There are some moments in your life where you see something so inspiring that you wish your eyelids were actually the shutters for some inner camera lens that could record the vision in front of you for the rest of your days. On a recent drive in this 2011 Honda CR-Z along the coast of Southern California north of Camp Pendleton near San Diego, I found myself gazing upon a still and serene expanse of crystal blue Pacific Ocean as two military Apache helicopters ran low and fast across the water. It was mesmerizing.
After my ocular nerves enjoyed that deliciously visual moment another thought struck me. I would never experience that moment again in my entire life. No moment in your life ever really does repeat itself in its exact previous form. Kind of like how a very special car from an automaker’s past can never, ever be repeated no matter how much people might want that to happen. Seriously people, it’s time to get over it.
If you are a little slow then I will let you know which car I am, of course, talking about—the much vaunted Honda CR-X. First off, the 2011 Honda CR-Z is not and clearly was never intended to be a “new CR-X.” I know it has two doors, a hatch and a similar silhouette but if having these design elements makes the CR-Z an homage to anything you could claim it apes the looks of the original hybrid Insight. The lines are purely meant to be as aerodynamic as possible.
Even if the much rumored 1.6 liter turbocharged engine variant arrives, the CR-Z will still never be like the CR-X and while I apologize for being the one to break this to the Honda faithful, I say thank God (more on that in a moment). I have read so many vicious attacks on the CR-Z in various publications and countless websites so instead of screaming like yet another screeching media howler monkey for the rest of this article, I am here to tell you what might just be right about the 2011 Honda CR-Z.
I know that saying all of this will no doubt find me in hot water in countless forums, chat-rooms and blogs across the internet but after recently Googling myself I realize that this happens to me anyway. Maybe you could say I relate to the CR-Z’s misunderstood reputation. Seriously guys, do you talk to your mothers with that kind of language? You know, that woman whose basement you still live in.
(Note: I wrote a six-part report detailing every aspect of the 2011 Honda CR-Z after its press launch back in June so I am going to focus this report on parts of the car that I haven’t previously analyzed. For more information on the 2011 CR-Z, check out the links to those 6-articles at the bottom of the page.)
A Little Perspective
I drove a 1985 Honda CR-X Si on the freeway at the CR-Z’s press launch and was sure I was going to wind up stuck in the wheel well of a passing Semi. I turned the air conditioning on at a stop light and it stalled. The doors were skinnier than a coked out supermodel. It was louder inside the cockpit at freeway speeds than a gaggle of screeching teenage girls at a Jonas Brothers concert. You know, back when they were popular.
Sure, the steering offered up a level of feel you don’t find in any modern car, the transmission was deliciously tactile in the way it moved through the gates and it cornered like a go-cart. Funnily enough, however, the 2011 CR-Z also has terrific steering, a stellar six-speed manual and corners much like same said go-cart. That 1985 CR-X Si and the CR-Z are also both not very fast, either.
Honda has a long history of making utterly unique and memorable two seat sports cars. The CR-X is a member of Honda’s Hall of Fame team along with models like the S2000 roadster and the Acura NSX. But I hate to break it you but none of those cars are ever going to happen again.
Do you realistically think Honda is going to engineer and sell another convertible like the S200 that isn’t offered with an automatic and doesn’t feel fast until you swing the tachometer near the 8,000RPM redline? They are a still a business and need to make sure they actually sell the cars they so carefully and exactingly engineer.
Now, as I mentioned before I attended the CR-Z’s press launch and have now driven it for a week so I am going to try and address some of the more common misconceptions I have noticed in the media and from individuals that haven’t spent as much time with this little sport coupe. Yes, I am daring to be so bold as to do the car review equivalent of speaking into the camera. But don’t worry; I don’t plan on Googling my name any time soon.
But Why Isn’t the 2011 Honda CR-Z More Efficient?
