For a couple of decades now, automakers have been trying to come up with an alternative fuel method that is actually viable in the long run? Following failed ventures from nearly every manufacturer to streamline electric cars, hydrogen-powered cars, manufacturers settled for mass production of hybrids. Most enthusiasts frown upon hybrids for their continuously-variable transmissions, boring driving dynamics and long-term operational risks, and my opinion is generally no different. However, with the 2012 Honda CR-Z, I was pleasantly surprised.
With the introduction of the CR-Z a couple of years ago, Honda marketed it as a rebirth of the iconic CRX sports car of the 1980s. The CR-Z was and still is the only economical, 2-seat hybrid car available, and the only one available with a manual transmission. It’s supposed to be priced competitively at just over $22,000 for my base tester, and for that price it certainly delivers. The 6-speed manual CR-Z comes equipped with neat gizmos like iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, and unlike many other vehicles today, little compartments to actually put things. Adding the one available package gives you GPS voice-activated navigation, and ups the price by nearly $3000.
The driving experience of the CR-Z changes dramatically based on which mode you put it in. The available drive modes are Econ, Normal, and Sport. I personally refused to use the “Normal” setting because in my eyes it defeats the purpose of the car altogether. If I want to get incredible fuel economy (I observed just below 4.0L/100km city at one point), I’ll use the Econ mode. If I want to bring out the athletic side of the CR-Z, I’ll drive in Sport. In my opinion, this car should only have the two modes.
Powered by a few little hamsters in the motor coupled to a small electric engine, the CR-Z puts out 122-horsepower. It’s not quick by any means, but that’s not its purpose. It’s an insanely efficient little runabout that will get excellent mileage in the city and can hold its own through the corners as well. In Econ mode, there are upshift and downshift lights that come up on the instrument cluster to alert you as to what the most fuel-efficient shift points are. I used them quite a bit, and found myself not being able to get to the posted speed limit fast enough, leaving other drivers on the road frustrated with me (I could tell by their hand gestures). I have never before seen sixth gear below 70 km/h.
As a purist, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable struck and I pushed the Sport button. The entire instrument cluster went from glowing green for Econ to a bright red. The agitating shift lights went away and the entire car livened up. I was so used to driving in the tortoise-like Econ mode that in Sport, I felt like I was driving a completely different car. To this day I have never felt a car where the driving dynamics changed so drastically between drive modes. The steering felt sharper, the throttle response was a lot better, and the speed of the car (or lack thereof) was no longer a problem in keeping up to traffic. Unfortunately, the peppier response of the car led to drastically worse fuel economy. Driving around town in Sport mode led to an observed 6.9L/100km combined.
In my eyes, a hybrid car is completely pointless. Sure, you get phenomenal fuel economy and decreased pollution from the vehicle, but the long-run benefits and higher cost of ownership is undoubtedly there. However, in the case of the CR-Z, there’s definitely a target market. This specific niche is someone who’s either single and lives in the city, or a family man who commutes in from the suburbs. There may be only two seats, but there’s enough space to put a golf bag in the back.
My main gripe with the little Honda however is that they have the audacity to compare it with the CRX. The CRX was an enthusiast’s car, cheap, and could easily be modified with off-the-shelf parts. The CR-Z is an excellent car, but it’s just not the same thing. It isn’t even close to being similar. The only common factors between the two cars are two doors, a liftback, and a Honda badge on the hood. I personally feel that if the CR-Z was priced about $6,000 lower than it is, it’d be an excellent value. I don’t exactly see how it’s any more beneficial than, say, a Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris or Ford Fiesta. It looks cooler, but it’s no quicker and it’s barely any more efficient.