2011 Honda CR-Z EX Review - 3 VIDEOS
TOTAL KNOWLEDGE: Honda Buyers Guide
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2011 Honda CR-Z EX
Honda's new CR-Z embodies an interesting concept, a sport hybrid. It's the first such to appear, and won't be the last. But does the concept work?
While "sport" today implies power, the chassis dynamics to get that power to the ground and the vehicle down the road, quickly and with a good driving experience, are at least as important. Historically "sports cars" have not always been exceedingly powerful -- the MG TC that started American fascination with sports cars produced all of 54 horsepower from a 1.25-liter engine, for a top speed of less than 80 mph and a 0-60 time around 20 seconds. While it and many of the British and European sports cars that followed it from the late 1940s through the late 1960s were none too quick in acceleration or top speed compared to American sedans of the day, they were considerably better in their roadholding abilities, and much more pleasurable to drive.
There is no reason that a sports car could not be a hybrid. But hybrids so far have been made with fuel efficiency and ultra-low emissions the design targets, with the driving experience a distinct afterthought.
Enter the CR-Z. Think of it as a descendent of both the now-legendary CRX coupe of the 1980s and early `90s and the original Insight of 2000. It's not "the new CR-X", it's the CR-Z. Yes, it looks like what a 2011 CRX would look like, and its suspension is tuned well for sporty ride and handling characteristics, but it's a very different car than the CRX, or the first Insight. It's the sportiest hybrid yet, but its focus is broader than merely sport.
The CRX was a minimalist sports coupe for an automotive enthusiast on a budget. It got great results by virtue of light weight, between 1900 and 2200 pounds depending on year. Engines only made 91 to 108 horsepower, again increasing over the years, but that was enough -- and allowed a CRX to go far on little fuel. The CRX was a slick if chunky little coupe that introduced the window in the rear panel to Honda styling, and it had far more useable space than any other sports or sporty car for its size. No surprise that it's a cult car today.
The 2000 Insight was the first hybrid to go on sale in the U.S., and it achieved its efficiency in much the same way as did the Insight -- light weight. The first-generation "Integrated Motor Assist™" (IMA™)drive system was much simpler than Toyota's hybrid system, relying on a 67-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine assisted by an electric motor with an additional 25 lb-ft of torque when needed. Think "electric turbocharger". With a five-speed manual transmission and air conditioning (an option), curb weight was under 1900 lbs. Its fastback coupe styling and rear-panel window were more than a little reminiscent of the CRX
The CR-Z, in top-line EX trim with navigation system like this week's test car, weighs 2700 pounds. Although its shape is familiar, the CR-Z is physically larger than either of its ancestors in every dimension. That means more room and more comfort, and a much larger potential market. Crashworthiness requirements not in existence in the days of the CRX also contribute to the weight gain -- airbags and structural reinforcements are not weightless. If you're pining for a new CRX, you're not the target market. To quote directly from the first line of the CR-Z press kit, "Developed as a stylish, driver-focused vehicle with an emphasis on efficient "green" performance, the all-new 2011 Honda CR-Z introduces a sleek two-passenger coupe design with quick, sporty handling to the gasoline-electric hybrid segment."
After an interesting week with the CR-Z, I can say that Honda has absolutely met that goal. Even with the CVT that's expected to make three-quarters of sales, it's more engaging than any current hybrid, and actually fun to drive. And not just in the manner of a four-wheeled video game. Suspension tuning is firm enough for fun in the corners, but supple enough for comfort. The three-mode drive system control allows the driver to switch between performance- and economy-oriented throttle and IMA control settings. Acceleration is adequate, and certainly far better than nearly any 50s or 60s affordable sports car. The 2011 Honda CR-Z is an interesting step in a new direction, and yes, it is a "sports car" by today's standards.
Click PLAY to watch the CR-Z launch video
APPEARANCE: Drop an S2000 drivetrain in this body, and Honda could have a lovely pocket supercar. That isn't the CR-Z's mission in life, but it still has the look of performance. Honda calls the design a "one-motion wedge", and it was developed for aerodynamic efficiency (contributing to both fuel efficiency and performance) as much as for looks. There is an undeniable family resemblance to the old CRX and both generations of Insight, mostly for that reason. Attention to detail is evident in underbody and engine compartment air management.
