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Discussion Starter #1

NEW YORK — Honda's about to take another swing at selling a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle as a sporty, performance car that just happens to have a hybrid drivetrain to save fuel.

That's similar to its pitch for the current Insight sedan hybrid, which has fallen well short of its goal to dent Toyota Prius sales.

The pitch also is like the one Honda made for the Accord V-6 hybrid a few years back. Yep, marketed that one right into extinction.

But Honda's sure the performance-first approach will work this time.

It better, because the CR-Z two-seat, sporty, hybrid coupe doesn't win any fuel-sipping prizes. You could do nearly as well in a Mini Cooper, get more passenger space and fit in smaller spots than the CR-Z. Mini costs more, though.

The CR-Z, on sale Aug. 24, resembles no other Honda. It's mechanically similar to the Insight, but it seemed more pleasant and refined.

CR-Z's mileage ratings are in the 30s, hardly outstanding for a hybrid. Honda says federal rules required the mileage to be tested in the car's "normal" mode. If you use the "econ" mode and drive delicately, you could top 50 mpg, they say.

We, however, much preferred the third choice, "sport," which made CR-Z a scooter. The sport setting typically kept the engine revving at least 500 rpm faster than normal or econ settings. Much livelier response at the expense of some mpg's.

We'd also be among the 25% or so of buyers opting for the six-speed manual, which gets less mileage than the CVT automatic. The stick-shift is a short-throw delight, the kind that encourages you to shift gears just for fun.

The manual also seemed a happier match for the hybrid drivetrain, masking the occasional, faint gas-engine shudders the CVT seemed to amplify.

"You can't have it all," says Norio Tomobe, 38-year Honda veteran and chief engineer of the CR-Z. It is, he says, "very, very difficult" to deliver both exciting performance and eye-popping fuel economy.

Honda sees the likely buyers as folks 25 to 35, with education beyond a bachelor's degree and household income of $40,000 to $60,000.

CR-Z loosely resembles the Honda CR-X sporty two-seater sold in the U.S. from the 1984 through 1991 model years, so the CR-Z could lure Baby Boomers who fondly remember the X. (It was so popular at first that you could buy one, drive it a few months and sell it for at least what you'd paid.)

The test cars were preproduction models but almost identical to what will be in showrooms Aug. 24. Honda's route included a few miles through Manhattan and winding, fast-moving parkways north of the city. We drove a manual and a CVT, and rode as a passenger in the CVT model, just to see.

Some impressions:

•Don't be afraid of the manual, even if you're a stick-shift virgin. It works so well with the way the hybrid system delivers low-speed power that it's easier to use than most manual boxes.

•Put your head on a swivel in traffic. CR-Z has considerable blind spots. Fat rear roof pillars and triangular rear side windows rob glance-ability.

The glass in the hatchback extends lower, so you can see straight back using the mirror, but even that view is partly blocked by a hefty horizontal rib.

•Be sure you're OK with a stiff ride. Small cars with short wheelbases are inherently bouncy. When they emphasize sportiness as much as Honda wants CR-Z to, you get stiff suspensions, too.

•Don't look for luxe. No lumbar-support adjustment for the seats. No sunroof. No heated cup holders or super-duper sound system. Don't expect configurable instrument panel lighting or the most modern version of Honda's navigation.​

Not a deprivation chamber, but in these days of full-featured small cars, CRZ isn't that kind.

Honda's hybrid system is simpler than the more common setups used by Toyota, Ford and others. Honda sandwiches a thin electric motor between the gas engine and the transmission.

You almost can think of it as providing on-demand help the way turbochargers do for gasoline engines.

Because there's that power reserve to tap, the gas engine can be smaller and less powerful, and thus use less fuel (theoretically).

But, as you can tell from a scan of fuel-economy ratings, the Honda system doesn't deliver the monster mileage the other types sometimes can.

If you don't care, if you accept Honda's pitch that CR-Z is a sporty, interesting small car — that happens to be a hybrid — a sub-40 mpg rating might seem inconsequential.

And the flashy design will make it obvious you aren't a "me-too" person.

2011 Honda CR-Z

•What? Small, two-seat, front-drive gas-electric hybrid, to be marketed as a sporty car that just happens to be a hybrid. Available with six-speed manual transmission or continuously variable automatic (CVT).

•When? Goes on sale in the U.S. Aug. 24.

•Where? Made at Suzuka, Japan.

•How? Modify the drivetrain, chassis from Insight sedan hybrid.

•How much? Roughly $20,000 to $25,000. Honda will announce exact prices closer to on-sale date.

•How powerful? 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine rated 113 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 107 pounds-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. Electric motor draws from 100.8-volt battery pack and is rated 13 hp and 58 lbs.-ft.

Gas and electric power peaks don't coincide, so you can't simply add the separate ratings. Honda says the maximum combined power from the hybrid system is 122 hp and 128 lbs.-ft. (manual transmission) or 123 lbs.-ft. (CVT) at 1,000 rpm.

•How big? Bigger outside, smaller inside than a Mini Cooper. CR-Z is 160.6 inches long, 68.5 in. wide, 54.9 in. tall on a 95.9-in. wheelbase. Weighs 2,637 to 2,797 lbs. Maximum cargo space, 25.1 cubic feet.

Turns around in 35.4 ft.

•How thirsty? Manual rated 31 miles per gallon in town, 37 on the highway, 34 in combined driving. CVT: 35/39/37.

Trip computers in test cars registered 35.8 to 38.1 mpg. Route was mostly freeway-speed rural parkway, with some city traffic.

Burns regular. Holds 10.6 gallons.

•Overall: Manual's fun, CVT's not. Unimpressive mpg by hybrid standards.​

 

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Discussion Starter #2
1st Drive


Let's get this out of the way right now: the 2011 Honda CR-Z is not a CRX redux. To compare the two – no matter how much Honda may want to – is to misunderstand the former and besmirch the latter.

No, the hybrid CR-Z is an entirely different beast. Despite its three-door shape and two-seat configuration, it has about as much in common with the O.G. hatch as a big-screen remake of your favorite childhood TV show. The basic components are there, but the whole concept has been throttled to within an inch of its life with high-tech gadgetry, odd casting decisions and a questionable demographic.

But to Honda's credit, its rhetorical comparisons to the CRX have died down considerably since the CR-Z debuted in concept form and then progressed into a production model. Honda may have recognized after a lukewarm introduction outside the U.S. that glomming onto nostalgia will only get you so far (see: Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro). And to make something special – a vehicle that transcends the emotional baggage of its predecessor – you've got to evolve the concept and avoid relying on rose-tinted sentimentality.

To an extent, that's exactly what Honda has created. It hasn't built another hot hatch – the lightweight, K20-powered three-door enthusiasts crave – and instead it has attempted to meld the technology of the moment into a greenified competitor to the Mini Cooper. Think of it as the rogue lovechild of the original and current Insight, with a few sporting genes spliced into its DNA. But can a hybrid hatch be an entertaining steer? We took to California's twisties and clipped a few cones to find out.

If you were completely smitten by the CR-Z concept from the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, the retail model may leave you a bit cold. Viewed side-by-side, the basic elements are there – high hatch, wedge shape, massive snout – but as with so many designs rotating on pedestals, everything's been watered down in the production process.

The deeply recessed grille and its center mounted "H" have been dispatched for a more pedestrian-friendly nose, while the blistered fenders, glass roof and aggressive haunches have all been relegated to the designer's trash bin. We won't call it neutered, nor will we result to the roller-skate cliche, but the CR-Z's 16-inch wheels (the only hoops available) and higher ride height have laid to waste the concept's edgy aggressiveness. And the first time a state-mandated front license plate is fitted, crouching Bugs Bunny references won't be far behind.



On the positive side, the blacked-out A- and B-pillars combined with the highly contoured windshield and greenhouse provide a pleasant wrap-around effect, while the high, split-glass hatch and triangular taillamps lend the CR-Z a more purposeful stance. The visibility afforded by the thinner A-pillars – something that's largely absent on modern vehicles – is a breath of fresh air, but on the flip side, the tall hatch and massive C-pillars make lane-changes a double- then triple-check affair.

Viewed as a whole (and if you hadn't seen the concept), it's a smart, youthful design with dozens of subtle stylistic elements that catch your eye over time. The only thing that's obviously missing is a visible exhaust outlet – something akin to the integrated exhaust tips on the Euro-market Civic would've been a nice touch.



