With a focus on sporty driving dynamics, the CR-Z poses no threat to the current crop of small hybrids. The Toyota Prius c has made a name for itself as an ultra-efficient, if goofy looking car, which is friendly to the environment and your wallet. The CR-Z on the other hand, with its mild-hybrid setup and edgy styling, is far more appealing to those who want to feel their car electrify the road. But even with mild updates to the 2013 model, it struggles to deliver.
|1. A 1.5L 4-cylinder engine and Honda’s IMA mild hybrid system combine to make 130 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque, though CVT equipped models make only 127 lb-ft.
2. Fuel economy improves slightly for 2013 with 36 mpg city and 39 mpg highway for the CVT and 31/38 for the manual.
3. New for 2013 is an S+ button on the steering wheel, which provides all available power to the wheels at the next acceleration attempt.
4. The only hybrid available with a manual transmission, CVT equipped models get steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
5. Pricing starts at $20,765 after destination and handling.
The first issue is with the CR-Z’s power plant. Honda’s integrated motor assist (IMA) system achieves 42 mpg combined in the thrifty $19,000 Honda Insight. In the CR-Z, however, it manages just 37 mpg, and that’s when equipped with the fuel-saving, yet soul-sucking CVT transmission. The trade-off for a six-speed stick is three miles per gallon with an average 34 mpg combined. Our testing with the “gearless” tranny proves it’s possible to get close to the EPA’s estimates, at 35 mpg.
The hybrid system, comprised of a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder mated to an electric motor and new lithium-ion battery pack, makes 130 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers are, to be frank, embarrassing. With a 0-60 mph of about 9 seconds it trumps the Prius c in a drag race, but is that really worth bragging about?
If there is a bright side to driving the CR-Z, it’s that its low limits are fun to explore.
The CR-Z features three-distinct drive modes: Sport, Eco and Normal. Normal is the default mode, offering a balanced throttle feel between the Eco and Sport modes. Sport gives up the electric assist far more easily, allowing all 130 ponies to be at the driver’s mercy when necessary. This mode also reduces the assist given by the electric power steering, providing a more natural feel.
Eco mode is far more conservative, reducing engine output by four percent. Behind the wheel it feels like the car gains 300 lbs at the press of a button. The throttle response is lethargic and the CR-Z requires some coercing to get moving.
Fortunately, there’s a new button on the steering wheel for 2013. Pressing the S+ button on the wheel warns the car to hold nothing back at the next stomp of the accelerator pedal. In CVT equipped models, it also ramps the car up to the redline, and provides a steady source of acceleration for five seconds – indicated by a flashing gauge on the dash. It’s a little gimmicky, and the improvement in power deliver is barely noticeable if you’re already in sport mode.
If you care about driving at all, forget the CVT and opt for the six-speed manual – an absolute rarity amongst hybrids. Better yet, it’s a Honda transmission, so you know it will be brilliant to manipulate.
The CR-Z also deserves respect for its handling. Its suspension is communicative without being too uncomfortable, and helps the CR-Z handle corners with ease. The car’s front-heavy weight distribution means that when pushing the car past its limit, it tends to understeer, but before that, the car is an absolute pleasure to drive quickly. Body roll is minimal and the CR-Z feels stable in the corners.
Exterior styling is revised for the CR-Z, but with so few on the road you’re not likely to notice without having an older one to reference. If you do have a 2013 CR-Z side-by-side with a 2012 model, you’ll notice small changes to the pattern in the grille, a slight front-fascia modification and a new rear-bumper design. There are also new wheel designs and a blue tint to the headlights.
The interior sees similar slight changes, though no modernization was required. The pseudo-3D speedometer and multi-color information displays look like they’re right out of Star Trek, while the HVAC controls are on a separate pod, from the rest of the center-console. The seats are well bolstered while the design of the gauges and center console is excellent. Overall, the feeling is like driving a futuristic space-craft.
During our week of testing, the CR-Z was right at home in the city, its small size and energetic powerplant helping it get in and out of traffic with ease, while parking is a breeze. Even base models get a rear-view camera to help out when it comes to backing-up.
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Practicality, however, is not the CR-Z’s strong suit. It features no rear-seats, but a plastic cargo shelf behind the front passengers. The rear hatch is nice, but the floor is a little high, due to the batteries hidden underneath, ultimately impacting cargo space. A total of 25 cu-ft seems decent, until you remember it’s a two-seater.
Starting at $20,765 after destination and handling, you can get the $22,445 EX model which adds leather wrapped steering and shift knobs, updated HID headlights with LED daytime lights and auto-on/off functionality in addition to fog lights. For those looking for more tech, the HondaLink infotainment system and navigation costs an extra $1,500.
SEE ALSO: Toyota Prius c Review – Video
Looking at similar vehicles, more power and practicality is available for those who want it, and at a better price-point. The Veloster Turbo makes 201 hp and is just $2,130 more, and features more luxury, tech and practicality despite its three-door design. Then there’s the incredible Prius c, which is cheaper and vastly better on gas – though dreadfully slow. Even the non-turbo Veloster makes more power at 138 hp and is available with all the luxury trimmings, including a high-tech infotainment system.
Despite its failings the CR-Z delivers a positive impression at first. It’s fun to drive, and easy to like; that is, if you forget about power, practicality and price.