2011 Honda CR-Z Review

Side view of white 2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid
The 2011 Honda CR-Z .
Period photo of 1984-1987 Honda CR-X
Your father's CR-Z, the mid-1980s Honda CR-X.

The bottom picture is of the much-loved 1984-87 Honda CR-X. If you are between 45 and 65, you either had one back then or knew at least one (and probably more than one) person who did.

Will the new Honda CR-Z (top photo) have that same kind of impact a quarter-century later? Good question. A lot has changed in that time.

Surprisingly, the higher tech of the CR-Z doesn't mean higher mileage. The 1984 CR-X, with a 1.3 liter gasoline-powered four cylinder and a five-speed manual transmission, had an EPA estimate of 36 mpg city/45 highway. And as the owner of an '84 Civic Sedan at the time, I can tell you that's the closest to Gospel the EPA's come in a long time.

The CR-Z has a 1.5 liter four...combined with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist. Yep, it's a hybrid...and it is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission. Progress! Technology! As Thomas Dolby famously yelled when the CR-X was new, "Science!".

Except the EPA estimate for the CR-Z is 35 city/39 highway.

There are explanations for that. One is that regulations and consumer preferences have added so much weight to today's cars that it's not as easy to get great mileage as it was 27 years ago. The CR-X and the Civic it was based on were simple cars...manual everything, air and even a radio were dealer-installed options. And they were light...the CR-X weighed 1,819 pounds. The CR-Z EX with Navigation (the model we tested) tips the scales at 2,707 pounds. 

That's just short of NINE HUNDRED pounds more from 1984 to 2011. There's a Kirstie Alley analogy just begging to be drawn here, but neither her lawyers nor Honda's would probably find it amusing, so we'll just move on and consider the CR-Z on its own merits.

Front 3/4 view of white 2011 Honda CR-Z parked
The 2011 Honda CR-Z. Leaving tuners and customizers little to work with.

First of all, Honda markets the CR-Z as a "Sport Hybrid". It certainly scores on looks. In fact, the aftermarket has its work cut out for it to make the CR-Z look any more wicked than it already does.

It's available with a six-speed manual transmission rather than the CVT...and our advice is take it. Shift it yourself. It is, in fact, the first manual-transmission hybrid on the market. The CR-Z also has three driving modes, Sport, Normal and Eco. In the interests of maxmimizing mileage, we ran for a couple of days in Eco mode (ours had the CVT). It was, to put it charitably, slow. Normal was decent, considering the limitations, but still a big letdown from the fun factor the exterior promised.  Sport....now there's the ticket...but again, it would be better with the six-speed manual.

Interior shot of 2011 Honda CR-Z
2011 Honda CR-Z interior. These days, this passes for restraint at Honda.

The interior is the first Honda interior in a long time that didn't feel overwrought. I mean, there are gimmicks...it could be simpler...but it's more attractive than the current (or even the new 2012) Civic instrument panel.

Pricing's on target. The CR-Z with a six-speed is $19,345. With a CVT, it's $19,995...and you're adding weight. Move up to the EX with a six-speed and you'll pay $20,905 ($21,555 for the CVT), but the audio system goes from 160 watts to 360 (it's very good), you get fog lamps, HID headlamps, Bluetooth, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and textured aluminum pedals.

And then there's the one we drove: The EX Navi. $22,705 with a six-speed, $23,355 for the CVT. The only addition is a voice-recognition navigation system. Say it with me..."My phone can do that".

Our pick: The EX six-speed. It gets you the better audio system, headlamps, foglamps and Bluetooth for $20,905. Flip the switch to "Sport" and have a blast. No, you won't get anything like the EPA estimates of 35 city/39 highway. So what? That's not what anyone is going to buy this car for anyway. It's a nice engineering and PR exercise, but if you're really about saving the planet, the underrated Civic Hybrid is a ton more practical and gets 44 in the city and on the highway.

Boiled down to the basics, the CR-Z isn't a sporty hybrid, it's a sporty car that happens to be a hybrid...the spiritual successor to the CR-X that, because of weight and complexity, can only get acceptable mileage while driven agressively through the use of a hybrid system. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, if it hadn't been for the hybrid, Honda most likely wouldn't have built the car. Better living through technology.

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