Honda CR-Z Delivers MPG and a Dose of Fun

Last year, staffers drove a CVT-equipped Honda CR-Z on a 125-mile loop to see how the sporty hybrid coupe fared. The drive consisted of a broad sampling of road conditions: highways, town streets, and sweeping country roads. At the end of the run the coupe tallied 35.3 miles per gallon—three tenths more mpg than the EPA city rating of 35 mpg in the city, and nearly 4 mpg shy of the 39 highway rating. The conclusion: maybe a little too raucous during in-town driving, but overall what most drivers will experience.

A few weeks ago, I checked out a manual shift CR-Z EX with navigation for a week. Logging 379 miles during the seven days, fuel mileage was recorded in three segments: 73 miles of normal running errands and shopping in town; 132 mile drive from Olympia, Wash. to Seattle during morning and late afternoon brake lights and gridlocks; and 174 miles of hey, let’s flog this thing and see just how sporty it is, and oh yeah, how much gas did the little four-banger guzzle.

No one has ever accused me of having a light foot on the go pedal, although I have changed my driving habits the past several years. I just didn’t know how much until I looked at the mpg numbers of the CR-Z that said, “Oh no, you’re becoming a greenie!”

Great MPG, With Some Work

During my drives about town the colored ring around the speedometer was primarily green, but I didn’t need it as a reminder that mode selection was Econ. The word slug best defines the forward motion of the CR-Z in this setting, and following the shift-up and shift-down indicator arrows was foreign even to my changed driving habits. Really Honda, upshift from 1st to 2nd at 15 mph, and from 2nd to 3rd at 18 mph? But, it works; fuel economy averaged 43.3 mpg—12.3 more than the government’s 31 mpg. Makes one wonder how those EPA folks come up with their numbers. Oh please, don’t tell me I have succumbed to hypermiling.

CR-Z Manual Shifter

The Honda CR-Z is currently the only hybrid available with a manual transmission.

I saw a lot of truck bumpers on the Interstate drive to Seattle and back. The Econ mode seemed to be the logical choice during the seemingly endless stop, go, stop commuter traffic movement. Unlike the CVT equipped Zs that automatically shut the engine off when the car is stopped, manual shifters require the transmission be in neutral. Holding the clutch in with the right foot on the brake pedal does not turn off the engine. So, constantly shifting to neutral and then shoving back into gear to restart is a chore. But again, the system works, and with maybe 50 out of the 132 miles in the Normal mode, the little hatch scored 39.2 mpg. Hmmm, that’s the highway rating given to the more fuel efficient CVT equipped CR-Z. Did the Feds get things backwards?

After five hours that covered 174 miles of driving primarily in Sport, the coupe registered 32.7 mpg. That’s a number even a Prius would be envious of with the tachometer close to red line for many of those miles.

Sporty, As In Handling Not Horsepower

The CR-Z is built on the same platform as the Insight hybrid, but engineers didn’t just copy, cut and paste. The structure is more rigid, the wheelbase is clipped 4.5 inches, overall length is shortened by some 8 inches and the car is considerably wider and lower. Add the suspension from the Insight—MacPherson struts and a rear torsion-beam setup—and you have Honda’s formula for a sporty coupe.

Around town the CR-Z has a smooth, fairly well-damped ride and it’s easy-to-drive, easy-to-park and with wide doors, easy-to-get in and out of. I found the highway ride to be firm, controlled and pleasant, not harsh. Bumps and those pesky expansion joints had a negligible impact.

Like all Honda four cylinder VTEC engines, this one brings on power in a linear, effortless manner. Its response to throttle input is prompt, almost brisk, except in the Econ mode, and if it lacks urgency it makes up for it in pluck and willingness. And when pressed—to merge with freeway traffic, for example—it does get noisy. There is a surprise, however, just left of the steering wheel. Select the piano key-like button marked Sport and there’s right-now throttle response. It’s like the Honda suddenly found an additional 50 horsepower.

However, the CR-Z’s sporty personality isn’t derived from horsepower, it’s all about the handling. The attention to vehicle dynamics is surprising. The coupes precise and nicely weighted electric rack-and-pinion steering tracks true with good feedback, making abrupt lane changes and sudden, tight curves a delight rather than an, “Oh my God!”

Should you drive slightly over your capabilities, the stability control system and anti-lock brakes respond in quick fashion. Under brisk cornering there is an expected amount of understeer and a moderate dose of body roll. But the Z never felt like the average driver might fight for control.

