Reviews

2011 Honda CR-Z Walk Around

The CR-Z will go a long long way on its looks. The headline could be Honda achieves style breakthrough, instead of Honda builds hybrid sports car. The new CR-Z comes out of the box threatening to be popular, especially with California hot-rodders. Aftermarket pieces will perfect the styling, and make the CR-Z (especially in white) look like a European thoroughbred.

To get a perspective of the size, the CR-Z is 1 inch longer than a Honda Fit, 2 inches wider, and 5 inches lower at the roofline. In that larger space, it seats two, not five. It's more aerodynamic, while being 150 pounds heavier. The CR-Z has 122 total horsepower, Fit 117 hp. The Fit gets an EPA-estimated 28/35 mpg City/Highway with the five-speed automatic. The CR-Z with the automatic-like CVT is EPA rated at 35/39 mpg. We got 33.7 mpg in 520 miles of combined driving in a CR-Z with six-speed manual gearbox, matching its EPA Combined rating of 34 mpg (31/37 City/Highway). The CR-Z costs about $5,700 more. It's a cool-looking eye-catching sports car.

In person, our dark metallic blue-greenish test model did not do justice to the low-slung shoulders, nose, and hips of the CR-Z. Don't get that color, if you (and others) want to see the futuristic, aggressively aerodynamic lines of your car. Get that unique color if you want people to comment on the color. All the flattery below comes while looking at pictures of a red one.

That bold black grille in the nose looks hot, not unlike the Audi grille that inspired the trend, which the CR-Z runs with, flashing a big empty-toothed grin. Character, for sure; but then you see a CR-Z Photoshopped with a Fit mouth, and you're struck by the elegance, and possibilities. The CR-Z does shoulders best. And headlamps, cleanly sweeping back like the wings of a soaring hawk with crystal wings.

But it's the profile that carries the car away. It follows Accord design cues. Deep lines sweep back and up from the front wheels, creating a sculpted wedge on the side of the car. The bottom rises only slightly, like a shapely rocker; while the top line climbs under the windows. Whose outline makes another wedge, with a graceful curve. The small sharkfin antenna perched dead center on the roof is perfect.

Sheetmetal over the rear wheel rises to the near-horizontal hatchback that ends in a high chopped tail. Seen as part of the roofline, this bit of bodywork is like a C-pillar slanted sharply forward; in two-dimension, with some imagination, it makes the profile of a big-winged 1970 Plymouth Superbird. The rear fenders bulge as if bigger tires were under there, fattening the fleet stance somewhat, but it's still cool.

Interior

Our notes on the interior are voluminous, like a long wish list for the driver. In a sports car, one can't expect the moon in the way of comfort or storage; but the CR-Z is also a two-seat coupe, whose interior is not nearly as functional and convenient as it should be.

The instrument panel features a deeply sculpted design to create the sensation of depth and expansiveness. Honda's words. Not sure we got that sensation. The gauges are supposed to be in 3D. Not sure we got that either.

The Honda navigation system, for all its 7 million points of interest, was unclear, and we struggled with it. The 6.5-inch-wide screen had distracting visuals even on empty, for example a starry sky we couldn't shut off, maybe it came with the clock. Sometimes when you're driving at night you just want to turn off all your messages, including from your car. And when you turn on the car and want to see what time it is, to check if you're running late, you first have to press I AGREE. Who even asks to what any more?

But the electronic capabilities go on, linking your android phone to the MID, for example. Young geeks should love the CR-Z.

The cupholders are hard to reach, tucked ahead of the shift lever and squeezed under the dash so a 16-ounce cup is hard to fit.

The instrument cluster is dominated by the tachometer with digital speed readout in the center that sort of floats in 3D. It's surrounded by an illumination ring that changes color with your foot: lightfoot green, heavier foot blue, leadfoot in Sport mode red. The tachometer has blue lines at every 100 rpm, blue-line overkill. Your eyes feel besieged by the instruments.

There's a gauge that shows battery charge, and another showing the electric motor power flow, in from regenerative braking, or out to help the engine. Manual transmission models have arrows that suggest shift points for higher-mileage driving. There's a multi-information display, including ECO guide and ECO scoring, with leaves. It's similar to the Insight, and most people we talk to think it's goofy.

Trim components are a composite material with a metal film coating, a first-time process for Honda.

There's no center console, or armrest, as the parking brake lever hogs all the space between the seats. Lots of cars have both, some plus cupholders. The armrest in the left door is low and unpadded, which leaves you driving long distances with your elbows in the air: 4 hours one night, in our case. There's a small glovebox, and door pockets in the driver's door, but a grab handle gets in their way and chops them up. We had two checkbooks, and couldn't find a handy place for them. The glovebox has a vent that will cool a 16-oz. bottle of water, but try finding a place to put it.

Behind the seats, two benches with flip-down backs look like seats without padding. There's even legroom. There's a 2 + 2 model in Japan, but not in the U.S.

As is, the seat-like benches are good for storage, especially for laptops, which can be hidden when the non-seatbacks fold down. There are a spacious 25 cubic feet of cargo space, easily reachable through the hatchback.

Visibility out the rear window is as restricted as it gets. Prius has the same problem, because the aerodynamic slope makes the glass nearly horizontal. On the CR-Z, there's a structural bar in the glass that wipes out the view in the mirror; sometimes at night it totally blocks the headlights of the car behind you, and by day it obscures most of the following car. And, looking over your shoulder to pull onto a highway, it can be scary blind, because of the roofline.

Seeing forward is better, with strong HID headlamps on the EX. Beautiful design, excellent function; if the whole car were as good as the headlamps it would be brilliant.

The silver mesh fabric sport seats have a lot of work and thought in them. The bolstering is designed to fit all sizes using support wires like a one-size-fits-all bra or something. They fit us okay. They slide forward and back easily, and ratchet up and down two inches. The EX leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, and leather-wrapped aluminum shift knob are nice. There's good legroom for the driver including a dead pedal. There's a 120 watt power outlet, benefit of a hybrid.

If function and practicality are what you're looking for in a car, it's easy to criticize the CR-Z for not being a Honda Fit. But you can't criticize Honda for not making the CR-Z the Fit it could be. If a Fit is what you need, they have it for you. The CR-Z works fine for young geeks who don't mind reaching all over for things.

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