To describe the Honda CR-Z driving experience in a word would be to call this hybrid sport coupe seamless. From the body motions to the steering to the hybrid/gas motor power relationship to the now class leading stop start system, everything about the 2011 Honda CR-Z is utterly fluid and totally unnoticeable. And that is a good thing in a hybrid because once the technology is unnoticeable you really know that you have got it working right.
All the driver of the 2011 Honda CR-Z knows is that, despite its economy car origins and power figures that seem absurdly low, they are having a ball driving this fun little hatchback. And to top it all off no matter how hard you drive the thing you would be hard pressed to ever get fuel economy under 30 miles per gallon in the real world. It also starts under $20,000 including destination.
Do note one aspect of this review if you are shopping for a 2011 CR-Z. Since I was having such a great time driving the six-speed manual transmission version most of the time, I only had time to do a quick city street run in a CVT automatic equipped model. I will tell you that in automatic mode the CVT unit makes none of the odd “moo-ing” noises that plague so many CVT equipped cars. Am I the only one who hears this mysterious cow under the dashboards of CVT Nissans? Thankfully the CR-Z suffers from no such Nissan-like maladies.
While the CVT does blunt the fun, I do have to say that the paddle shifters did help with my Honda six-speed manual withdrawal symptoms. The reason for that is the fact that the CVT in manual mode actually sort of works like a real paddle shift manual transmission. Do keep in mind, however, that if you do buy the CVT you are probably going to want to keep 3-mode drive system in Sport to sharpen throttle response and IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) participation.
The CVT in manual mode lets you select between a predetermined set of seven ratios on the belt pulley and will usually hold the revs until absolute redline unlike some other “manual” paddle shift systems. It will shift itself up a gear, however, if the transmission thinks you are going to blow up the engine.
Essentially, I will lay it down for you. If you love the styling of the 2011 CR-Z or you just can’t handle a clutch pedal by all means buy the CVT. But if you love driving or think you can manipulate that third pedal (as long as you have two legs there is always hope), then get your CR-Z with the positively sublime six-speed manual transmission.
The manual transmission is so good that I am actually missing its snickety smooth shift action and oh-so smooth clutch take up as I am writing this. You see, I get to test new cars from other manufacturers and I am testing a manual transmission equipped vehicle that I was so sure I was going to love. But after driving the CR-Z this car’s transmission feels like I am rowing a stick attached to melted cables made from recycled Red Vines. It’s gooey and rubbery in other words.
The key to why I had so much fun driving the CR-Z is its road hugging yet perfectly balanced suspension tuning, perfect size for storming across narrow country roads, the terrifically natural feeling electric power steering and the fact that never once did I feel like I was driving a hybrid.
I usually think hybrids are slow, compromised and I would never buy a car I didn’t enjoy driving. But Honda has done what no automaker could do before it. It made me believe that I would personally buy a 2011 Honda CR-Z with my own money because I enjoy driving it. It is, in a word, fun.
Power for the 2011 Honda CR-Z comes from a 1.5 liter SOHC 16-valve i-VTEC 4 cylinder with IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) pumping out 30% more electric power than it does in the Insight hybrid. Six-speed manual equipped CR-Zs offer up a combined 122 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque all the while returning EPA figures 31 city/37 highway on regular unleaded. CVT equipped models are down a bit on torque with 122 horsepower/123 lb. feet of torque all the while returning 32 city/39 highway.
Do note that all EPA figures were done with the CR-Z in “normal” mode. There is also “sport” and “eco” modes which alter the throttle mapping, steering feel and IMA assistance to either give you more power or better fuel economy. There are conveniently located button marked “eco,” “normal” and “sport” to the right of the steering wheel attached to a futuristic looking control pod.
To be quite frank I felt that putting the CR-Z in “eco” mode made it drive like there was something wrong with it, so blunted were its responses. “Eco” mode really makes the CR-Z not feel like a true Honda because the steering most especially feels nearly detached from the front wheels.
And while I am against “eco” mode in the CR-Z basically on principal, “normal” mode is fine for commuting and regular city driving. When you operating the 2011 CR-Z in “eco” or “normal” mode the center mounted digital speedometer/tachometer usually glows green when you are driving “frugally” (read: not accelerating) and turns blue when you are being naughty (read: touching the accelerator).
Well, I guess I am a very naughty boy because I left the CR-Z in “sport” mode most of the time all the while enjoying the slightly evil red hue emanating from around the center gauges. Very cool. It’s almost as if the CR-Z secretly encourages you to occasionally partake in spirited driving by having the dial surrounds glow red only in “sport” mode.
While I think the 2011 CR-Z is perfectly calibrated and powered for weekend blasts up winding mountain roads we did take a couple of the test vehicles on a makeshift autocross course. Given the fact that it was my first time going around a race track of any kind I still managed to keep the CR-Z under control and never knocked over any of the cones. Even at ridiculous speeds the steering always kept up with the pace through curves and the suspension complied with my every demand. In other words, I want to do it again. Like, now.
I don’t know what it was about the driving experience in the 2011 Honda CR-Z but it felt truly magical to me. Perhaps it was partially the scenic Sonoma County scenery or the chance to drive it at the limit but I would buy one in a heartbeat with a manual transmission.
The 2011 Honda CR-Z has enough power, enough space for two people and their luggage, terrific handling, is the right size, gets great fuel economy and is a bargain too. What more do you want? Do you really need 400 horsepower to enjoy the few twisty roads by your house in suburbia anyway? That’s what the 2011 Honda CR-Z truly is—the world’s first realistic sports coupe.
(Note: If you want to see the Honda CR-Z in the flesh or want to see what Honda tuners have in store for this hybrid sports coupe be sure to check it out at this years SEMA show in Las Vegas.)