The Honda CR-Z is a small two-seat runabout with a hybrid gas-electric engine that delivers an EPA-estimated 37 mpg Combined when ordered with the optional CVT.
The CR-Z is nothing if not an ambitious car. It sets out to prove that small hybrids can be sporty, fun, and maybe even a little sexy. Where’s the evidence? The CR-Z certainly looks like it’s prepared for takeoff and offers an honest-to-goodness manual transmission, something you can’t get on any other hybrid. The short wheelbase provides built-in agility, and the snug interior has room for just two people. Everyone knows two-seaters are a hoot, right?
We’re not convinced, or even reluctantly persuaded, that the CR-Z has clinched its mission. Certainly it demonstrates that a hybrid doesn’t have to be a one-note player that exists for efficiency’s sake, but it breaks no ground when it comes to performance per gallon.
So what we have here is an aggressively styled hatchback with proven hybrid technology and a healthy shot of personality. It’s not designed to win over the masses of course, although it could afford to move a little in that direction. The CR-Z is a companion for folks who take their individualism seriously.
Powering all models is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor that together produce 130 horsepower. A 6-speed manual transmission with hill-start assist is standard, making the CR-Z the only hybrid on the market that you can shift yourself. All models offer three driving modes: Normal, Econ, and Sport.
The CR-Z has been with us since 2010, but looks the part of a new car thanks to exterior freshening for the 2016 CR-Z lineup. Up front are revised air intakes and a more angular grille. The side trim and wheels are also new. Inside is a larger infotainment touchscreen, and blind spot monitoring is available for the first time.
With its unique layout and hybrid power, the CR-Z has few direct competitors. For buyers most interested in efficiency, the Toyota Prius C could be a compelling alternative. If handling is a chief concern, we recommend looking at the gas-powered Ford Fiesta ST. The charming MINI Cooper offers equally expressive styling.
Honda CR-Z LX ($20,295) comes with cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, rearview camera, and a six-speaker sound system. CR-Z EX ($22,140) adds LaneWatch blind spot monitoring system with visual display, along with a more powerful sound system and upgraded exterior lighting and interior trim.
The line-topping EX-L Navi ($24,440) adds heated leather seats, HD radio, and a full-feature navigation system. (All prices are MSRP before destination charge.)
The optional ($650) continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) comes with paddle shifters and increases efficiency a bit.
Even without the badges, you could probably guess where the CR-Z comes from. The aggressive wedge shape and nearly vertical rear drop tell us this is a Honda with eco-sport aspirations. We’ve seen this design theme on the brand’s past two-seaters, the Insight hybrid and CRX. The look is undeniably distinctive and aerodynamic, if not everyone’s idea of beautiful.
The hood and doors are long for a car of this size, which makes the CR-Z seem more substantial than it really is. While most economical two-seaters have a toy-like appearance, the Honda looks a car for grown-ups, albeit ones just out of college.
You won’t find a back seat in the CR-Z, but at least there’s a handy parcel shelf with individual bins. With the various dividers folded down, you’re looking at 25 cubic feet of flat load space. That’s far less than you would get in a conventional hatchback (such as Honda’s own Fit), and yet quite good when compared to other two-passenger cars. And you can haul a set of golf clubs if need be.
Cargo space would be better if not for the battery back located under the load floor. As it is, lift-over height is inconveniently high, and the narrow hatch opening doesn’t help matters.
The seats offers plenty of support, but the limited range of adjustments could make it hard for taller drivers to get comfortable, or simply fit inside without bashing their knees. We expected greater seat travel since there’s no backseat.
The CR-V retains Honda’s old-spec two-tier dashboard, which has been phased out elsewhere in the lineup. Controls are bright and easy to read, and the new touchscreen looks and operates like it belongs in a more expensive car.
Perhaps the most original feature is the CR-Z’s instrument panel lighting. Gauges are lit blue during typical operation, and automatically switch to green when driving becomes more efficient. It’s a novel way to learn how to drive more efficiently. The gauges are continuously red when driving in Sport mode.
Compared to other entry-level hybrids, the CR-Z is downright quick, but that’s not saying much: Zero to 60 mph takes 8.8 seconds with the manual transmission, or 9.2 with the second CVT, which is slow to lethargic by modern car standards.
The CR-Z is EPA rated at 36/39 mpg City/Highway, or 37 mpg Combined with the CVT; and 31/38 mpg City/Highway, or 34 mpg Combined with the manual. That might sound impressive until you consider that the leader in this segment, the larger Prius C, is EPA rated at a whopping 50 mpg Combined. The CR-Z does have an efficiency edge over gas-powered sporty compacts, just keep in mind that those cars are considerably faster.
We found the Normal driving mode to be accurately named. It delivers a balance of efficiency and performance that’s appropriate for everyday driving. The Econ mode makes the CR-Z perilously slow. We don’t recommend pressing that button outside a school zone. The opposite is true of the Sport mode. It adjusts the throttle, transmission, and steering for enhanced performance that’s closer to what we expect from a spunky hatchback. While in Sport mode, you can hit the Sport Plus button on the steering wheel for a 5-second burst of juice from the battery pack, charge permitting.
The CR-Z’s small footprint means it’s easy to maneuver in bustling traffic and a cinch to park, even on city streets. Rear visibility is poor. The rearview camera helps when backing up. The Lane Watch system displays a view of the blind spot onto the rearview camera screen whenever the driver signals to change.
The CR-Z is fairly entertaining to drive on backroads, especially in Sport mode, but is not to be confused with a sporty hatch such as the Volkswagen GTI or a sports car like the Mazda Miata. This is, after all, an economy car with the styling of something much sportier.
The Honda CR-Z is stylish, fairly efficient and mildly interesting to drive.