The interior does a better job of tipping you off to the CR-Z's sporting pretenses, beginning with a pair of sufficiently bolstered seats and a small diameter steering wheel. All the controls are canted towards the driver, including the optional sat-nav, standard climate controls and drive mode selectors. The dash doesn't extend as far forward as we would have expected given the steeply raked windshield, nor does it completely encompass the occupants (note the odd cliff-face on the passenger side of the dash).

Mercifully, Honda has decided to ditch the Civic's two-tiered instrument panel for a center-mounted pseudo-3D tach with a technicolor digital speedo mounted in the middle. Battery and charge status, shift indicator, fuel level and real-time consumption flank the sides and look both futuristic and slightly half-baked. If you must, think of it as a low-rent version of the Ferrari 458 Italia's driver command center, complete with a user-customizable Multi-Information Display for standard trip readings, along with an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) flow indicator, "Eco Guide and Eco Scoring" and exterior temperature reading.




Fit and finish is on par with anything from Honda in the $20,000-25,000 segment, with soft-touch materials lining the major touch points and an interesting vacuum-formed metal coating the door handles (an industry first). The rear cargo area was obviously designed with kid seats in mind for the European and Japanese market, but in the U.S. we get a pair of recessed, carpeted plastic trays in their stead. The upright panel can be folded down to expand the standard 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space, although the only way to fold or snap it into place is to move the front seat forward and reach through the door opening. Thankfully, it's a single-handed affair.

With all the techno-tidbits available inside (along with standard USB audio and a 12V power source), oddly, our favorite interior feature came in the form of a configurable cargo cover. You can mount the vinyl overlay in three different ways to either completely obscure the cargo area or leave it open for luggage, golf bags or small bodies. But the third setup – humorously dubbed "Secret Mode" – creates a small parcel area at the very end of the hatch to hold smaller items (grocery bags, laptop and camera cases) so they won't shuffle around during spirited sprints. Speaking of which...


If you're not already aware, the CR-Z's roots are based on the new-for-2010 Insight hatch. You can groan now if you wish, but take solace in the fact that Honda has managed to shorten the wheelbase to 95.8 inches, widen the track to 59.6 inches in front and 59.1 inches in the rear, with a total length of 160.6 inches. MacPherson struts work in concert with 18-mm front and rear stabilizer bars, and the whole setup has been fitted to a suitably taut chassis. The bad news: We're stuck with a torsion-beam suspension in the rear. The worse news: the curb weight comes in between 2,637 and 2,707 pounds depending on the transmission and equipment levels. For reference, the four-passenger, five-door Insight tips the scales at 2,734 pounds, which isn't much difference at all.

As you'd expect, Honda's focus lies on the CR-Z's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system and its 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder pulled from the Fit. In the five-door runabout, the four-pot is good for 117 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque, but combined with the IMA system's Ni-Mh battery and brushless DC motor, Honda rates the CR-Z with the six-speed manual at 122 hp at 6,000 RPM and 128 lb-ft of torque from a deceivingly shallow 1,000 to 1,750 RPM. Honda says the electric motor is good for 13 hp and 58 lb-ft of twist on its own, so we're not entirely sure how the maths work out on that. We've left it to our engineering-savvy Mr. Abuelsamid to parse out the details, so let's get to the driving.


Judged by the stats alone, we started up the CR-Z with more than mild trepidation. In the Fit, the 1.5-liter isn't exactly an inspired engine and sadly, that hasn't changed in this application. The engine note is more hotel-grade Oreck than the manic, high-revving Hondas of yore, and as you move up through the rev-range, the wasps under the hood get angrier but fail to deliver a sting.

With the traction control switched off, the IMA delivers just enough torque to spin the tires when you launch around 3,000 RPM. Acceleration through the first two gears is on the high-side of acceptable as the four-pot strains towards its 6,500 RPM redline, but by the time you reach third, most of the steam has escaped the engine bay. Our best guesstimate on a 0-60 mph time is somewhere in the 10-second range. Hardly stirring, but not unexpected.

However, off-the-line performance isn't the CR-Z's forte. If Honda's "Hybrid Cafe Racer" line is to be believed, this hatch's true calling is in the canyons. And here, a faint light shines through.


In Normal and Eco mode, the CR-Z trundles along as you'd expect; a lazy commuter focused on efficiency. However, press the Sport button and the steering and throttle tighten. Inputs are more direct as you crank the quick ratio steering (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) and the shifter effortlessly slips through the gears. The six-speed manual tranny is slightly notchier than other Honda 'boxes, but it inspires you to row up and down the ratios to find the meat of the powerband. Lay into the throttle in third or fourth and there's more noise than motivation, but when the first corner appears, the brakes haul down the CR-Z at a decent clip. On the road, brake fade remained absent, but during a few hot laps around a makeshift autocross course, pedal feel got progressively mushier as we pushed harder and braked later, particularly when attempting to stop in a cordoned-off cone box.

Steering is typical Honda: direct, if slightly overboosted. Initial turn-in and mild mid-corner corrections were encouraging, as is the additional weight of the rear-mounted battery pack, allowing the CR-Z to rotate quicker than other short-wheelbase three-doors we've sampled. That additional pounds and 60:40 weight split inspired confidence through high-speed sweepers, but the downside is a fair amount of body roll through trickier, twistier bits and a penchant for understeer without a good flick of the wheel or a fair amount of trail-braking.


We only had a brief stint in a CVT-equipped model, and the seamlessness of the start-stop system in the manual version was replaced with a more abrupt shudder when switching back on from a stop – exactly as we've experienced on the Insight. As with most CVTs, the "elastic band" sensation is there, albeit slightly more refined, holding the revs at around 6,000 rpm when matting the throttle and allowing you to shift through seven faux ratios when the mood strikes you. As you'd expect, the manual is easily the more sporting setup, but Honda estimates somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of all CR-Z's will be equipped with the quasi-automatic. Which brings up the obvious question: Who's the CR-Z for?

If we were a cynical bunch, we'd assume it's yet another vehicle designed to improve overall CAFE ratings. And with fuel economy ratings of 36/39 mpg city/highway with the CVT and 31/37 on the manual model, it's certainly going to help. But that's too easy. If you believe Honda, it's estimating that the average buyer will be a style and eco-conscious consumer between 25 and 35, smitten by the small size and blue Hybrid badge on the boot. That we can almost buy, particularly given that Honda will be pricing the base model under $20,000 and the fully-kitted EX with Navi will slide in under $24,000 when it goes on sale August 24. But is it an enthusiast's vehicle? Hardly. With more power, bigger brakes and a more sophisticated suspension (we're sure Hasport is working on a engine mount kit as you read this), this could've been the CRX for the 21st century. Instead, it's a capable fuel miser that can muster some sport when summoned. Unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
PowerTrain


When the 2011 Honda CR-Z hits the streets this Fall, it will feature the latest iteration of the company's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) mild hybrid system. The basic concept of IMA hasn't changed since the original Insight debuted in 1999, but it has been refined to improve performance and efficiency while reducing overall cost.

There's a wide spectrum of hybrids in the market, ranging from low-end, belted-alternator-starter (BAS) mild hybrids to the full-blown power-split strong hybrids at the top. The latter category includes systems from Toyota, Ford and General Motors (two-mode), while Honda's IMA provides a healthy boost in overall efficiency compared to a conventional powertrain, but falls well short of the best power-splits. Read on to learn more about the IMA system and how it's implemented in the CR-Z.

Architecture

The basic architecture of IMA consists of a compact electric motor sandwiched between the internal combustion engine and transmission. A nickel metal hydride battery pack is used for storing the energy captured through regenerative braking. The final component is the power electronics module that incorporates the inverter, battery management system and motor control.

When the first generation Insight launched in 1999, it was only available with a manual gearbox until a continuously variable transmission (CVT) was added in 2001. The manual was discontinued around 2003 and all subsequent Insight and Civic hybrids were only available with the CVT. The short-lived Accord Hybrid used a conventional step-ratio five-speed automatic. The introduction of the CR-Z marks the return of a manual transmission, this time with six forward ratios, with a CVT as an option.

Motor

The motor is integrated into a 61 millimeter wide case that's bolted directly to the output face of the engine. From the beginning, IMA has used a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor which is both compact and efficient. The stator is fixed to the internal perimeter of the case while the rotor is bolted to the output face of the crankshaft. The clutch for the manual transmission or the input plate for the CVT are bolted to the output side of the rotor.


