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.