In my rev-happy little hands returned a decent 34 miles per gallon in the real world. That 34 mile per gallon figure impressed me most considering the fact that I never, ever took the car out of the “gas guzzling” Sport mode. Even if I did, from time to time, manage to grow quite a few digital flowers in the eco-gauge on the dash.
For those of you who don’t drive new cars each week I will let you in on a little secret. EPA estimates are still utterly unrealistic and never correct. The best I ever got in a Prius was 43 miles per gallon (not 50), the 35 mile per gallon 2011 Sonata barely cracked 21 miles per gallon and I got 16 miles per gallon in a basic Mitsubishi Lancer that should have returned something in the high 20’s at least. To put that last one in perspective a 2010 Dodge Ram with a 5.7 liter Hemi V8 also returned 16 miles per gallon.
The CR-Z is one of only a handful of new cars that have surprised me by returning real world figures above or near the EPA estimates. So that takes care of the complaint, in my mind at least, that the 2011 Honda CR-Z isn’t fuel efficient enough. Only a VW Golf TDI topped EPA estimates during a week with me by returning an average a little over 41 miles per gallon, in case you were wondering.
What was Honda Thinking?
Well, if you want to know what Honda was thinking when they designed the 2011 Honda CR-Z you might want to talk to Norio Tomobe, the man who was the lead engineer on the project. I should know a thing or two about him because I had a long conversation with him at the press launch and this experience gave me very important insights into what he was thinking during the development process.
Now, I don’t do things very conventionally so I decided that instead of taking the brashly American approach I would instead start by politely chatting with him about his life and interests. I was an exchange student in Japan when I was in High School and learned quickly that much of Japanese conversational communication comes in what is said “between the lines.”
I know when the Honda PR reps heard me talking to him about his passion for golf that they thought I had totally gone around the bend but I did learn that he has gotten 3 holes in 1 which is a tremendous honor in Japanese culture. Then he explained why it was so important for him that the CR-Z have such a wide and accommodating 25.1 cubic foot cargo area because he wanted it to hold a set of golf clubs.
Later in the conversation when we were talking about the cars and motorcycles he had owned over the course of his life he revealed his passion for Porsches, namely the 911. He explained that he was always in awe of the low center of gravity afforded by the flat-six engine mounted in the back of that iconic German sports car and that was why he was adamant about mounting the CR-Z’s 1.5 liter 4-cylinder so low in the engine bay. Honda even went so far as to move the engine’s intake manifold so the center of gravity would be lower.
Tomobe-san eventually talked about the notion of compromise with his wife in regards to their choices in family cars. Apparently since his wife had to get a minivan he had to get a sedan instead of the coupe he wanted. This talk of compromise bore fruit when he later told me that given the success of the Prius during a time of gas crisis, it was a natural for the CR-Z to be a hybrid to help broaden its appeal.
Sure, the CR-Z might make less sense now since gas prices appear stable but if gas prices were $7 a gallon right now people would be saying Honda’s move was inspired. But even with the hybrid compromise, the 2011 Honda CR-Z is still a nimble, agile and fun to drive little coupe thanks to Tomobe-san’s obsession with keeping it’s center of gravity low.
Tomobe-san and his team of engineers integrated a six-speed manual with the hybrid concept for the first time just for the sake of the Honda enthusiast. He could have just made sure the CR-Z looked cool (it does), the interior was a techno-marvel as well as unquestionably ergonomic (it is) and that it was efficient when connected to a CVT automatic. But no, there had to be more.
Tomobe-san gave the 2011 CR-Z a 3-mode drive system with a Sport function that appreciably dials up the contribution of the IMA electric motor and tightens up the already delicately calibrated steering. Get the CR-Z up to speed, down shift and take a tight corner and you will find that as you accelerate out of the apex that this spunky two door sticks to the road with the ferocity of even that CR-X you fondly remember.
Who is the CR-Z for?