The electric current in the adjacent coils of the stator is flowing in opposite directions, creating reverse magnetic fields. The motor control causes the current direction (and thus the field) to switch back and forth, which causes the rotor to move in response. The switching rate controls the motor speed and as the rotor spins, it applies drive torque to the transmission providing an electrical boost.

Since the motor is hard-coupled to the engine, there is no mechanism to shut-off and de-couple the engine and drive on electric power alone the way strong hybrids like those from Toyota and Ford. Starting several years ago with the Civic Hybrid, Honda added the ability to shut off fuel flow and close the valves with the VTEC variable valve timing system when cruising at low speeds. This allows the car to motor along on just electricity. However, the hard-coupling means that the crankshaft is still turning and the pistons are pumping. The result is more drag than you would find in a strong hybrid. Because of the sportier nature of the CR-Z, the VTEC system has been used to increase power rather than boost efficiency, so it can't motor along on electrons alone.

At 13 horsepower and 58 pound-feet of torque, the motor (which is shared with the Insight) is adequate for providing a noticeable boost in performance, but not really sufficient to propel the CR-Z on its own for any significant time or distance. However, the beauty of an electric motor is that it typically produces maximum torque at zero speed and stays at that peak before dropping off, making it ideal for boosting off-the-line performance without sacrificing fuel consumption.


Engine

While Honda's inline-four cylinder engines are highly regarded for smooth and efficient operation, low-end torque has rarely been considered a strong suit. This is certainly true of the 1.5-liter unit in the CR-Z with its 113 hp and 107 lb-ft peak torque, especially since that peak occurs at a fairly lofty 4,800 rpm. At 1,000 rpm, the engine is producing barely 80 lb-ft. The addition of IMA has allowed powertrain engineers to fatten up the bottom end of the net torque curve so that it produces 128 lb-ft of torque between 1,000 and 1,750 rpm on the six-speed manual-equipped model. On the flip side, the CR-Z with the CVT is limited to 123 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of the transmission choice, total combined peak power of the engine and motor is 122 hp at 6,000 rpm.

In addition to providing a torque boost during acceleration, the IMA motor is also used to start the engine when you twist the ignition as well as re-starting it after an idle-stop. Generally, any time the car comes to a stop, the engine will shut-off to conserve fuel and cut emissions. However, if the battery state of charge is too low or the electrical demands are too high (when driving with the headlights on or with the air-conditioning turned up) the engine won't be shut off. On the manual transmission CR-Z, the engine is only halted if the car is stopped and the transmission is in neutral. When the clutch pedal is pressed or the brake released, the engine automatically re-starts.


Regenerative Braking

Like other hybrid systems, applying a drive torque to the rotor turns the motor into a generator. During deceleration, the motor is used to recharge the battery and slow the vehicle, negating the need for the brakes to be used as much. The low cost nature of IMA hybrids means that Honda doesn't incorporated fancy brake-by-wire systems to blend friction and regenerative braking. Instead, the regenerative braking is overlaid on the friction brakes and then gently ramped out at low speeds. Compared to the Civic Hybrid, which exhibits a distinct loss of deceleration at about seven mph as the regenerative braking is switched off, the Insight and CR-Z have a much more gradual phase out making the transition almost imperceptible.


Battery

The key to any hybrid, whether it's a mild or strong system, is the energy storage system. Like every other system on the road, the CR-Z uses an electrochemical battery; in this case, a nickel metal hydride unit. The 100.8 volt unit consists of 84 "D-sized" cells arranged in seven modules of 12 cells each. It has a total capacity of 580 watt-hours, a bit less than half the size of most strong hybrids. Like the motor, the guts of the battery pack in the CR-Z are basically carried over from the Insight. The most notable change for the battery is the air cooling system which has been upgraded to improve its efficiency. The cell temperatures are closely monitored and controlled closer to the optimum operating temperature.

Batteries have a limited temperature range where they can provide optimal performance both for charge and discharge. The new cooling system is better able to manage the battery, especially at higher ambient temperatures which improves the ability to recapture and release energy when it's hot. Tighter control of the temperature also improves the durability of the battery pack.


Sport and Econ Modes

In keeping with the CR-Z's mission of being a sporty hybrid, Honda has also added a driver selectable sport mode in addition to the Normal and Econ modes found in the new Insight. The Econ mode filters the driver commands and slows down the throttle response to smooth out acceleration and improve efficiency. The new Sport mode does the opposite, cajoling the CR-Z to life. Both the manual and CVT versions receive reduced steering assist and increased throttle response in Sport mode, while the CVT chooses a lower gear ratio range for higher engine speeds and more available power. With the manual transmission, the system monitors the accelerator pedal position and if the driver applies the gas beyond a certain rate, the IMA will provide full motor power immediately rather than ramping it up.

Given the limited hardware capability of the IMA system, Honda has managed to do quite a bit with it. While Toyota arguably created the first performance-oriented hybrid systems with the Lexus GS450h and LS600h, Honda is the first to create a dedicated platform and body that is overtly sporty. The CR-Z is by no means a speed demon, as you've read in our driving impressions, but it certainly feels much stronger than the Insight.

Fans of the original CRX of the late-80s may complain that the hybrid CR-Z can't match the 51 mpg combined rating of the old HF. However, it's also important to remember that the way fuel economy sticker values are computed has changed several times in the last 25 years. The EPA estimates that under the current procedures the CRX HF would have been rated at 43 mpg. The CVT version of the CR-Z is rated at 37 mpg combined which is lower than the CRX but the new car is considerably larger and heavier. The CRX would never meet current emissions or crash safety standards and it's also considerably slower than the modern car. In almost every way, the CR-Z is a much better car. But is it really a better drive? Find out here.

 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
C&D

2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid
Honda’s sporty hybrid is better than expected. Still, who’s going to buy it?



It’s tempting to think of the CR-Z hybrid as the second coming of the CRX, Honda’s light, tossable mid-1980s funster, what with the two cars’ stubby rear ends, two-seat layouts, and frugal intentions. On the CR-Z launch, in fact, Honda plopped us down in a cherry 1985 CRX Si and told us to go nuts. We did, and we’re sorry, Big H, but the CR-Z just isn’t quite as awesome.

Where the impish CRX used lightness and a stripped-down approach to deliver entertainment and efficiency, the CR-Z looks to a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain. The difference between the two paths is stark, or so goes conventional wisdom: With less weight and simplicity comes fun and momentum-style hoonage, and with a hybrid powertrain comes, well, soul-crushing dullness. Somewhat shockingly, however, this hybrid is entertaining, even as it tries to marry the disparate concepts of sport and efficiency.


Nowhere is that conflict more evident than in the two transmissions. Opt for the six-speed manual, and the CR-Z delivers perhaps the most transparent hybrid experience available today, because you control the shift points and how quickly the gears are changed. Particularly with the three-mode adjustable drive system in Sport, it’s a relatively fun little car. But go for the CVT, as Honda expects 75 percent of buyers to do, and besides being a downer of a person, you lose any sense of joy and immediacy. In the CVT’s manual mode—actuated via standard paddle shifters—you can wind through six fake ratios, but the “shifts” into those ratios are slurred and slow. Moreover, while the four-cylinder is never sonorous even with the stick, the CVT causes an unpleasant droning.

Heavy, Man

At 160.6 inches long, the CR-Z is 16 inches longer than the original CRX, but it doesn’t look like that much with the two cars side by side; for modern reference, the CR-Z is an inch shorter than Honda’s own Fit. It’s not as light, however, with Honda estimates putting the CR-Z around 2700 pounds. We measured the bigger Fit at 2500 pounds with a manual, and a CRX Si we tested 25 years ago weighed in at a svelte 1840. Of course, beyond the hybrid system, the CR-Z includes a boatload of stuff unavailable on the original CRX, like airbags, a couple of decades’ worth of crash-worthiness improvements, and doors thicker than a Trapper Keeper. Still, from behind the wheel, you never shake the sense of extra weight.

At the heart of the CR-Z is the 1.5-liter four-cylinder from the Fit, here making 113 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. It mates to Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system as seen in the Insight, which is comprised of a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and a 13-hp electric motor. Combined output stands at 122 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration isn’t scorching by any means, but the CR-Z doesn’t feel poky like the Fit or Insight. Helping foster that sense is the Sport mode, activated via a button to the left of the steering wheel. In Sport, throttle sensitivity is increased, the steering tightens, the electric motor provides more assistance on manual-equipped cars, and, in CVT models, the “gear ratios” are optimized for acceleration. There are also Normal and Econ modes, and the latter dulls throttle response, retunes the CVT for fuel-economy gains, turns down the fan speed and minimizes compressor use for the A/C, and reduces power and torque by four percent except in wide-open-throttle situations.


