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2011 Honda CR-Z EX NAVI, an AW Drivers Log

Fri, 01 Apr 2011

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: This 2011 Honda CR-Z is a nifty little scooter for commuting. Don't know that I'd want to drive one to Seattle, but for buzzing around town it's ideal.

The styling is a little crazy. Open the door and you'll see average-at-best materials, but it's well screwed together and the seats are decent, as is the driving position. Eco mode cuts power but there's enough for commuting. Normal is, uh, normal, and sport makes the throttle response quicker and the steering feels heavier. From what I've seen, the CVT is actually quicker than the manual.

The ride is good though a tiny bit stiff and it's imminently flingable. Overall, this Honda is a pretty fun to drive.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I had a good time in this sporty little hybrid. I wouldn't call it a true sports car, but it's a very athletic hybrid.

Punch up sport mode and play with the paddle shifters and this is a heck of a fun car to drive. I bombed across town on a sun-drenched afternoon, using the paddles to summon the revs at will and pick off slower-moving traffic with ease. The CVT is OK, but in manual mode, there are seven gears to choose from, and it makes a big difference. Drop down from seventh to fifth gear and build power for passing on the fly. It's also a riot to anticipate openings, downshift and then build a head of steam as you hammer the throttle. From 5,500 rpms up to redline, the powertrain returns ample power.

So, yes, I loved the paddles, and I liked the steering with its connected feel and sharp reflexes. Really, that could sum up this car's mantra. It's one of the more interactive hybrids I've driven. The chassis is rock solid, with almost no give for potholes. Combined with the short wheelbase and diminutive dimensions, the driver is really abused by the CR-Z in bad conditions and when encountering road imperfections.

The engine is adequate for all tasks, though it's loud and even a bit intrusive, as one would expect with a 1.5-liter four-banger. The start/stop works precisely and in a nonannoying manner. I switched on eco mode, and the car was not noticeably strangled, to its credit.

The interior is quite sharp, and having the tachometer and speedometer housed together in colorful fashion is an intelligent tool for enthusiasts. Some of the plastic appeared inexpensive, but this is a $24,000 car.

The hatch/fastback design looks athletic, but it kills visibility in the back. The crossbeam is almost exactly at headlight level, and it's perhaps the most obscured view of any car I've driven since the Mitsubishi Evo was fitted with a ridiculously large wing.

Overall, this is a hoot to drive--in nice weather. In bad conditions or over bad roads, prepare to be abused. Still, you have to give credit to Honda for trying something like this and making it so sporty.

MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: I want a nonhybrid--or even better, an Si version--of the CR-Z immediately! Not because I refuse to drive a hybrid or other such “green” machines. No, I just want to turn this car into a high-revving, screaming performance car at a real-world price. Basically, a Civic Si but with this body style. Certainly it's a nice reincarnation of the CRX that I remember fondly from my relatively early childhood.

I think you guys are being a little harsh about how, er, harsh the ride is. I like the way Honda setup this car, giving it nice handling and chassis control straight off the boat. I noted that its stiffness is evident at times, but hardly in a “oh no, this is too much” kind of way.

The powertrain is tame, especially in eco mode, and while I would prefer a conventional manual gearbox, at least Honda offers paddle shifters on this CVT transmission, which also mimics a seven-speed gearbox. On the other hand, I like the light (by modern standards) curb weight, small steering wheel and the ability to find an excellent driving position in the comfortable seats, even at six feet, two inches tall.

Ultimately, the fun nature of the CR-Z, combined with its sharp looks (in my opinion, anyway, though the rear-end architecture makes backward visibility less than ideal and a bit of an issue) and my recollections of the CRX put this car at the top of my list if I'm shopping in this class--and perhaps even if I'm not.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: The first glimpse of this car at the Tokyo motor show several years ago brought a smile to my face: Finally, Honda was bringing back the CRX. Well, no. Sort of. The chassis and suspension are pretty terrific in the CR-Z, and it looks like it should reach hyperspace in a nanosecond. Not with this powertrain. It overpromises and underdelivers, from a sports-car standpoint. Now, from a green-car point of view, it's OK. I'd certainly rather drive this than a Toyota Prius, though it doesn't have quite the same utility.

And the rear window bugged me the entire time I was driving. It is very Pontiac Aztek-ish in its look and function, and that is clearly not a good thing.

If Honda were to drop in an I-VTEC four-cylinder and a six-speed manual gearbox, you'd really have something special. But the way Honda has been headed the past couple of years, I certainly wouldn't hold my breath. Honda is more intent on being green than in serving its faithful sports-car fans, and, sadly, I don't see anything on the horizon changing that attitude in the near future.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: I'm with Morrison on this one: As much as a 35-mpg hybrid is easy on the wallet--and maybe there's a market for this kind of sporty hybrid (sure hope so)--I can only imagine how freakin' insane this little scooter would be with a nice 8,000-rpm VTEC four and a Honda-precise six-speed manual as the powertrain.

