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Honda CR-Z: Hybrid Fun?

You’ve probably heard of the CR-Z, since the only way there could be more advertising is by dropping leaflets from low-flying bombers. The reason for all this excitement can be seen in any one of these ads, two little words which don’t belong side by side:

<em>Sport &amp; Hybrid</em>.

Until now, hybrid cars have been the transportation for anyone more concerned with their gas mileage than driving fun. For me, removing enjoyment from the equation sounds about as good as sugar-free chocolate. But, Honda did fun efficiency before with their CR-X three door in the 1980s, so there’s hope.

<a href="" target="_blank"><img style="margin: 2px 4px;" title="CRZ-Dash" src="" alt="" width="100" height="100" align="left" /></a>The interior keeps your hopes alive with a driver centric gauge cluster anchored by a large tachometer front and center. Yet, most promising is the six-speed manual gearbox and a clutch pedal. This is the only hybrid available with a manual transmission and I have to wonder how many current hybrid owners even know how to drive a manual transmission. This gearbox alone requires more driving involvement than any green wheels you’ve come across. Then there are three drivers settings, Normal (the default) Eco, and Sport. Of course this could just be for show, so I decided to test this supposed sportiness by driving the CR-Z on a track.

I sat track-side with the Sport button firmly pressed and much more likely track cars flying past. With a deep breathe I dropped the hammer on the CR-Z and entered the fray. The 1.5 four cylinder is taken from the Honda Fit and it is a perfectly acceptable engine for a non-track bound economy car. Thankfully, in the CR-Z it benefits from a 58ft lb torque increase because of the constant torque electric motor. The result is an instant surge of power right above idle, making the CR-Z bolt from 0 with the surge of a good V6. In fact, the power curve is nearly the opposite of the typical Honda four cylinder. Instead of revving your way to stratospheric RPMs to find some power, the CR-Z offers it right away and runs out of breath as you approach redline. Thus, there’s plenty of power for any city commuting situation, but don’t expect to pass an 18-wheeler at 80mph.

Down the high-speed back straight I got passed by all manner of faster track machines, but when the corners got tight the little Hybrid held its own. There’s none of the wallow and float of typical hybrids (I’m looking at you, <a href="">Prius</a>), instead this car actually feels taut and light. Push the CR-Z hard in tight corners and the rear end will actually threaten to step out as if trying to do an impersonation of high powered RWD. The Honda breeding is felt here as the old CRX and some of the hot civics have teased this as well.

<a href="" target="_blank"><img style="margin: 2px 4px;" title="CRZ-IntWD" src="" alt="" width="100" height="100" align="left" /></a> Of course, the manual gearbox was the real reason I didn't feel completely out of place on hairpins and rumble strips. As I snatched each gear without fail it brought back memories of the amazing 6 speed in the Honda S2000. The CR-Z doesn’t have the perfect transmission of the sports car, but they definitely come from the same gene pool. And even though the CR-Z is available with a CVT automatic, the manual gets more horsepower and torque. Admittedly it’s only a few more of each, but CVTs are about as visceral as watching bowling on TV. Trust me, you want the manual.

I rolled off the track pleasantly surprised and believing Honda has actually brought some sport to this segment, but what about the Hybrid part? With the manual transmission, the CR-Z is good for 31mpg city and 37 on the highway. Those aren’t exactly ground breaking numbers, as most other hybrids will do better. The Prius is the king of gas sipping, but the Ford Fusion and Honda's own Insight &amp; Civic Hybrids also come in above the CR-Z. In fact, the all gasoline Mini Cooper posts almost the same numbers as this little Honda.

<a href="" target="_blank"><img style="margin: 2px 4px;" title="CRZ-EXT" src="" alt="" width="100" height="100" align="left" /></a> So who is the CR-Z for? It’s not enough of a sports car for the true two-seat rocket crowd, but it’s not enough of an MPG star to wow anyone with a green axe to grind. In fact, the Mini Cooper may be its best and only real competition.

What Honda has made is the week-day car for the weekend car junkie. The CR-Z is the answer for those who want an affordable and efficient commuter car while still believing driving is important. Sunday mornings may be for twisting up a canyon road in your favorite sports car, but Monday is about surviving stop and go. The CR-Z is efficient enough to survive the city, but won’t embarrass you if you blast up an off ramp at 70 or decide to take the back way home.

The CR-Z is a tiny car, shorter than the Honda Fit and down two seats, but it still offers a comfortable ride for two and lots of storage capability. Instead of back seats, Honda is only offering some plastic lined compartments in the US market. These fold flat for a sizable cargo floor bound to hold a big trip to the grocery store, or leave them upright for quick-grab items.

<a href="" target="_blank"><img style="margin: 2px 8px;" title="CRZ-Rear" src="" alt="" width="100" height="100" /></a><a href="" target="_blank"><img style="margin: 2px 8px;" title="CRZ-Cargo-Up" src="" alt="" width="100" height="100" /></a><a href="" target="_blank"><img style="margin: 2px 8px;" title="CRZ-Cargo-Down" src="" alt="" width="100" height="100" /></a>

If you’re considering a hybrid for your day-to-day commuting and errands, the CR-Z is worth a test drive. No other hybrid offers as much driver involvement. The CR-Z is available now with a starting price around twenty-thousand dollars. Load one up with everything you can imagine and still roll away from the dealer for about twenty-five. While it isn’t the best sports car or perfectly efficient hybrid, it offers a real sampling of both. Think of it as far better than sugar free chocolate but not quite the really rich stuff either. The CR-Z is semi-sweet. And for some, that will be just perfect.

<p style="text-align: right;">- Todd</p>

Have you driven the CR-Z? Agree or disagree? Tell us in the comments below!

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