The mileage returned by the CR-Z isn’t as stellar as you’d expect in a hybrid this small, at 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway with a manual and 35/39 with the CVT. (The EPA tests were run in Normal mode.) Would those numbers be the same if the car were lighter with no hybrid gadgetry? Let’s just say we got 32 mpg from that 1985 CRX Si. But before you start ranting about how disappointing the numbers are—“I’ve seen 167 mpg in my Prius! Uphill and into the wind! Rarghargh!”—remember that Honda has the Insight and upcoming Fit hybrid to appeal to the hypermiler crowd; this is a sporty car with green leanings more than anything else, and that likely guided the engineers’ efficiency targets.

A Great Ride and More Steering Feel than Expected

The chassis plays a big part in making the hybrid experience transparent. While the brakes are a touch grabby, they have only the slightest hint of hybrid-style sponginess, and the transition from regenerative to conventional braking is essentially seamless. The linearity of the brakes is good, too. The electrically boosted steering has more feel than we expected, and turn-in is eager in Normal mode and quick in Sport. Where the CR-Z impresses most is in ride quality. Generally, when something has the wheelbase of a Matchbox car, you can expect to be re-vectored as you hit mid-corner bumps, plus a jarring, crashing ride—the sportiest Minis being prime examples. The CR-Z exhibits very little of such behaviors, though, with part of the credit going to the standard 16-inch wheels and the relatively tall sidewalls of the 195/55 Dunlop SP Sport 7000 rubber. That’s not to say the CR-Z is firmly planted all the time. Pitch the thing hard into a corner with stability control disabled and lift off the throttle, and the back will swing around (and quite quickly due to the short wheelbase), so you need to be ready to dial in some opposite lock. Blame the weight of the batteries, which live between the rear wheels. The handling would benefit from a firmer suspension—it would shore up slight body roll, for one thing—but at the expense of compliance. Such a strategy would certainly alienate a good chunk of buyers, a large majority of whom will find the current setup to be sporty enough.


The CR-Z comes in three flavors: base, EX, and EX with navigation. Honda says pricing will start under $20,000 with destination charges and top out at just below $24K when the car goes on sale in late August. Standard across the range are stability control, power mirrors, power locks and windows, keyless entry, automatic climate control, cruise control, a tilting and telescoping steering column, USB and auxiliary inputs, LED taillamps, and the three-mode drive system. EX models get HID headlamps, fog lights, aluminum pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an upgraded audio system with subwoofer. The rear cargo area will accommodate a couple of golf bags with the rear bulkhead folded down and two suitcases with it up, not too bad considering this car’s diminutive size. To the CR-Z’s credit, too, it has the best interior among Honda’s cheaper offerings, with cloth door inserts, a soft-touch dash covering, and attractive switchgear. It’s certainly better than the cost-cut, hard-plastic-riddled cabin of the Insight.

Who Will Buy It?

We admit to wondering just who’s going to buy this car. If fuel-efficiency is the goal, better mileage (and practicality) can be found in the Toyota Prius and the Insight, which are EPA-rated for 50 and 41 mpg combined, respectively. And those in the market for an inexpensive sporty car can also shop the conventionally powered Mini Cooper and Scion tC, while perhaps pocketing some savings. The Mini in particular isn’t much off in efficiency, either, being rated as high as 32 mpg combined. Further, all those CVT buyers will effectively negate the CR-Z’s reason for being, its sportiness. Without that, you’re left with a less-efficient, two-seat Insight that can’t carry as much stuff. Sounds dicey, even at Honda’s stated U.S. sales goal of 15,000 per year.


Meanwhile, we await word of a CR-Z Si. If it does happen, we’d prefer such a car to be created by ditching the hybrid stuff, which adds roughly $2000 to the cost of the regular CR-Z; further chassis tightening; and bumping the 1.5’s output by 20 hp and 20 lb-ft or so. Honda, on the other hand, appears to lean toward turning up the wick on the electric motor for an Si. At the very least, the base car shows a desire to build fun-to-drive vehicles still exists within Honda. After the death of the S2000, the big-ification of the Accord, and the introduction of off-target stuff like the Crosstour, we were beginning to have doubts. Still, it’s sad that this is the second-sportiest U.S. Honda behind the Civic Si, and you could argue that in making this car hybrid-only—instead of making the hybrid powertrain an option—the company still is trying to be all things to all people, and that it would be better served focusing on what led its success in the first place: making stuff that’s great and not merely good. Ultimately, while the CR-Z can be good, it’s a compromise. And that’s a shame, because it could be even better.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
InsideLine


Just the Facts:

* 2011 Honda CR-Z will go on sale on August 24 in the U.S.
* The hybrid is expected to start below $20,000.
* No Si version is planned.​

TORRANCE, California — Honda has released more details about its 2011 CR-Z, saying it will go on sale on August 24 in the U.S. with pricing tentatively set to start at under $20,000. The Japanese automaker also confirmed that it has no plans for an Si variant or an electric version of the CR-Z — and that there will be no federal tax credit on the sporty hybrid coupe.

When asked about whether the CR-Z will qualify for an alt-fuel federal tax credit, in an e-mailed query on Thursday, Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky replied: "No. The limit per car company is 60,000 hybrids, and we passed that long ago."

In a press conference earlier this month, Honda confirmed that there will not be a CR-Z Si at launch this summer. "Nothing official," said John Mendel,Honda's U.S. executive vice president of sales, when asked whether a future Si variant is in the works.

When asked about plans to offer an electric version of the CR-Z and whether EVs will "flop in the U.S.," Mendel replied: "I don't think that there's [sic] plans to make this vehicle a pure electric. I wouldn't say that we believe that the pure EV or BEV [battery-electric vehicle] will flop in the U.S. It depends upon the application. If you talk about longer charging times and limited range, it speaks to a different usage than a 150-miles-per-day commuter would require."

Although formal pricing on the CR-Z has yet to be announced, Honda executives said that pricing will start at under $20,000, including destination, and will top out at under $24,000 for a fully equipped CR-Z EX with a navigation system. Honda said that the decision to equip the CR-Z with a nickel-metal hydride battery, instead of the more up-to-date lithium-ion battery, helped hold down the cost of the vehicle.

The CR-Z will be available in three trim levels: CR-Z, CR-Z EX and CR-Z EX Navi. The EX version adds a seven-speaker premium audio system, foglights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED footlights and alloy pedals. The CR-Z EX Navi adds a navigation system to the aforementioned features.

All models will be available in five exterior colors, including red. All are equipped with a silver mesh cloth interior. Options include body-side molding, XM Radio and 17-inch alloy wheels. Option prices have not yet been announced.

Honda said it is aiming the sporty hybrid coupe at a "younger, cost-conscious buyer" ranging in age from 25-35 with an annual household income of $40,000-$60,000.

The CR-Z is equipped with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor with a combined output of 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. The engine is linked to either a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. Fuel economy for the six-speed manual version of the CR-Z is estimated at 31 mpg in the city and 37 mpg highway, said Honda. The CVT version is expected to return 35 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

Inside Line says: You've got to wonder if the lack of a federal tax credit will force some consumers to put the brakes on a CR-Z purchase. — Anita Lienert, Correspondent​

 

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Discussion Starter #6
Jalopnik


This is the long-awaited Honda CR-Z, a car Honda claims is the reincarnation of its legendary CRX hatchback. It's a 122-hp hybrid two-door that ambles to 60 mph about as quickly as a Toyota Prius. Say what?

Full Disclosure: Honda flew a host of journalists to San Francisco and put them up in a nice hotel on the Embarcadero — the same hotel used for one of the 2011 Ford Fiesta launches — for the launch of the 2011 CR-Z. Because I lived in the area at the time, I simply drove downtown. I also took a Honda-sponsored tour of the California Academy of Sciences, a really cool place that has a blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. If this review is biased, it's only because I find whale bones impossibly cool.

