Last year, HybridCars.com 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.
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.