civic Coupe. That is one of the best looking cars available at any price.

  • Rob D

    Very disappointing. Much less than I had hoped for from Honda. A hybrid, sporty or not, that only gets in the upper 30’s for average mileage is abysmal in my opinion.

  • Nelson Lu

    How sporty can it be when it can’t outperform the Fusion Hybrid?

  • calvin

    It’s about as sporty as you can get while still getting decent fuel economy and staying under a $20k base price.

  • Rob D

    It would appear that we are setting our goals way to low if we are happy with any hybrid passenger vehicle that gets only in the upper 30’s for combined mileage with the only possible exceptions being mid sized and larger trucks, SUV’s and vans. Come on, let get real and serious about energy independence and cleaner air. I especially liked the comment about the fact that the CR-Z doesn’t outperform the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

  • Max Reid

    Look at this

    The US version is a 2-seater. I dont know what they did to the other 2 seats. But in Japan they are selling it as a 4-seater.

    Why not bring that same version here. I dont know what it means a fun sporty hybrid. Its better to buy a 5-door 5-seater bigger Insight which gives higher mileage. The higher oil prices are slowing down the economic recovery. No wonder we need high mileage cars.

  • calvin

    Max Reid:

    I stand corrected. It looks like what they did was just replace the seats (literally, the cushioned seats you sit on) with some weird plastic bins. I guess that’s what the article was referring to. See this interior photo:

    Perhaps they figured that Americans wouldn’t consider the vehicle large enough for a 4-seater. Though it actually looks like it has more room in the back than 3-seaters like the RSX.

  • Ben Philips

    I’ve got a UK version of this; had it about a month. I’m not sure how MPG is measured any differently in the UK to the US, but in the first 2000 miles I’ve completed in it I have an average mpg of 50.2. And it’s only that low cause I got tired of driving it in Eco mode.

    The Eco-mode might save you miles, but unlike the review states here, it makes the car drive like a wet sponge. The car does have 4 seats, your reviewer has simply folded them down. Having said that, you aren’t getting anything on the rear 2 seats, too small for pretty much anything with legs. I keep mine folded down.

    In the UK the real advantages of this car come in tax – hybrids pay no toll to drive in London, very little in annual duty and very little in the way of tax if you have it as a company vehicle. Which is what mine is. Without those benefits the savings wouldn’t add up. As it is, I save around $350 a month in tax, tolls and fuel over my old car, an Audi A6

  • byenter

    Honda has got to be kidding. I had a 1991 Civic (5 passenger) that got over 40 MPG. When will people wake up to the fact that all car companies are capable of much greater fuel mileage using existing technology. Can you spell collusion?

  • David

    Another under performing Honda hybrid with a lot of road noise – what a surprise that is! I owned (past tense) Hondas for 21 years until this year after reading abut the Civic battery and the Insight suckage.

    Come on Honda – but your shoulder into it and get it right and kick Toyota’s butt – I’m sick of them being the only credible game in the hybrid race here.

  • Charles

    Hello David;

    So the Ford Fusion and Escape hybrids are not credible? The Fusion kicks the Camry Hybrid’s butt. The Escape Hybrid is the most fuel efficient SUV. If you said the Prius is the only credible hybrid, I would have a hard time arguing. Except for the Prius, what Toyota hybrid is all that great?

    Please not I agree with you that the Honda hybrids are under performers.

  • Charles

    Hello Ben;

    I think something has been lost in translation between English and American. When you say 50.2 MPG, I assume the G is the Imperial Gallon. The equivalent USA MPG would be 41.8. Honda also lost the back seat in translating the car for the USA market. Maybe Honda thinks the kids here have legs.

  • Mark Dulcey

    In Japan there are economic reasons for a car to have at least four seats; two seaters are treated as luxury items that are taxed much more heavily. The back seats in the Japanese version are probably just big enough to qualify the car as a four seater, not big enough for anybody over the age of 6 to actually sit in, and so are rarely used even there. Here in the US there is no similar quirk in the tax code, and children under 6 are expected to sit in car seats that wouldn’t fit in the back of this car, so Honda left out the useless back seats to save a bit of cost and weight.

  • calvin

    That info about the luxury item tax is interesting and a very compelling argument. But how much could 2 seat-cushions cost?