No matter how you slice it, the Honda CR-Z is an interesting car. Five months ago, when the CR-Z debuted at the Detroit auto show, it was met by a wave of public indifference. "Fat," said the pundits. (A curb weight of just over 2800 pounds, which seems impressive until you consider the car's 95.8-inch wheelbase and 55-inch height.) "Slow," they said. (122 hp at 6000 rpm.) "Small and silly," they said. (Two seats, 25.1 cubic feet of storage with the rear partition folded.)


Also, fuel economy — 31/37 mpg with the standard six-speed manual, or 35/39 with the optional CVT — wasn't impressive.

Us, we were just confused. Hell, I own a CRX — an '88 Si, one of two that have passed through my driveway — and after spending a half-hour walking around the CR-Z on the show stand, poring over the numbers, and trying to make sense of my disappointment, I left puzzled. I published the following fifteen minutes later:

How did this happen? A million questions pop into my mind: If mileage, not marketing, is the goal, then why doesn't the CR-Z have a tiny, high-revving gasoline engine - or, better yet, Honda's excellent diesel four - under its hood? Is a power-to-weight ratio of almost twenty-three pounds per horsepower supposed to be fun, or merely fun by comparison? (I suppose that anything is entertaining next to a Toyota Prius, but "better than blah" doesn't make for much of an ad line.) Isn't a fun, carefully engineered, minimalist approach to the hybrid problem exactly what everyone expects from Honda? And in what world does a two-seat, 2800-pound fuel-economy special — remember, the base Civic weighs 2630 pounds, has a back seat and a large trunk, and offers 34 mpg — fulfill that expectation?

Other relevant facts: The 1984-1987 CRX weighed just over 1800 pounds. The second-generation car, produced from 1988 to 1991, hovered around 2000 pounds. A host of different models — including the gas-sipping CRX HF, which offered over 50 mpg by period EPA standards — were offered through the years, and all of them were quick, nimble, and fun to drive. They made sense.

What, pray tell, is this?


And Now For Something Completely Different

If you've been paying attention, the details are hard to miss: The front-wheel-drive CR-Z uses a mildly modified version of the hybrid drivetrain found in Honda's five-door Insight, a machine that boasts all the motive excitement of a piece of toast on a skateboard. It also uses a modified version of that car's platform, albeit with weight-saving aluminum control arms, more rigid front-hub bearings, lighter wheels, a wider rear axle beam, and a 30% more powerful electric motor.

The Big H claims that the CR-Z is the first "truly sporty" hybrid. During the launch, John Mendel, the company's executive vice president, claimed that the car was "as much about the driving experience as our commitment to fuel economy."

You know what? He's right. Mostly.


The CR-Z's engine is the same 1.5-liter i-VTEC twin-cam four found in the Fit; it makes 128 lb-ft of torque when bolted to a manual transmission (123 lb-ft with the CVT), and it does so between 1000 and 1500 rpm. Some 58 lb-ft of that comes from the hybrid system's electric motor, but from behind the wheel, you'd think you were in a traditional gasoline-powered car. The engine responds to your right foot like a Fit with a heavy, inertia-preserving flywheel, but it also doesn't mind being revved and — wait for it — doesn't feel like a hybrid.

What does that mean? Simple: This is easily the most transparent hybrid produced to date. There's no acceleration surge under heavy load, no dead drone from the engine bay, no soul-sapping bleh when you stab the right pedal. Ignore the hybrid system's configuration buttons (Eco, Normal, Sport; they alter throttle response and the electric motor's assist level) on the dash, and the car reminds you of a sleepy, sedated Fit.

Predictably, there's a catch: The CR-Z is not a fast car; it is not even a quick car. Acceleration estimates weren't available at the time of this writing, but Road & Track tested a Japanese-spec model, a car nearly identical to the American one, and hit 60 mph from rest in 10.5 seconds. The CR-Z feels faster than this, but not by much.


Handling is about as you'd expect. Mild understeer gives way to moderate understeer when pushed; turn stability control off and lift in the middle of a corner, and the car gradually oversteers. (That's the clinical answer. The hyperbolic answer is that the CR-Z cranks into corners like a CRX — a notoriously manic handler — that grew up, got a little lazy, and ate too much tempura.) In other words, it's no Civic Si, but it's still moderately entertaining. Part of this is undoubtedly due to soft springing and damping — the CR-Z rides like a cloud-filled couch over even the crappiest of pavement.


Random facts that popped up in my notes but aren't relevant to the above information: Hill assist is standard on manual-transmission cars. When the car goes on sale in August, there will be three models (CR-Z, CR-Z EX, and CR-Z EX Navigation), five exterior colors, and one interior color (silver). Seventeen-inch wheels will be optional. Honda brought a first-generation CRX Si to the CR-Z launch and let journalists drive it, but if I started comparing the two cars, you would probably get depressed.

Pricing has not yet been announced, but Honda claims to be aiming for a range that "starts under $20,000 and goes up to just under $24,000."


Any Step Is Better Than None

Where does that leave us? Let's close things out with a quote from the CR-Z's chief engineer:

"We wanted a car that would excite people, a car that only Honda could create."Norio Tomobe, Large Project Leader, Honda CR-Z​

Hm. I know you did, Norio, and I firmly believe that, given what you had to work with, you did your best. Is this the most entertaining hybrid car money can buy? Yes. Is it what I want and, frankly, what the market needs? Not quite.

Make no mistake: The CR-Z is not a bad car. But there's something missing here — it lacks a certain Honda joy, the kind of less-is-more, sharp-engineering vibrance that you find in everything from a Civic CVCC to a stripped Fit or S2000. I understand that the car was designed with two seemingly incompatible purposes in mind, and I know that, at least in this case, weight and performance are largely tied to price. People who don't need a back seat or a lot of luggage space, people who want decent fuel economy and modern-car convenience, they will buy this. They will likely not care that the CR-Z isn't the fun, inspiring, fuel-friendly car that the CRX was. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't.


The takeaway? The car you see here is a decent, though not remarkable, answer to the Where's the fun in green? question. It does what it was designed to do. We should probably take solace in that fact — the CR-Z may not be exactly what the enthusiast wants, but at the very least, it's a step in the right direction.
 

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Sales Target


June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Honda Motor Co.’s hybrid cars haven’t rivaled Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius in sales so it’s trying a different tactic with the CR-Z coupe and aiming to carve out a U.S. niche for a low-priced, sporty hybrid.

Honda, Japan’s second-largest automaker, is targeting sales of just 15,000 units a year of the CR-Z that goes on sale in August with a starting price below $20,000. Instead of targeting Prius’ volume or 50 mile per gallon fuel-economy rating, the two-seater is intended to be a “fun” hybrid, said John Mendel, Honda’s U.S. sales chief.

“It has the potential to be a kind of halo vehicle, not because of the volume it will do but because of the volume it doesn’t do,” Mendel said in an interview in Santa Rosa, California on June 9. “Nothing sells like a shortage.”

The CR-Z joins Honda’s lineup as the Tokyo-based company looks to accelerate growth in its biggest market amid a sluggish U.S. recovery. While sales of Honda and Acura models grew 13 percent this year through May, it trails an industrywide 17 percent gain and improvements of 30 percent and 23 percent for Asia-based competitors Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co.

The 1.5-liter engine coupe will be available with a continuously variable or a 6-speed manual transmission, a rarity among hybrids, Honda said. The company expects the automatic version to average at least 37 mpg in city and highway driving, and 34 mpg for the manual. The most expensive version of the car, an EX model with navigation system, will retail for less than $24,000, Mendel said.

Should demand exceed Honda’s annual goal “there’s some room” to increase supply, Mendel said, without elaborating.

Not ‘Overly Ambitious’

U.S. hybrid sales grew 8.3 percent in 2010’s first five months to 108,636 units, with Toyota’s Prius accounting for 51 percent of the volume, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Demand for the fuel-saving models cooled as fuel costs remained stable over the past year and below 2008’s price surge, said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for industry researcher Edmunds.com.

Honda’s annual target for CR-Z “doesn’t seem overly ambitious,” said Caldwell, who is based in Santa Monica, California. “There are also a lot more hybrid models, but there’s also more competition from new types of small cars that cost less and offer fuel economy that’s almost as good.”

Gasoline cost an average of $2.70 a gallon across the U.S. on June 15, just 2.6 cents more than a year ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report Web site. Prices peaked at $4.11 a gallon in July 2008.

‘Marrying Two Concepts’

With the CR-Z Honda “is marrying two concepts that don’t really go together: hybrid and sport,” Caldwell said. “Drivers who want sporty vehicles don’t usually go for hybrids and vice versa.”

