2011 Honda CR-Z Road Test Review

Frik Els - CAP staff
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Econ. Normal. Sport.

Those are the three modes a 2011 Honda CR-Z offers drivers. Instead of "Normal," Honda could have called it the "Fun" mode. Because even with the economy setting engaged, the CR-Z is a lot of fun to drive.

Touted as the world's first hybrid sports coupe, the CR-Z arrived in Canadian showrooms just as interest in the rest of the Japanese carmakers' lineup begins to wane. An update to the Civic, Canada's long-running bestseller, is overdue and the Insight hybrid has not been well received by North American buyers.  

The 2011 Honda CR-Z changes all of that. It looks like it's ready to roll with the punches – sharp nosed and wedge shaped with a long and low hood line and a wide stance. The steering is crisp, the ride firm but comfortable, handling is supple and performance nimble.

The aforementioned mode settings alter the vehicle's electronic management of various systems such as shift mapping and steering response at a push of a button. The Sport mode for example improves engine throttle responsiveness, electric power steering effort, electric motor assist and ratio control for the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) to improve overall performance.

Engineers and designers at the Suzuka plant in Japan where the CR-Z, in addition to the Civic Hybrid and Insight, is produced, clearly also had fun implementing the driving modes: The inner ring of the 3-D tachometer illuminates red when the vehicle is in Sport mode, while with Econ engaged, the LEDs transition between blue and green, the latter representing the most efficient driving. The economy setting gives priority to fuel efficiency and the air conditioning system is also tweaked to reduce its overall load on the engine. An indicator light on the dash also shows when to shift the manual transmission for optimum fuel economy.

That's right, the 2011 Honda CR-Z is available with a stick shift. It's the first ever hybrid to offer a manual transmission. With manual transmission available on fewer and fewer normally aspirated vehicles, Honda is to be commended for offering drivers this level of control on a hybrid.

The 6-speed manual transmission is engineered for optimal acceleration in gears one through five and for fuel economy in 6th gear, while CVT models are equipped with paddle shifters located on the steering wheel that simulate a stepped manual transmission with seven increments in total.

The 2011 Honda CR-Z drives and feels more like a car with a conventional powertrain setup than the typical hybrid econo-sedan. Unlike a so-called full hybrid system, Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology cannot propel the vehicle by battery power alone.

As the name suggests the electric system is there to assist the internal combustion engine for improved acceleration and fuel efficiency.  The engine shuts down when the vehicle is stationary, but instantly fires up when the lever is placed into gear or in the CVT-equipped model when the brake is released.

The spiritual successor to the CRX, the CR-Z is a bigger vehicle than the popular two-door of the mid-80s and early 90s although you wouldn't think so at first blush. The CR-Z is 4,079 mm long (the 1985 CRX managed only 3,772 mm) on a 2,433 mm wheelbase and weighs in just below 1,200 kilograms.

In Japan and Europe a second row of jump seats is available, but in North America the CR-Z is a practical (and comfortable) two-seater. This configuration supplies 711 litres of cargo space and the storage area behind the front seats is practical and convenient for briefcases and other "carry-on luggage" so to speak.

Signature features of the CRX, like the split-level rear glass hatch of the second generation model and the low, shallow raked roofline have been referenced in the design. That said, the taut lines of the CR-Z also show the leaps and bounds with which automotive design has advanced over the last twenty-odd years.

The sports coupe's performance specs on paper hardly give any indication of just how zippy a performer it is. The 1.5-litre, 16-valve, SOHC, i-VTEC 4-cylinder delivers 122 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque between 1,000-1,750 rpm for the manual transmission and 123 horsepower between 1,000-2,000 rpm for the CVT.

Not surprisingly, the fuel consumption numbers are excellent. The manual version achieves 6.5L/100km in city driving and 5.3L/100km when you're navigating highways and byways for a combined figure of 6.0L/100km. The CVT is considerably more frugal, sipping gasoline at a rate of 5.6L/100km in towns, 5.0L/100km down country lanes and 5.3L/100km when you do both.  

The centre console is tilted slightly towards the driver making it easier to adjust the controls while driving. The LED lighting of the instrument cluster is not exactly subtle, but gives the interior of the hybrid a suitable high-tech look and feel.

Standard features include Xenon headlights, LED brake lights, fog lights, alloy wheels, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, remote entry, cruise control, a 360-watt AM/FM/CD high-power audio system with seven speakers including subwoofer, Bluetooth for handsfree cellphone operation and a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The CR-Z 6-speed manual is priced at $23,490, while opting for the CVT adds $800 to the sticker price.  Thanks to the hybrid system the CR-Z doesn't have obvious competitors in the market, but at this price it's a better deal than the Mini Cooper, Scion tC or Volvo C30; small sporty cars that may attract the same buyers.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

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

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