Introduced in late 2010, Honda’s CR-Z hybrid bore more than a passing resemblance to one of the company’s most beloved models: the CRX. This was no coincidence. The pint-sized, Civic-derived CRX hatchback was a favourite with tuners and enthusiasts, and many lament its passing, in the early 1990s.
But the CR-Z was a different animal. Although clearly a gas-sipper and aimed at drivers who value fuel economy over just about everything else, it was also aimed at enthusiasts and tree-huggers alike. According to Honda, drivers aged 35 or under and sports car buffs were the primary target, with hybrid customers coming second.
Power was supplied by a 1.5 litre four cylinder gas engine supplemented by Honda’s Integrated Motor assist (IMA) electric motor to produce a total of 122 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque. The IMA unit was and is used elsewhere in Honda’s line-up, including the Insight hybrid, and the internal combustion engine was very similar to that found in the Fit sub-compact. Together, they worked seamlessly and gave the CR-Z lively but not exceptional performance. Torque was a little hard to find at low rpms, and if you really wanted to get the CR-Z moving, you had to really give it some welly.
This gas engine also featured Honda’s i-VTEC variable valve technology; shutting down one valve per cylinder during low rpms. Along with an air conditioning reduction feature and the electric motor, this helped the CR-Z achieve its low fuel economy – and emission – levels.
Transmission choices were either a CVT automatic, or six-speed manual. This latter gearbox was the first one of its kind to be fitted to a hybrid vehicle, and it featured a hill-start assist feature. Besides being $800 cheaper than its automatic stablemate, the manual gearbox version delivered 6.5 litre per 100 km in town, and a thrifty 5.3 on the highway. Although among the highest numbers in the industry, they weren’t quite as low as the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius.
Like most of Honda’s hybrid models, you could choose from three different driving modes: Sport, Normal, or Economy. The performance difference between Economy and Sport modes was dramatic. Still, the CR-Z was one the least thrifty compact hybrids on the market, behind the Prius, Insight, and Ford Fusion when it comes to combined fuel economy.
Standard equipment included things like a climate control system, hands-free Bluetooth capability, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, and 360-watt stereo system. Although there might be room for an illicit passenger or two in the back, this was officially a two-seater…..just like the CRX.
One safety recall to report from Transport Canada and the US National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, and it’s a beauty. Apparently, under heavy load – winter driving, for example – the Engine Control Unit (ECU) in manual transmission models can act up and cause the electric motor to “rotate” the internal combustion engine in the opposite direction, causing “the vehicle to move in the reverse direction of that expected”. Whoops. Honda dealers will install new software to prevent this.
Nine customer complaints are registered with NHTSA. They include alleged brake failure resulting in a rear-ender, problems with the rear hatchback not functioning in extremely cold weather, inadequate headlights, and unusual “clunking” and “sputtering” noises, followed by an engine stall.
Aside from some minor issues with squeaks and rattles, it’s all sweetness and light at Consumer Reports. The CR-Z gets top marks in virtually every single category, garnering a “much better than average” new car prediction. Says C.R.: “we expect reliability of new models will be 57 per cent above average”. Some comments from owners: “I’m just finishing a three year lease and I’ve averaged 43 mph (6.6 L/100 km) in Economy mode”, “I could write a book about how much I enjoy the driving experience”, and “road noise could be better”.
Marketing researcher, J.D. Power, gives the CR-Z a “better than most” grade for predicted reliability, overall quality, and overall performance and design, noting that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it the highest-possible "Good" ratings in all of its crash tests.
From a base price of about $23,500 in 2011, the CR-Z has held steady. Manual transmission versions are going from the mid to high ‘teens, while the autobox model is about $1000 more.
2011 Honda CR-Z
Original Base Price: $23,490; Black Book: $18,850 – $19,775; Red Book: $14,975
Engine: 1.5 litre four cylinder w. 10-kilowatt DC electric motor
Horsepower/Torque: 122 hp & 128 ft. lb
Transmission: Six-speed manual & CVT automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 6.5 city/5.3 hwy. Regular gas.
Alternatives: Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, Toyota Yaris, Chev Aveo, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Mini Cooper, Toyota Scion IQ, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, Mazda2.