The CR-Z, already on sale in Japan and Europe, is derived from the underpinnings used in Honda’s Insight hatchback, and equipped with an identical nickel-metal hydride battery pack and hybrid components. The Insight, released last year, sold only about a third of Honda’s initial 90,000-unit U.S. goal. So far this year, the Insight is averaging monthly sales of just 1,750 units.

Like the Insight, the CR-Z has software that coaches drivers to improve fuel-economy, with a display light around the center gauge that changes from green to blue depending on how efficiently the car is driven. It can also be shifted into “Econ” driving mode to further boost fuel economy or “Sport” mode to enhance performance by drawing more heavily on the battery pack and engine.

The CR-Z will be promoted as “fun and clean,” said Steve Center, Honda’s U.S. marketing chief, in an interview in Santa Rosa last week. “People expect ‘green’ from Honda. Right now we’ve got a bit of a fun deficit because we don’t have the S2000,” roadster discontinued last year, Center said.

Honda’s U.S. operations are based in Torrance, California.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at [email protected]

 

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CarTech


Honda may have come up with the first fun hybrid car. The Insight, Prius, Camry, and Fusion are all very practical hybrids, and Lexus makes a few comfortable cruisers. But the 2011 Honda CR-Z made us want to drive fast. We wanted to find the windiest road around and torture it through the corners.

Honda obliged during our preview drive, prescribing a twisty route north of San Francisco we've previously used to test the BMW M3, Porsche 911, and Audi R8. Those cars had it all over the CR-Z for power and speed, but the plucky little CR-Z showed its stuff in the turns. Honda also set out an autocross course so we could really thrash the CR-Z, a test that we haven't previously seen a hybrid put through.

The CR-Z certainly has its quirks. In other markets it is produced with 2+2 seating, but Honda removed the rear seats for the U.S., launching it as a two-seater. We assume Honda thinks Americans are too fat to use the tiny rear seats. We're not going to argue the point.

The CR-Z's hatchback design means it offers decent cargo space in back; removing the rear seats adds an oddly formed cargo area immediately behind the front seats, the two spaces divided by the former rear seat back rest.

Old nav, good stick
Two things stood out for us when we got into the car. We groaned a little when we saw the navigation unit, Honda's original system launched with its first generation of navigation-equipped cars. Needless to say, this system is badly in need of an update. It looks very rough compared with the latest nav units coming out from competitors.


At its top trim EX level, the Honda CR-Z can be had with navigation.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)​

Honda has fitted a Bluetooth phone system and iPod connector into the cabin to round out the electronics. The audio system consisted of six speakers, a subwoofer, and a 360-watt amp. We didn't get a lot of time to listen to the stereo, but what we heard came through with good clarity.

But we were also pleased to see a six-speed manual shifter. Up until now, no hybrid has used a manual transmission. And this six speed, similar to that used in the Civic Si, is a good one. This transmission makes the intent of the CR-Z clear. However, Honda representatives said they expect about 25 percent of CR-Z purchasers to opt for the manual transmission.

The other transmission available for the CR-Z is continuously variable, like that used in the Insight. After driving the manual version, we can't see why anyone would take the CVT. Honda includes a hill start function with the manual, making it practical in a hilly city like San Francisco.

Our preview drive began in the City by the Bay, and the car gave us three choices for its drive mode: Eco, Normal, and Sport. Setting out in Normal mode, the CR-Z showed its hybrid nature at the first traffic light, shutting down the engine as we stopped. On the green, we lifted off the brake, but the engine didn't start. We pushed the clutch in, and the engine still didn't start. But flicking the shifter into first, something it does with a nice precision, caused the engine to crank over with enough power to get us moving as we let the clutch out.


A manual transmission is a rarity in hybrids.
(Credit: Honda)
In fact, the manual transmission encouraged some fast starts off at the light, something the hybrid power train was all too happy to do. The power train consists of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder i-VTEC engine mated to Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, producing a combined 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. With the CVT, shave 5 pound-feet off that torque number. Those numbers don't sound like much, but the electric motor makes a lot of torque available immediately for a satisfying launch.

On rough pavement, the ride quality suffered from the car's firm suspension, but the electric power steering seemed well-tuned for precise handling. The CR-Z's small size made urban maneuvering easy, letting us slip in between cars from one lane to another.

Colorful instrument panel
The instrument cluster, covered in a Christmas tree of colored lights for fuel economy information, included a green up arrow indicating when we should shift. Designed to optimize fuel economy, it wanted us to change gears early and often, putting the car in sixth at 40 mph.

Honda estimates its EPA numbers for the CR-Z at 31 mpg city and 37 mpg highway for the manual transmission version. The CVT gets it up to 35 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. So there is a reason for taking the CVT version. Our drive was too short and spirited to get a real-world number. Honda says its testing was done in Normal drive mode, so the Eco mode might run the mileage above 40.

Switching the car into its Eco drive mode resulted in a slight slow down as the throttle response retuned. It also made a ring in the tachometer change from blue to green, a visual indicator of the drive mode. Similar to the Insight, that ring stayed green when the car thought we were driving in an environmentally responsible fashion, and blue when we floored it. It is a color-coded conscience.

Getting the CR-Z onto the twisty roads north of San Francisco called for testing out the car's Sport mode. Beyond the start/stop feature, the hybrid system never reared its head on our drive through the city and the ensuing freeway. It remained equally in the background as we tossed the car through the turns on Highway 1.


The CR-Z is a uniquely styled car, the first really sporty hybrid.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)​

Ignoring the shift recommendations of the instrument cluster, we kept close to third gear, changing down to second for the really tight turns and up to fourth for longer straights. The CR-Z performed like an inexpensive little sports car. Honda says the Mini Cooper is one of the CR-Z's competitors; the Cooper has a slight edge in handling, but most people will find the CR-Z equally as fun.

The CR-Z showed its small displacement weakness heading up the hills, where the power train quickly lost steam. Going up a rise on the freeway, the CR-Z wouldn't maintain 70 mph in sixth gear, requiring a downshift to fifth. On steeper ascents on back roads, we found ourselves putting the car in second just to pull the hill.

This trip ended up at a parking lot autocross course, a series of cones defining tight turns and a slalom. When we stopped the car, a monochrome display to the right of the instrument cluster showed our Eco score, 5.5 little leaf icons. Without any context, we decided it was a high score, unlocking a virtual Eco Warrior badge in our mental video game version of the car.


Honda removed the rear seats for the U.S. market, leaving this oddly formed cargo area.
(Credit: Honda)​

The autocross course gave us a more-detailed understanding of the CR-Z's handling. In Sport mode and running it through tight turns in first and second gear, the electric power-steering proved well-tuned, ready for point-and-shoot operation. The all-season tires, wrapped around 16-inch alloy wheels, let the car slip a little too much on this hot, sunny day, causing more than a couple cones to go airborne.

The handling, while good, proved just a little loose. Honda seems to have tuned some softness into the suspension to make the CR-Z a comfortable everyday driver. As such, suspension travel allowed a little bit of lean in the corners. The CR-Z still can claim sports car handling, but there are more tightly screwed down cars available.

The 2011 Honda CR-Z goes on sale this fall. It will be available in standard and EX trim levels, at prices ranging from less than $20k to $24k. We drove an EX trimmed car with the optional six-speed manual transmission.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
LeftLaneNews



The Prius Rule: Electric motors attached to internal combustion units mercilessly dispose of any pleasure left in the already sanitized modern driving experience.

Glance at its lineup and you could be forgiven for thinking that Honda closely adheres to The Prius Rule. Despite Honda’s efforts to persuade us otherwise, the automaker’s Insight, the cheapest hybrid currently on sale in North America, is a Prius by another name.

Yet this is the brand that has given us the zippy S2000, the sublime NSX and even the highly-entertaining mainstream Accord sedan and coupe. Stretch back a few years and you’ll find one of the greatest “affordable enthusiast” cars ever created, the Honda CRX. These little two-door fastbacks are the automotive gods’ gift to autocrossers and canyon carvers thanks to their trim dimensions and sporty demeanor.

And that’s precisely what the CR-Z is designed to recreate, albeit in a politically correct 2011 sort of way. Call it a new segment: The world’s first hybrid sports car.

Channeling Honda of Yore
Sure, Honda could have simply rebuilt the CRX, or even weeded through Craigslist to find all six unmolested ones still on the road, but modern safety and emissions standards stood in the way. The little sub-2,000 lbs. sportster sold in the ’80s and early ’90s instead needed to serve as an inspirational launchpad for a 21st century low-emissions recreation of sorts.