    And will people stop bringing up 2-decade old cars that would never compete in today’s market? Any car built today is going to have more safety features and higher engineering standards than those built in 1991. Add to that the trend for cars to be larger (and people here are still complaining about the CR-Z being too small), and you’re going to have a much heavier vehicle.

    Also, the 1991 Civic CRX is only rated at 29mpg–and that’s with a 92hp, not 122hp, engine. So, no, Honda is not going backwards in technology. Engine efficiency has definitely increased over the years. They’re just being offset by public demand for larger/heavier/safer/more powerful vehicles.

  • Rob D

    Not everyone in the US is looking for bigger and heavier. I see not problem with the CR-Z’s size. I like the car’s looks. I think the mileage is pathetic for a hybrid of the CR-Z’s size. I had much higher hopes and feel the same way as other loyal Honda owners. They aren’t getting the job done when it comes to more fuel efficient cars. Thier Accord commercials that boast 31 mpg are laughable.

  • MS

    Here in Europe the Honda CR-Z is being sold for the past months.

    Altought it is called an hybrid I believe you would need a test drive to understand this “concept” of mild hybrid, which difers from the CIVIC IMA. The regeneration occurs but only at higher breaking efforts, this is a cut down of energy regeneration in city, leading to bigger consuptions.

    However the car fells more “tradicional”, not so quiet and more fun to drive altough not showing that on the time measurments.

    I do prefer the Prius, but for someone who is looking for a cool small coupe and do not want high performances CR-Z does pretty well.

    btw1 in Europe it is sold with 4 seats, but the backseats are for small kids.
    @JamesDavis, the 4 tires are all equal, altought in the picture they seem different.

  • Tom P.

    I drove one of these today, in Southern California.

    I am 6’2″. With the front seat all of the way back, I was comfortable. The back of the front seat was touching the back “seat”. If there were seats there, the front seat passengers would have to be 5′ tall to fit anyone back there.

    The car is cool. It’s fun to drive. Even in Eco mode the AC keeps the car cool. In Sport mode it accelerates fast enough. The Nav as awful looking, didn’t use it but wow it’s god-awful on the eyes, although maybe the fact that it’s touchscreen will make it more useful. Also the CD moves behind the nav screen, which is irritating although I’d probably never use it with the other options. There’s also some weird “PC card” slot back there that claims to need an adapter. Maybe the adapter allows CF, SD, etc, but I was expecting to see a traditional slot. USB, AUX IN, and 12V are in the cubby below the nav system. Delete the nav, and the AUX IN moves to the face of the stereo, which is a drag; I’d prefer to keep my cables tucked away. You also lose the PC Card, but keep USB.

    Seats seem fine, but I drove only 5 miles or so.

    Lots of convenient-access controls on the steering wheel, which is handy. Apparently there’s even nav system access on there but I didn’t catch it.

    Thinking about buying it, but I miss my ’83 Civic that got 40+ mpg on the highway and had a 14 gallon tank (I got the wagon one when replacing it by accident). I’ve missed that 600 mile range ever since… It’s infuriating that they can’t keep real-world economy up.

  • courtney la

    wow. I remember the original CRX way back in the 90’s. Great styling and build quality at the time. The old Si models were peppy and also quite practical. nice blast from the past.

    boy short

  • A LEE

    I had a crx-hf back in the nineties and got over 60 miles/gal
    driving 55m/h witha tac rpm 1500.Why can’t honda do better

  • AS

    I’m still happily enjoying my sporty ’89 CRX Si, which regularly gets 35-44 MPG. But at 21 years old, I’d upgrade to something newer if I could find a worthy successor. I was thinking the CR-Z might finally be it, and checked one out yesterday. My impressions:

    In photos, from a distance, and while seated in it, things feel quite familiar (except for all the electronic displays). But close-up, the car is much larger than I expected. Considerably larger than my CRX. The wheelbase is 5.3″ longer than my CRX (1.5″ longer than even the 2nd-gen Insight), and the car itself is a full foot longer. It’s also 5″ taller and almost 3″ wider. Too big for my tastes (and I’m 6’2″).

