WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: Everybody’s right, the detractors and the believers. The CR-Z does not perform like a CRX and dropping the batteries and adding the conventional gasoline engine from Honda that would really make this thing come alive doesn’t look like it’s ever going to happen.
So consider this — would you, the enthusiast, rather drive a CR-Z or a Toyota Prius? CR-Z or an Insight? CR-Z or a Honda Civic hybrid Civic hybrid? See? If you need a commuter car that is efficient and stylish, this is your car. There are no other choices. At least there are no other choices if you want style along with your efficiency and don’t ever need to carry more than one person, because, unlike the Euro version, there is no back seat in U.S.-spec CR-Zs.
It’s not even all that expensive. Our CR-Z EX Navi stickered for $23,945. That’s less than comparably equipped Prius and Ford Fusion models but more than an Insight by about a grand, depending on model. If you drop the navigation and stick with the stick you’re starting at under $20k for a car that gets 38 on the highway, 31 in the city, 34 combined. Granted, the Prius gets 51/48, which is wildly impressive. But you can go a long way getting 38 mpg and that Prius is so awfully boring to drive. While others have trashed the fun quotient of the CR-Z I think that by the standards of the class it is the most fun to drive of any of them. The manual transmission is a rare gem in this ever-increasingly automatic world. Some have complained about the mechanics of the manual transmission, but I thought it was extraordinarily light and generally easy to engage. The throws were very short and I never had a problem getting it into or out of gear quickly and smoothly.
Handling was light and even nimble, again, by the standards of the class. You will definitely have more fun in this than you ever will in any of the competitors mentioned above. I imagine some salary man driving every day to work back and forth and sometimes taking the alternate route with a few curves in it. I myself once had an alternative commute that included Mulholland. Were I not changing cars every couple of days and needed just one car to get back and forth to work every day I could see enjoying a CR-Z.
Yes, we’d all enjoy it more if it had more output.
Powertrain output is the main disappointment, as it was when I drove the first model three years ago. Six months ago Honda introduced the 2013 model we drove here. A new 144-volt lithium-ion battery pack increases output by 50 percent from 10 kW to 15. That boosts peak combined output of both sources to 130 hp at 6000 rpm and 140-lb-ft of torque on the manual transmission models. Compare that to 122 hp and 128 lb-ft on the original CR-Z. A new “S+” button on the dash engages what Honda calls the Plus Sport System, kind of like the nitrous buttons all the cars had in “Fast” and/or “Furious.” If the car is travelling more than 19 mph and the battery pack has more than a 50-percent charge, watch out. You’ll get five seconds of increased power and torque. But don’t press the button too soon, junior (another “F&F” reference).
So, yes, I too would like a turbocharged K20 under the hood but short of that, this car could make commuting fun.
2013 Honda CR-Z EX Navi
Base Price: $23,945
As-Tested Price: $23,945
Drivetrain: 1.5-liter I4 hybrid; FWD, six-speed manual
Output: 130 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 140 lb-ft @ 1,000-2,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,681 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 31/38/34 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 35.0 mpg