Enter the CR-Z, the world’s first mass production hybrid sports car. Looking a little bit like the CRX, the CR-Z is a two-seat hatchback boasting not much power, but also not much weight. Tipping the scales at a mere 2,637 lbs., it is about 100 lbs. lighter than an Insight. It is a few Big Macs portlier than a MINI Cooper, but, at 160.6 inches long and 68.5 inches wide, it boasts a considerably larger footprint. A MINI measures 145.6 by 57.4.

By 2011 standards, the CR-Z is a genuine lightweight.

It utilizes a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing (VTEC in Honda-speak), derived from the Honda Fit’s mull, mated here to a 10 kW electric motor. Combined, the two units produce 122 horsepower and 128 lb-ft. of torque when hooked up to the standard six-speed manual transmission (123 lb-ft. with the optional CVT). Like most hybrids, the CR-Z’s engine clicks off at stop lights and provides some boost under acceleration while serving as a generator during braking or coasting.

What it won’t do is move under its own power using only the electric motor. Still, fuel economy is impressive at 35 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway with the CVT, or 31/37 mpg with the stick.

This isn’t the first time Honda has tried making a hybrid aimed at a mainstream audience, or at least one outside of the green car niche. The Accord Hybrid lasted for three model years (2005-2007), but failed to catch on with the buying public despite offering a sub-7 second 0-60 sprint and about 30 mpg combined. The CR-Z represents a thorough rethink of hybrid performance by offering expressive style in a dedicated sporty car package instead.

Three CR-Z variants will be availalbe, each in a handful of exterior colors and all with silver-tinted cloth seats. The base model gets a decent level of equipment including alloy wheels and automatic climate control, while the EX adds a high-zoot stereo, leather around the steering wheel and Bluetooth. The EX-Navi adds – you guessed it – a somewhat dated voice-activated navigation system.


Hybrid Performance?
Like the original CRX, the CR-Z wasn’t built to take on Dodge Challengers and Ford Mustangs. Instead, Honda focused on making the little two door into a docile puppy dog that can play in the corners when called upon. Agility reigns supreme here.

Sitting low in the especially supportive sports seats, the CR-Z’s dashboard wraps neatly around the driver. The execution isn’t necessarily artistic, but the spaceship-style command center is nonetheless interesting and convenient. No control is a long reach away from the driver aside from the far side of the audio head unit.

But the most important buttons to become familiar with are on the left side of the steering wheel – Sport, Normal and Econ. Their intentions are obvious; press Sport for increased steering resistance and more throttle response and press Eco for borderline dangerously weak performance aimed at minimizing consumption. The system reverts to Normal after every restart, so get used to pressing Sport before taking off if driving is your thing.

With Sport engaged, the CR-Z’s steering is rapidly responsive, endowing the little personal coupe with the moves of a genuine compact sportster. Steering feel isn’t its forte, but combined with a simple-is-better suspension (MacPherson struts up front with an H-shaped torsion beam out back), the front-wheel-drive CR-Z is genuinely entertaining to throw into corners.

Better yet, the standard six-speed manual (expected to account for around a quarter of all sales) is delightfully pleasing to chuck between the nicely spaced gears. It lacks the overall precision of, say, a German unit, but it matches nicely with a well-weighted clutch.

Don’t look for rip-roaring performance, but the little hybrid powertrain is a veritable torque monster at lower rpms. Honda motors love to sing up high in the rev band, but we found more joy in keeping the 1.5-liter under 3,000 rpm, where it emits a raspy growl and just enough vibration into the cabin to qualify as sporty, not unrefined.

The optional CVT is among the better we’ve experienced, but we’ll reserve full judgment for a more extended drive in the near future.

Two’s a Crowd
With its tossable nature and slot car-like performance, the CR-Z begs to be compared to the MINI Cooper. Unfortunately, that’s not a good thing. The Cooper has room for four, but the CR-Z is strictly a two person affair. Europe and Japan get a small back seat, while North America gets a parcel shelf. Trust us, we’re the lucky ones. An average size adult simply won’t fit in the JDM CR-Z’s seating area. It’s not a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of impossibility.

Instead, we get a flop-down partition that gives the CR-Z decent room for a weekend away – about 25.1 cubic feet with the partition stowed. You won’t fit much of a suitcase back there beyond a roll-on overnight bag. But with the prices airlines charge for checked luggage these days, maybe the CR-Z’s limited cargo capacity will help save a few bucks.

Practical for a family of four, the CR-Z is not. But that’s not the point here.

Why You Would Buy It:
Always an early adopter, you think (rightly so, we estimate) Honda is on to something with the world’s first hybrid sports car.

Why You Wouldn’t:

You’ve got MINI fever.

Leftlane’s Bottom Line
By defining a new automotive niche, Honda has channeled one of its most important and most respected vehicles to help legitimize the concept of a hybrid sports car. In an era where steering feel and sporty suspensions take a back seat to lowered emissions and reduced fuel consumption, the CR-Z manages to remind us that it’s possible to have fun while using less.

And that’s not just because it doesn’t have a back seat.


2011 Honda CR-Z base price, $19,800 (estimated).

A 9,700-mile 1985 Honda CRX Si

Although Honda doesn’t necessarily bill the CR-Z as a reincarnated CRX, the automaker realized that only someone who slept through the ’80s and early ’90s would think otherwise. Capitalizing on the connection, the automaker resuscitated a showroom fresh 1985 CRX Si from its Southern California museum and allowed us to take it for a quick spin.

Weighing in at about 1,900 lbs., the CRX is a study in simplicity. Luxuries are relative – how about an ashtray and lighter and a graphic equalizer for the AM/FM/cassette unit?

Hustled through the curves of Sonoma, California, the CRX reveals its true mission. Despite its surprisingly plush and cossetting ride, the CRX is as positively connected to the road as any sports car costing ten times its original list price. The large steering wheel seems archaic by 2010 standards, but it serves up gobs of natural, unassisted feel, while a short throw five-speed manual transmission makes the most of the available 91 horsepower from a 1.5-liter four-banger. The CRX is pure, undiluted fun.

As for a CR-Z Si? Honda’s executives have their lips sealed. But we saw that glimmer in their eyes. And we like it.​
 

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As a longtime fan of the CRX AND owner of a CRX (for 20 years), I have a lot of love for that car. When I first read of the CR-Z and looked at the concept, I wanted one. Then I figured, as usual, the concept would be uglied up or toned down. Which, IMO, happened. And they had to make it a hybrid and I don't even know why. Despite all the rhetoric and spin they put on their excuses, it's pathetic my '89 CRX got better gas mileage and had more spunk. You'd think the makers would quite pussy-footing around and get out of bed with each other and make something that got GOOD mileage.

Who will buy this car the articles keep saying? I'm guessing not many people. It attains neither of the ambitions it went after--fuel economy and a spirited sports car. It still look kind of OK, but I think the baby boomers will pass it by and the younger generation will give more look to the Scions (which can carry more of their friends).
 

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Discussion Starter #11
WSJ


There are many things to love about the Honda Motor Company. I love the fact that Honda's engineers can't talk to their mothers without resorting to spider graphs and a PowerPoint presentation. I love the fact that when they get it just right—as they did with the Honda Fit—it's a warm bath of wonderful, a singular car with a charisma not easily explained and impossible to deny. And when they get it wrong—as they did with the cetacean Accord Crosstour—it's a hot sweet mess but still, withal, a Honda.

It's easy to be cynical about the CR-Z. But Honda's new hybrid has a few aces up its sleeves, says Rumble Seat columnist Dan Neil, including a 6-speed manual transmission that makes it entertaining to drive.

This is a company convinced of its own righteousness, and with the new 2011 CR-Z we again find it marching to its own curious drumbeat. Indeed, the car is practically a contradiction on radial tires, a "sport hybrid" aimed at environmentally aware driving enthusiasts, 15,000 or so young Americans annually who are "willing to sacrifice some power for a socially responsible vehicle," according to the press briefing held here last week. This segment constitutes marketing metaphysics, as far as I'm concerned, since there's no compelling evidence such people exist. In any event, Honda's shorthand for these buyers is "responsibly indulgent," which goes in my oxymoron hall of fame with "willful negligence" and "bagpipe music."