Unlike some hybrids, the brakes have good pedal feel and are not grabby. The manual transmission offers relatively short throws with clean gates and a comfortable, easily engaged clutch action. Gear ratios are well selected to give the car a suitable launch, first through third gears.

Hybrid puritans will scoff at the CR-Z’s fuel efficiency and driving enthusiasts will pooh-pooh its performance. But kudos to Honda for developing a car that is fun-to-drive and fuel-efficient.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Larry

  • Dom

    I’ve said it before, I wish I had some throw away money, I would love to buy this thing. My primary complaint with hybrids models available (in the US at least) is the lack of a manual transmission option (and why I ended up buying a diesel). Thank you Honda!

    I’ve wondered about the EPA ratings giving the higher numbers to the CVT though… the old Civic and Insights always had the manual transmission models rated significantly higher than the CVT model. Interesting…

    Thanks for the review!

  • tom

    Interesting read, two tidbits for thought. I had a 1984 Pontiac Fiero 2.5L with the 4spd and it had a shift light and if I used it, I was able to hit 32 mpg.
    Also, the 1960 – 1969 Chevrolet Corvair (I have a ’65) has recorded as high as 33 mpg. Mine is wore out so I fair about 20mpg around town and 28mpg on the highway.


  • Corky Calhoun

    As gas prices continue to rise beyond reason, cars like these WILL become a necessity. I can’t sell my SUV…believe me I have tried…My daughters small Hyundai is now my car…I gave the SUV to her because she just drives it to school and back…or about 10 miles per week….I drive over 400 miles a week. I have cut my fuel bill by over $300 dollars per month…That stupid BMW only takes premium and cost me nearly $100 to fill up. I now fill that car up once every 5 weeks. The Hyundai costs me $25 a week or $100 a month…

    That’s just me…I was lucky enough to sell my wifes M-Class Mercedes two years ago and she wanted a Prius…Her fuel bills went from $350 a month to 80 a month…Therefore, we both have saved over $570 a month….

    $570 every single month is a lot of money in this economy…Even to those of you out there that think that Global Warming is a hoax…I can assure you that saving $570 a month is not…Buying economy is the best thing I have ever done…I cringe when I think of all of the money I have wasted on big clunky cars over the years.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be waiting to drop in the battery from the new Civic and hopefully a more powerfull motor.

  • Michael R

    Corky wrote: “$570 every single month is a lot of money in this economy…”

    And you only count the fuel costs. Add to this the price difference between your old BMW and Mercedes and Prius and Hyundai and you will see the real savings!

  • Corky Calhoun

    You are right Michael R. An oil change in a M-Class and X-5 costs $155 dollars a piece…X 4 per year…Tune ups and maintenance in both are about $1,400 a year a piece. The loans on both were $499 and $425 respectively. …Now…a car is not that important to want to spend that kind of money on….It’s actually real stupid…I can’t believe I have been throwing away money… Here’s the break down.

    My SUV costs…
    Gas……………. $750 a month or ……………..$9000 a year.
    Oil changes….. $310 a quarter or………………$1240 a year.
    Maintenance….$2,800.year………………………$2,800 a year.

    Total SUV costs a Year……………………………$13,040 a year.

    My Compact costs
    Gas……………..$180 a month or………………..$2160 a year
    Oil Changes……$75 a quarter or ………………..$300 a year
    Maintenance…..$300 a year………………………$300 a year

    Total Compact costs a Year……………………….$2,760 a year

    THAT’S A TOTAL SAVINGS OF ………………….$10,280 A YEAR!!!!!!!

    That’s insane…That’s net $10,280 in savings…It’s like giving yourself a $16,000 raise….

    With gas prices probably in the $3.50 + range for the foreseeable futuire…those costs add up and would look a heck of a lot better in a investment portfolio or even as conservative as paying down a mortgage…But paying that kind of money on a piece of property that declines in value every year is completely irresponsible..

  • AP

    Thanks Larry, great review. A lot of critics put down the CRZ, but it delivers peppy performance and MPG to boot, and even if you flog the gas pedal, you’ll get mileage somewhere in the 30s, which is pretty comparable to other small cars that don’t have the fun driving component.
    Top Gear loved this car–they drove it in the twisty, steep streets of SF:

  • Ashley

    I myself love my cr-z best investment I ever made!!! I used to drive a Mazda rx-8 total waste of gas and money!! I am a commuter for my job as well as college. This has saved me tons of money and will pay for itself within 5 years of what I was spending in gas to drive to and from work. It cost about 33.00 to fill up now with gas prices here being 3.65 las time a checked! I would recommend this to everyone!!