Everything else is near perfect--great suspension setup, strong brakes, mechanically direct steering, perfect driving position, cool looks. I just couldn't get enough excitement going with the CVT, even in sport mode flogging on the paddle shifters. It still gets to a whine and stays there, seemingly without producing more forward momentum. Contrary to Wes's experience, I didn't feel it had enough oomph to trust launching it into gap in traffic, for fear it wouldn't get up to 45 or 55 mph quickly enough.

If we can't get the VTEC four, at least drop the CVT in favor of a proper manual. I also hate the rear visibility. I lost a Ford Flex in the right blind spot, and an entire minivan in the left one. This car is a poster boy for mandatory blind-spot detection.

COPY EDITOR CYNTHIA L. OROSCO-WRIGHT: This is an odd-looking car, and seeing it in the garage earlier in the week, I noticed the rear window and how it's split in two, like that on the Toyota Prius. The back end reminded me of a Pontiac Aztek. I don't like either one of those things. Ditto on this CR-Z.

The car had sufficient power to get up to speed, but you have to floor it for quick passes or in congested on-ramp traffic. The seats could have used more bolster, and contorting to get into and out of the car was not fun. The hubby immediately clambered out as soon as he got in, noting how uncomfortable he was in the car. So he didn't ride in it. I also didn't like the jerkiness when the engine turned back on from a stop—it's not very smooth. Thankfully, the brakes were better than those in many hybrids I've driven.

But overall, this car is not my cup of tea.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Strange, but I actually liked this CR-Z a lot more the second time around than I did during my first drive last fall. As a longtime Honda enthusiast, I was chomping at the bit over the past few years waiting to get behind the wheel as Honda rolled out not one, but two different concept variants. As mentioned, the styling harks back to the much-loved CRX of the late 1980s and early '90s, which continue to be in demand by autocrossers and track rats alike. The combination of its lightweight, double-wishbone suspension and ease of swapping in a Honda B-series four-cylinder make those things a great deal of fun for not a lot of money.

So when I finally got into it last fall, I was a little letdown. It's difficult not to be with the low power output from this hybrid powertrain. Granted, during the last model year of the CRX in 1991, its 1.6-liter four-cylinder only put down 108 hp, but you have to remember that car only weighed in at 2,103 pounds, which is good for a 604-pound difference compared with this CR-Z that has 122 hp. However, I did like everything else about the car, including the sharp steering response, rather tight suspension and responsive brakes.

My suggestion back then was exactly what Mac asked for above: Honda should put the 2.0-liter, 197-hp four-cylinder in this from the Civic Si, and it needed to happen yesterday. And if the rumors have any truth to them, a more potent all-gasoline powertrain will find its way into the CR-Z in the next year or so. Let's just hope Honda isn't gun-shy and throws the 1.8-liter in there instead. That, my friends, would be tragic. Surely better, but still tragic if Honda didn't go all the way and install the 2.0-liter.

Anyway, I liked this car more the second time around. Maybe it was because my expectations were tempered and I had a better idea of what to expect. I didn't bother to play around in eco or normal mode, meaning this baby was in sport mode the entire time with the gauge glowing red. The CVT isn't that bad in here, and the simulated gears available via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles were quite good. Steering is extremely quick in response with a bit of weight, and the car's suspension keeps this little guy well composed rounding corners.

Is the ride harsh? It isn't to me but it's a little stiffer, which is what I expect from a “sport” hybrid.

I do have to applaud Honda for the brakes again. All automakers seem to have been figuring out the whole regenerative-braking thing now, which is a relief. Unlike the old on/off switches on many early hybrids, there is actually a good amount of modulation tuned into the pedal now in a lot of hybrids. The CR-Z's brake pedal action is among the best in my opinion when it comes to hybrids.

In addition to the styling of the exterior, I also found the interior attractive. The glowing gauges are slick, but most of all, the car is comfortable to drive. The seats offer lots of support (at least to me) and the steering wheel falls nicely into your hands with nicely shaped grips at the three- and nine-o'clock positions.

I've also said that this car occupies a niche within a niche being a hybrid and a two-seater sporty one at that. I'm sure many enthusiasts are turned off by the hybrid-only powertrain option at the moment. But if Honda does install that 2.0-liter I4 in this, it will open the CR-Z to slightly bigger and broader niche, which Honda has catered to in the past with products like the Integra Type R, the NSX and the S2000. I, for one, am waiting.

2011 Honda CR-Z EX NAVI

Base Price: $23,960

As-Tested Price: $23,960

Drivetrain: 1.5-liter I4; FWD, continuously variable transmission

Output: 122 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 123 lb-ft @ 1,000-2,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,707 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 37/33.0 mpg

Options: None

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