You might want it to be a pure sports car, a pure economy Halo model like the original Insight but I am very sorry to tell you that the CR-Z is neither. What the CR-Z really is, in truth, is something that requires a little more time and investigation to uncover. And you really aren’t going to expect what the answer is.
The 2011 Honda CR-Z weighs about as much as the Honda Fit which is really light for something hauling around a hybrid battery pack. But that isn’t the surprising part. What is surprising is the fact that the CR-Z drives and most importantly rides with the smoothness, suppleness and comfort of a much heavier car.
During a long road trip in the CR-Z it proved to be an unquestionably soothing companion for extended freeway treks. It tracks straight and true and is shockingly resistant to freeway crosswinds. Despite the fact that SUVs sometimes lose you in their blind spots (a flaw with their design, not the CR-Z’s) this diminutive coupe would make an excellent long distance commuter. I am not kidding.
I took the CR-Z for a day of Christmas shopping with a friend and crammed the aforementioned cargo area to the brim with bags of gifts and a giant box containing her son’s new Big Wheel from Toys R’ Us. It swallowed it all with ease and during our short time out shopping we were stopped 3 times by passer-by to tell us how much they loved the way the CR-Z looked. So there goes the notion that Honda lost its styling mojo with the CR-Z.
I won’t lie to you and say that the CR-Z is fast but there is a pleasure to be had manipulating the six-speed manual transmission to get the most from the 1.5 liter 4-cylinder and IMA (integrated Motor Assist) hybrid motor’s combined 122 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque. There is enough get up and go for passing maneuvers with a double downshift and some patience even at 80 miles per hour. Not that I ever did that. That would be illegal and very naughty.
The 2011 Honda CR-Z is also very affordable and very well equipped. Prices start at $19,200 and my top of the line EX model with navigation topped out at a very reasonable $22,500. My car had automatic climate control, a 350-watt 7-speaker audio system with subwoofer, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, keyless -entry, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and an interior that feels much more expensive than the MSRP implies.
So if you are looking for an affordable, efficient, fun to drive, comfortable, spacious and stylish commuter that you can also take for fun weekend drives on your favorite back road then the CR-Z might just be for you. Sure, the wheelbase is short so you do feel speed bumps but that is the price you pay for being small, maneuverable and sporty.
Although rumors of possible turbocharged and Type-R variants have not been confirmed by Honda at this time you can also wait to see if more powerful models are released later if you desire a bit more accelerative thrust. Really, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more power and I am here to tell you that the CR-Z could definitely handle it.
Before I spent a week with this 2011 Honda CR-Z I was torn with doubts stemming from all of the myriad comments I had read about this hybrid sport coupe. You may think that a hybrid sport coupe is an oxymoron but this is a sporty driving two door with electric batteries so it qualifies. It’s no drag strip racer but I promise that you can have fun driving it.
The 2011 CR-Z might not be the high performance icon you were wishing for but that doesn’t mean it isn’t yet another brilliantly engineered Honda that fulfilled its design brief. Sometimes when we romanticize the past it doesn’t allow us to appreciate the good things we have today. Today we have the 2011 Honda CR-Z and let me tell you that it is, in fact, a very good thing.
And to all of the conspiracy theorists on the internet, Honda did NOT pay me to say that.
Vehicle Tested: 2011 Honda CR-Z EX with Navigation
Base Price: $19,200
Price as Tested: $22,560
Engine: 1.5 liter 4-cylinder/electric motor
Power: 122 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-60: 9.7 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy: 31 city/37 highway
Fuel Economy During Test: 34 miles per gallon
Gas Tank Size: 10.6 gallons
Runs on: Regular Unleaded
Cargo Space: 25.1 cubic feet
Crash Test Ratings (NHTSA): Frontal Impact—(Driver: 3 stars, Passenger: 2 stars)
Side Barrier Impact—(3 stars both sides)
Side Pole Impact Test—(5 stars)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 mile bumper to bumper
5 years/60,000 mile powertrain
Vehicle Provided by: Honda Motor Corporation