2011 Honda CR-Z Road Test Review

David Schmidt - CAP staff
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As manufacturers look ahead to the 2016 fleet mileage standards, Honda is trying very hard to find new niches to fill or create in the automotive marketplace.

Enter the 2011 CR-Z hybrid, which should help Honda's current US EPA-equivalent fleet average of 10.2 L/100km move upward.

But unlike other hybrids on the market, the CR-Z looks like you're supposed to have fun in it. It'll efficiently take two people where they want to go in style, with plenty of room for their stuff.

Global Insight, a trusted research firm, sees the hybrid market growing 22 percent in the next five years. So to grab more of that market, manufacturers need to start offering more cars that have other appeal besides energy efficiency.

CR-Z Chief engineer Norio Tomobe says the idea behind development of the CR-Z was to have a small, sporty car while contributing to the environment. So it gets a 1.5-litre engine and Honda's IMA hybrid system to push it along.

This is an attractive car, with a clear nod to its heritage. It's modern and nicely edgy, a strong appeal for those Honda hopes to attract. The looks are sleek, even aggressive from the front and side. From the rear, the hunched shoulders are something you'll either like or hate, but either way, you'll have to use your outside mirrors when driving the CR-Z.

John Mendel, executive vice president Honda of America, thinks the Honda CR-Z has no direct competitors. But it'll probably compete with other small coupes like the Mini and Volkswagen's Beetle. In other words, inexpensive cars that still make a sporty statement.

Steve Center, Honda America's vice president for marketing operations, is aiming the marketing campaign at younger, cost-conscious buyers with $40K-$60K household income, who can afford a low-to-mid-twenty-grand price. They want fun and sporty cars, but are "responsibly indulgent," to use Honda's delightful term.

Mendel thinks the sales will be broader. "I think it will be all over the board," he said. An example: empty nesters who'll park one next to the sport ute already in the driveway. Add in those who remember fondly the CR-X, the iconic 1980s hatchback.

In Japan, they're selling this car with rear seats, but that won't happen here. While the car's based on its sister hybrid, the Insight, it's shorter and tauter.

The car is really quite small, 4,079 mm (160.6 inches) on a 2,433-mm (95.8-inch) wheelbase, and weighs in just below 1,200 kilos (slightly more than 2,600 pounds). In spite of this, because it's a 2-seater, there's just over 700 litres (25 cubic feet) of cargo space, including a 280-litre (9.9-cubic foot) hidden storage area.

This hybrid engine combination generates 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Interestingly, you can choose the standard 6-speed manual or opt for the automatic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

With the CVT, you also get paddle shifters that do a very good job of letting you use engine braking effectively, helped by the regenerative braking, which gives a nice drag when coasting. I preferred the CVT to the manual.

The CVT keeps the power right where it should be, depending on which setting you're using. Driving the manual, you really don't feel like you are driving a hybrid. But the car needs a lower rear-end ratio, as the first three gears felt a little long.

Mileage is pretty good. Not surprisingly, the automatic transmission got better than the manual, with both cars operating with the engine management system set to Normal. Preliminary estimated fuel economy for the CVT car is an EPA-equivalent 6.5 L/100km city, 6.2 highway and 6.3 combined. For the manual, the numbers were 7.6 L/100km city, 6.3 highway and 7.1 combined.

With a more powerful electric motor than the Insight's, the CR-Z's steering is better, with more feel and a quicker response.

The CR-Z's engine management system can be set in three different modes: Sport, Normal and Econ. Unlike many of these changeable systems, you can really feel the difference in the settings of the manual transmission's shift point or how the CVT keeps the revs up in Sport mode. Engine tip-in-how strong the car feels when you start off -also changes.

And if you're in Econ mode, the speedometer will even encourage environmentally correct driving by turning a ring around the dial from blue to green, illustrating how energy efficient your driving is.

The car comes standard with 16-inch aluminum wheels, and 17-inchers are available in the US; Canadian standard and optional features have not been announced.

Ride quality is comfortable, and the suspension is reasonably good for this size car.

With the introduction of the new Insight last year, Honda hoped to bring many lower-end "green" customers back to Honda. That car's sales were significantly lower than Honda planned for. The CR-Z will perhaps help with that – with US prices running between $20,000 and $24,000 USD for the three models, the CR-Z, CR-Z EX, and CR-Z EX Navi, it's expected that Canadian pricing will be roughly $25,000 to $29,000, depending on standard and optional equipment. Official prices won't be out until early next month, with the car hitting the showrooms in late August.

Getting used to small, light, fuel efficient cars is probably smart. Having them this attractive and sporty looking certainly counters the fear that efficiency means boring, ugly and politically correct. The CR-Z should help put that idea to rest.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sports Coupe, Honda, 2011, CR-Z, $20,000 - $29,999, Hybrid,

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