    I’m also really disappointed in the stated fuel economy for this car. I understand Honda is required to rate it based on “Standard Mode” only. It’ll be interesting to see what real-world “Econ Mode” mileage is.

    Like others, I have a hard time understanding how, in 21 years, Honda hasn’t managed to improve mileage. I do understand that newer cars are safer (and heavier because of it). Upon seeing how much larger the CR-Z is — it weighs 530+ lbs (25%) more than my CRX (and the same as a 2nd-gen Insight) — I think I understand a bit better. Still, I’d love to see a true “HF” model with a smaller engine, to help fill the void left by the 1st-gen Insight.

    I’ll probably be looking at getting a used 1st-gen Insight instead of the CR-Z and supplementing that with a Nissan Leaf (wish Honda had an electric…). And, of course, I’ll keep my CRX for as long as I can keep it going! 😉

  • Anonymous

    Is part of the reason for the low MPG on the CR-Z that that tires have more traction that most hybrids. I have a 2005 Civic 5-speed hybrid, and when I replaced the tires with Goodyear Assurance tires which grip better, my MPG dropped from about 47 to 41.


  • Bjaardker Erickson

    A couple of things people seem to be confused about:

    In EU and Japan the CRZ is a 2+2 seater. Here in the states there are no rear jump seats. The reasoning behind this is the active head restraints used in the front seat. Honda had concerns that putting passengers in back may affect their scores in the US safety ratings.

    Second, it’s not impossible to get 40MPG from this vehicle. Driving the a 6-speed manual CR-Z like I normally drive my 2000 Insight I was able to get 47.9 MPG on a 35 mile loop that was 80% highway. I didn’t use any hyper-miling techniques per say, just a light foot and kept it in econ. Thrashing it around a 15 mile country road loop in sport mode I still got 34MPG.

    They could have done better with the MPG, but I sacrificing any of the sportiness would have been a major detriment to the car.

  • Mikee

    35 mile trips with 80% highway, I’m getting getting 45-50MPG with really light on the pedal driving…

    City driving to and from work with normal driving and AC on, I’m getting 36MPG.

    And this car is super fun.

  • deb

    why cant it have four seat?! it would be perfect for me if it had just ONE backseat!! i dont want my child as young as she is in the front!!! how daaangerouS!!

  • Mercurious

    I bought one of these about two months ago, the first one that showed up in my city. Storm silver, navigation CVT etc. I traded in a 2008 Civic Hybrid on it. I drive about 40 miles each way to work on a combination of freeways and city streets, no exceptionally heavy congestion or bumper to bumper. I use it in ECON mode, A/C on all the time, usually set cruise control (use it as much as possible) at 68mph.

    I am getting 39-41 mpg under these conditions. I am driving normally, just over speed limit and not doing any real hyper-mileage acrobatics. It is just about 5mpg less than my Civic was under similar driving, but about 250% better in cool factor and fun driving. I am 6’1″ and the legroom is fine. I carry equipment in the back, good amount of cargo space but a bit of a stretch to reach the farthest bits due to the long rake of the rear area.

    All in all, I like it a lot. I just couldn’t stand the Civics’ stodgy looks and wallowing handling. This is miles in front for fun and sexy looks, and reasonably close to it in sipping fuel. For me, Honda hit it right on the mark for a commuter car that is sporty, eye catching and still easy on the wallet at the pump.

  • Roy

    Having taken three drives in the CRZ, one manual, two automatics, I am not impressed with them. They will get over 40 mpg around town, but on the road, if you get over 70 mph, you can expect around 35 mpg on the auto and maybe 37-38 on the 6 speed. At least, that is my experience. A better for bet for mileage is the Civic or Insight Hybrid. Both easily get better mileage than the CRZ, but they are not as sporty as you know.

  • Bill

    I drove the car for two hrs test drive… very comfortable, quick car and very fun to drive. In sport mode and sitting low as you do it’s a sporty ride and reminds me of my ealrlier Porsches 911t in size handling etc.. its design it spectacular and handles well..for thoise that don’t appreciate a fun car with relatively good mileage don’t buy it..I liked the handling mileage looks and the total package..again if you don’t like it ..great don’t buy it ..

  • NathanielMonnot

    Hello, you used to write fantastic, but the last several posts have been kinda boring