2011 Honda CR-Z EXPosted on March 8th, 2011
Hybrid sport coupe is red hot and raging green
By Nina RussinHonda has a talent for engineering small, fuel efficient cars which are a hoot to drive. In no case is this more apparent than the CR-Z: a two-seat sport coupe with a hybrid powertrain. Average fuel economy is 37 miles-per-gallon, according to EPA estimates. Fuel economy for my 100-mile test drive was slightly higher, despite my attempts to bury the speedometer.
Power comes from Honda’s 113-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a 13-horsepower electric motor. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual and continuously-variable automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Three modes of operation allow the driver to economize when power demands are low, and enjoy exceptional power off the line in Sport mode. A Normal mode compromises between the Eco and Sport modes for a combination of fuel economy and performance.
Base price for the upscale EX model with navigation is $23,210, not including the $750 delivery charge. A base grade with the manual transmission starts under $20,000, meeting the criteria for our urban category. Honda includes the safety, comfort and convenience features most buyers want in the MSRP, sparing them the confusion of wading through option packages.
Convenience features on the test car include the hard-drive navigation system with voice recognition, 360-watt audio system, auxiliary and USB ports, leather wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth interface, automatic climate control, a digital information display and cruise control.
Small footprint, big performanceThe Honda CR-Z is proof that the terms ‘green’ and ‘fun-to-drive’ aren’t mutually exclusive. The sport hybrid’s performance reminds me of the legendary CRX: one of the greatest sport coupes produced during the 1980s. It’s quick off the line, nimble and has the best steering response of any hybrid vehicle I’ve driven.
Engineers minimized the coupe’s curb weight. While the CR-Z weighs about 800 pounds more than the classic CRX-Si, the electric motor gives the hybrid 30 more horsepower. As a result, the power-to-weight ratio is similar. Since electric motors develop peak torque at very low speeds, the CR-Z has excellent launch characteristics as well.
Three modes tailor performance to the driver’s style
For my 100 mile test drive, I split the time between Eco, Sport and Normal modes. I started out in Eco, to see how well the most fuel efficient setting would compensate for reductions in gas mileage during engine warm-up.
Eco mode limits engine speed to about 2000 rpm, except during wide open throttle. As a result, the car provides adequate power for normal driving conditions. I had no problems accelerating in the 20-50 mile-per-hour range on a highway entrance ramp, and there was enough power to move ahead of slower vehicles.
I kept the car in Eco mode for the first 20 miles, which consisted primarily of highway driving. Average fuel economy was 42 mpg. When I exited the highway, I switched to Sport mode, to see how the CR-Z would perform on a section of the Beeline Highway that climbs about 1000 feet, ending at the entrance to the Bush Highway east of Phoenix.
I buried the pedal a couple of times off the line to see how hard the car would accelerate. When I smoked a fellow in the adjacent lane driving a full-sized pickup with a large V-8 engine, the look on his face was priceless. The sound coming out the CR-Z’s exhaust was music to my ears.
In this mode, the engine will quickly wind up close to redline, combining its maximum 122 horsepower with 128 foot-pounds of torque. Those may not seem like huge numbers, but the power is quite effective at moving a 2700-pound chassis.
My guess is that curb weight on the full-size pickup trying to keep up was at least twice that. The CR’Z’s bullet profile minimizes aerodynamic drag, as opposed to the two-box architecture on the truck.
Fuel economy at the end of the 20 mile-segment in Sport mode had dropped to 33 mpg. Using a combination of Normal and Eco modes for the remainder of the drive, average fuel economy rose back up to 38 mpg.
Sixteen-inch wheels and tires provide an adequate footprint for the pint-sized coupe. The coupe’s wheelbase is a scant 96 inches. Track in the front is about 60 inches.
Engineers made steering effort slightly heavier in Sport mode for excellent on-center response at speed. In all three modes, there is plenty of assist on the low end for maneuvering through traffic. The CR-Z’s short wheelbase makes it easy to park on the street, or in small-diameter parking lot slots.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good. The split rear glass takes some getting used to. The rear glass is also narrow due to the car’s thick rear pillars, creating some blind spots in the back corners.
The coupe’s suspension is a similar setup to the Honda Insight and Fit: an independent front MacPherson suspension and torsion beam in the rear. The compact torsion beam enabled engineers to fit the battery in back without protruding into the cargo or passenger areas. The low height of the nickel-metal hydride battery pack gives the CR-Z a low center of gravity, enhancing its performance at speed.
Loves winding roads
I took the CR-Z on a section of the Bush Highway east of town, to see how the suspension and electric power steering would handle a two-lane winding road. One of the problems with some electric power steering systems is that the driver feels disconnected from the wheels. Not true for the CR-Z. Despite its relatively small wheels, the coupe ate the pavement. I felt completely in control on the road’s pitchy hills and decreasing radius turns.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car on a dime.
Driver-focused cockpitInside, the CR-Z seats two passengers. There are two deep storage bins behind the front seats, which are concealed when the cargo floor is extended to its maximum length. The bins are large enough for a laptop computer or backpack. The storage areas are also ideal for groceries and beverages, since the bins keep them from sliding around.
Because the coupe is narrow in the back, it only holds one bicycle in the cargo area. Buyers who need to carry more than one bike should consider a roof rack such as the one in the pictures of the customized CR-Z accompanying this story.
The standard cloth seats area attractive and have ample lower lumbar support. The steering wheel is a nice, small diameter, with easy to reach audio, Bluetooth, information and cruise controls. I found both the gauge cluster and navigation screen in the center stack easy to read in bright sunlight. An information display in the gauge cluster shows miles driven, distance to empty, real-time and average fuel economy.
Three cupholders in the center console are large enough to hold 20-ounce bottles. A twelve-volt power point, USB and auxiliary port enable passengers to recharge portable electronic devices and interface with a variety of portable music players. A covered bin at the base of the center console contains the USB port, with enough room to conceal an iPod from prying eyes.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, daytime running lamps, vehicle stability control, active headrests and a tire pressure monitoring system. The 2011 CR-Z is on display at Honda dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A fuel-efficient hybrid sport coupe with a versatile cargo area, excellent handling and performance.
Dislikes: Split rear glass is hard to see out of; blind spots in the rear corners.
Model: CR-Z EX Navi
Base price: $23,210
As tested: $23,960
Horsepower: 122 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 128 lbs.-ft. @ 1000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 35/39 mpg city/highway
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