COMFORT: What a deal! Your own private spaceship for under $24,000. Well, the instrument panel will make you think that, anyway. The bright, three-dimensional gauges and carefully-placed controls look suitably futuristic -- and work well, displaying all necessary information and then some in a simple, non-distracting manner. The silver mesh cloth on the supportive sports seats and door trim will match your space suit, too… Cohesive shapes and multiple materials keep the interior visually interesting, and, in keeping with its CRX ancestor, there is far more useful storage and stowage space than you might believe looking at the outside. A foldable partition between the passenger and luggage compartments is the equivalent of a seatback, with two convenient open storage boxes where seats might go. With the back folded, the compartments are still useable. Under the load floor lurks a space-saver spare (no fix-a-flat kit, yay!) with the IMA battery pack under that. Visibility is excellent, except to the rear quarters, where it's definitely classic sports coupe. Back up carefully and use your eyes and mirrors!
SAFETY: The CR-Z's structure incorporates Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ technology to improve passenger protection and vehicle compatibility in frontal collisions. It's also built to decrease pedestrian injury in case of contact. There is also a full complement of airbags, plus active head restraints. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and Electronic Stability Control are also standard.
Click PLAY to watch the CR-Z being crash tested
RIDE AND HANDLING: The CR-Z is based, loosely, on the same platform as the current Insight and Fit. Which means a transverse front-engine/motor, front-wheel drive drivetrain and unibody construction with independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam axle at the rear. The upper unibody structure differs, obviously, and has been reinforced with high-strength steel to improve rigidity and decrease weight. Wheelbase is shorter than either platform mate's, with a wider track. Aluminum front control arms reduce unsprung weight. The suspension is tuned moderately firmly, for responsive handling and an entertaining driving experience. Electrically-assisted steering means that assist can be changed with drive modes. Despite its small size and modest price, soundproofing is good, so the CR-Z's interior is pleasantly quiet even on long highway drones.
PERFORMANCE: "Performance" in a hybrid context means high fuel economy as well as acceleration, speed, and road manners. Here is where the compromises live. Maximum combined horsepower of the the 1.5-liter single overhead cam i-VTEC gasoline engine and brushless DC electric motor is 122 at 6000 rpm and torque at 128 lb-ft from 1000 to 2000 rpm (with the CVT). It's a compact and simple unit, as the 61mm-thick motor mounts between the engine and transmission, with a nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery back of 84 D-sized cells mounted under the spare tire. That give better acceleration than most hybrids, with a 0-60 time around 9.3 seconds in Sport mode. Too much of that, and fuel economy suffers. Such are the laws of physics… With EPA ratings of 35 mpg city and 39 highway, with 36 during my week, the CR-Z is better than nearly all non-hybrid cars but not up to the usual small hybrid mileage. Performance or economy, there is the tradeoff.
The CR-Z's most interesting feature is the three-mode drive system. Sport mode increases throttle responsiveness and steering effort required, and remaps electric motor assist (more, quicker) and CVT ratio (lower) programming. The inner ring of the tach glows red. Normal mode is the default, with more linear throttle response and higher than Sport CVT ratios. The inner tach ring glows blue, going to green as efficiency increases. Econ mode decreases throttle response to inputs, maintains lower engine rpm for decreased fuel use, limits power and torque, and uses higher CVT ratios. The tech ring also changes from blue to green, depending on efficiency. As in the Insight, the Eco Assist™ system offers further fuel-economy feedback to the driver. B.F. Skinner would be proud… I found Sport mode a necessity during highway merges or backroad fun (and please do note that I said "backroad fun" in a test of a hybrid), switching to Normal or even Econ once at cruising speed. Hey, acceleration is fun, or necessary, but there's no need to use more fuel than you need to. I even got two out of three Eco Assist leaves. As with other hybrids, regenerative braking improved brake performance in addition to charging the battery pack, and engine stopping at lights and other car stops improves fuel use.
MY CONCLUSIONS: Honda takes another step into the future with its CR-Z hybrid sports coupe.
2011 Honda CR-Z EX with Navigation
Base Price $ 23,310 Price As Tested $ 23,960 Engine Type aluminum alloy SOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC® variable cam timing, lift, and phasing Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in. Horsepower 122 @ 6000 rpm (combined) Torque (lb-ft) 123 @ 1000-2000 rpm (CVT) (combined) Electric motor DC brushless Horsepower 13 @ 1500 Torque (lb-ft) 58 @ 1000 Battery pack 100.8 V 5.75Ah Nickel Metal Hydride Transmission CVT (6-speed manual standard) Wheelbase / Length 95.9 in. / 160.6 in. Curb Weight 2707 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22.2 Fuel Capacity 10.6 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P195/55R16 86V m+s Dunlop SP Sport 7000 A/S Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, plus regenerative magnetic braking Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 35 / 39 / 36 0 to 60 mph 9.3 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination and handling $ 750
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