SENIOR ONLINE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: Launched in 2010, the Honda CR-Z is billed as the successor to the Honda CRX of Honda’s golden era. When viewed in profile, and when viewed from the rear, you can see the resemblance.
The old CRX was nimble, light and efficient. Relative to some other modern cars, the CR-Z is, too. But it just isn’t any fun to drive. That fun-to-drive thing is why the CRX is worth paying homage to after all these years. The CR-Z is too heavy for its drive train and our car’s CVT makes it irredeemable.
I’d bet that if Honda would have stuck to the original script and ditched the hybrid stuff, they’d have ended up with a car that was light and athletic enough to make people fall in love with it.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: “Irredeemable” is such a strong word. Yes, the CR-Z is no CRX, but with today’s crash standards and other safety-related equipment, nobody is making little lightweight zippy car anymore — at least not for $25,000. Yes, the CR-Z deliberately sucks in the slappies by appearing to be a 21st-century CRX, but I’m not sure I ever heard someone from Honda actually make the claim that this was the spiritual successor.
So where does that leave us? With a car that, if never allowed out of Sport mode, can be a blast to drive hard, toss into corners and generally get all non-hypermiler with. It’s a hybrid, sure, but if you work the paddles, the little gas engine coupled with the electric gets the CR-Z motivated in a hurry — and in a way that makes the CVT almost invisible. It steps through, or holds, every gear ratio from 1 to 7 without ever acting like a CVT. I find a lot to like there, but I suspect that kind of tranny management hurts the overall fuel economy. That’s OK by me.
Would I love this lightweight little two-seater with, say, a nice non-hybrid, high-revving Vtec four under the hood? You betcha. Could I live with this, and its fuel economy and overall fun factor? Absolutely. I’d just never suggest to anyone that it’s a CRX replacement.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I know the CR-Z was sort of a letdown for many folks, and from an enthusiast’s point of view, I can agree with them. It’s too heavy, it’s a hybrid, and it doesn’t have independent rear suspension. But I’ll tell you this, it’s no dog. Well in the looks department it is a dog, but on the street, not at all.
The strange mix of the continuously variable transmission and electric power almost works. Of course, I’d rather have the six-speed manual, which is also a bit weird with the hybrid. But off the line, it gets going. It’s basically like driving a jet ski. You hit the throttle hard until you get up to speed, and then just back off a bit. So the acceleration is solid, for a 30-mpg car, and the brakes were fine. They don’t give much of that sticky regenerative feeling.
I didn’t get a chance to throw it into any corners, so I can’t comment too much on the handling, but I did hear and feel every bump bigger than a pencil. There’s a good amount of noise in the cockpit, especially from the back. I’m not sure if it’s because there’s so much glass back there or because of the old-school suspension.
It’s not too expensive, at about $25k for this EX model, while base models are $20k. It’s not what I would buy for the price, but it’s still worth a look and one of the sportier hybrids on the market.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: There were rumors floating around that Honda was planning on throwing in a straight-up gas drivetrain in this car, which is something I hope Honda still plans on doing. Take the mechanicals from the Civic Si with 201-hp and the killer six-speed manual transmission and then the CR-Z would really cook. Of course, I don’t know how the torsion beam rear suspension would handle things but the car would be a bit lighter losing the battery pack so it may be fine. There was a tuner that did do that drivetrain swap into a CR-Z at SEMA a couple of years ago and it looked like a clean job.
Alas, I haven’t heard any other murmurs of Honda putting in a regular gas powertrain lately so we are stuck with the hybrid for now. As Jake mentions, this car isn’t a slouch on the streets. Maybe the cool air helped give the small gas engine a little more kick, but I had a fair amount of fun shooting around town in it with the car in sport mode and that gauge cluster glowing red the entire time.
On the street, the car feels nimble with steering that’s quick to respond to inputs and it offered a sufficient feedback. I particularly like the steering wheel on this car with nicely shaped grips at the three- and nine o’clock positions. I also can’t really harp too much on the rear suspension because it’s fine for regular driving and I didn’t come across any bumps that unsettled the rear end like in, say, a Hyundai Veloster. The brakes are well tuned and didn’t feel too squishy or weird like a lot of hybrid vehicles do.
I do applaud Honda for bring this car to the U.S., though. I know the hybrid market is a niche and then you try to make it a sporty hybrid, which would be another niche within a niche. Top that off, it’s a two-seater to further limit this car’s reach. They do offer a 2+2 seating configuration for it in the Japan, but there is no way an averaged sized American would ever fit back there.
But for a semi-entertaining daily driver, this CR-Z wouldn’t be bad. That is if you haul only a small amount of cargo or no more than one passenger. If this car works for you, do yourself a favor and get manual model even though the CVT isn’t half bad. For me, I’ll still hold out hope that a more powerful, full-gas engine finds its way into this car. And I’ll continue to keep an eye out for a clean CRX.
2012 Honda CR-Z EX Navi
Base Price: $24,495
As-Tested Price: $24,495
Drivetrain: 1.5-liter I4 hybrid; FWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 122 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 123 lb-ft @ 1,000-2,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,734 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 35/39/37 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 34.1 mpg