It's easy to be cynical about the CR-Z, but let's not, at least not right now. Instead, let's go to the spider charts. The CR-Z—which uses essentially the same hybrid powertrain as the Honda Insight—scoots from 0-60 mph in under 9 seconds, gets 39 miles per gallon on the highway and is priced under $20,000 to start. Those are some worthy numbers. Compared with the driving experience of the CR-Z, the Toyota Prius (which represents half of the hybrid market) feels like going on a hunger strike. Why is the CR-Z being positioned as a low-volume, niche-y vehicle when any right-thinking young person ought to be camping out in front of a Honda dealership as if he or she were waiting for the new iPhone?

Honestly, I don't know, but Honda has been down this road before, with the now-defunct Accord V6 Hybrid (2005-07). This so-called power hybrid used the company's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology as a kind of electric turbocharger on the flagship-model Accord. This car barreled to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and got 35 mpg on the highway, per the EPA. And it went absolutely nowhere on the market. Yes, it was pricey and, true, you could get a proper performance sedan from BMW for about the same money. But there was something deeper at work with the Accord Hybrid, a sort of strange Manichaeism in the consumer mind that found appeals to performance and appeals to fuel economy incompatible. To a lot of people, the Accord Hybrid was too slow for a performance car and/or too thirsty for a hybrid. Go figure.

Engineering footnote: Honda's IMA approach to power hybridizing has by now been thoroughly vindicated. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen have all deployed similar hybrid architectures in their cars to ramp up power while saving a few joules. However, in terms of maximizing fuel economy, the Toyota Prius's parallel-hybrid powertrain seems to have emerged as the clear winner. The Prius gets 50 mpg combined mileage as compared with the look-alike Honda Insight's 41 mpg.

Rumblings

2011 Honda CR-Z
The Specs

Base price: $19,995 (est)

Price as tested: $24,000 (est)

Powertrain: Gasoline/electric hybrid, 1.5-liter dual-overhead cam four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing and lift; 10-kilowatt DC brushless electric motor with 100.8-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack; six-speed manual transmission or continuously variable transmission; front wheel drive.

Horsepower/torque: 122 at 6,000 rpm/128 pound-feet (with MT), 123 pound-feet with CVT

Length/weight: 160.6 inches/2,637 pounds

Wheelbase: 95.9 inches

Cargo capacity: 25.1 cubic feet

EPA fuel economy: 31/37/34 mpg, city/highway/combined (with MT); 35/39/37 mpg (with CVT)

CRX, Then CR-Z. What About Why?
Behold the Honda CR-Z, a sport hybrid billed as the spiritual successor to the 1980s-era CRX. Fanboys may differ. The CRX was a minimalist, 1-ton hot hatch, beloved for its fervid handling and ease of performance tuning. The CR-Z is another 700-plus pounds and feels it. Meanwhile, the techy hybrid is practically immune to DIY tuning. Sell your wrenches, lads.

A 6-Speeder Makes All the Difference
Uniquely, the CR-Z is available with a six-speed manual transmission as well as the typical continuously variable transmission. With the six-speed gearbox, the CR-Z wakes up and becomes a fairly amusing car to drive, though mileage may suffer.

Hello? Is Anybody Out There?
Honda's product planners figure there are about 15,000 annual buyers in the U.S. for this car, people who will want to split the difference between fun and efficiency. This is a special car for special buyers, who may or may not be figments of the corporate imagination. We'll soon see.​

The CR-Z does have some aces up its kimono sleeves. First, it's a feisty-looking little doorstop of a car, wedgy and short-coupled and well planted, nearly a foot shorter, 1.3 inches lower and nearly 2 inches wider than the Insight (which is, of course, nobody's idea of a good-looking car). Honda fanboys will instantly recognize the car's kinship with the CRX hatchback (1985-93) but—lest nostalgia for the heroic old beater take over—Honda points out the CR-Z is about a foot longer and 747 pounds heavier than a 1985 CRX Si, and just as quick. Hmmm. We'll get back to that.

Under the hood is a sweet-singing 1.5-liter in-line four that, combined with the output of the 10 kilowatt electric motor, produces 122 hp at 6,000 rpm. The battery, which mostly serves to store and discharge current recaptured from the car's regenerative braking system, is a pack of 84 D-sized nickel metal hydride cells (100.8 volts and 5.75 amp-hours energy storage). Total gas/electric system torque is 128 pound-feet with the car's continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Well, what else would the little hybrid have? This brings us to the CR-Z's other sleeve: the availability of a six-speed manual transmission. While most other hybrids use CVTs—which are highly efficient automatic transmissions that use bands and pulleys instead of fixed gears—the CR-Z can be had with a conventional, stir-your-own gearbox, and it makes all the difference. With a 6-speed manual, the CR-Z is actually pretty entertaining to drive, a furious electrified hamster eager for kibble. It pulls its tiny guts out in the high-rev range and makes rewarding bleating sounds when you hammer it around a autocross course, as I did during the press event.

The tradeoff, naturally, is efficiency. The six-speed CR-Z gets a combined fuel economy of 34 mpg, as compared with the CVT-equipped version's 37 mpg. But to the extent anyone would take my advice seriously—after all, I also recommended the doomed Accord V6 Hybrid—I would strongly advise getting the CR-Z with the manual transmission. There is where the pleasure of ownership resides. Besides, the manual-equipped CR-Z has a nice little polished-alloy gearshift lever, while the CVT model has a positively creepy shifter handle that looks like it should be popping out of someone's abdomen, "Alien" style.

Like the Insight, the CR-Z offers a three-mode drive system (Sport, Normal and Economy) actuated at a switch panel to the left of the steering column. These modes provide three distinct behaviors—maps, they're called—for the drive-by-wire throttle, transmission, electric power-steering assist (less for Sport mode) and the power delivery for the electric motor. In what is absolutely the only thing these two vehicles have in common, the CR-Z tach bezel glows red in sport mode, just like that of the new Jaguar XJ.

In Economy mode, however, the car just goes completely limp—the phrase that crossed my mind was "fainting goat." The throttle response becomes stupefied, the idle-stop kicks in as you're coasting to a stop and the air-conditioning system develops the work ethic of a French postal employee. There are couple of different eco-coaching displays in the luminescent, quasi-3-D instrument display, helping you to drive more efficiently and banish the final iota of fun from the car.

All that left me liking only one version of the CR-Z—the six-speeder edition, in Sport mode. This is the only color of the car that didn't clash with my aura, and I must say, so configured the thing was a lark. Set just so, the CR-Z is interesting, involving, endearing. It aims to please and will gladly herniate itself, if it can only get you to smile. It still gets awesome fuel economy, even if you drive it like an idiot.

Going fully in the other direction, with the CVT model set on Economy, I think I'd rather crawl on my hands and knees to the coffee shop.

Is the CR-Z the spiritually evolved successor to the CRX? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if, around a road course, the CR-Z were as quick or quicker than the old hot hatchback. But there's the matter of that additional 700 pounds. The old car felt livelier and more in-hand, vastly more tossable. The CR-Z—with its rear beam axle and strut front suspension—simply feels like a smaller version of the Insight on better tires. Ten out of 10 fanboys would prefer the CRX, I'd estimate. If only for breeding purposes, I think Honda needs some sports cars, but quick.

Still, you have to respect this company. Hardy or foolhardy, it means to scratch a niche out of the hybrid segment that it can call its own. It's got a program, it's got a mission, it's got a machine. Meanwhile, year by year, model by model, Honda is crafting a portfolio of faster, more fuel-efficient cars. You can't hate on that.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Blast 2 Drive


Hybrids are many things. Efficient, yes. Practical? Sure. Attractive? Hmm, well, maybe. Sporty? You're kidding, right? No one in their right mind would call hybrids sporty.

Until now.

Honda delivers much-needed excitement to eco-friendly driving with the CR-Z, an attractive, affordable hybrid that's a genuine hoot to drive. It isn't, contrary to the buzz, the second coming of the venerable CRX and you aren't going to see it tearing up any tracks, but the CR-Z is, dare we say it, sporty.

The thing is, the CR-Z doesn't feel like a hybrid. There's no lag when the 10-kilowatt electric motor hands off to the 1.5-liter engine. The responsive antilock brakes lack the mushiness found in other hybrids, and the continuously variable transmission is smooth.

There's a paddle-shifting slushbox available if you want to row through the gears, but the 6-speed manual — a 1st in a hybrid — is the way to go. It's much more fun. Trust us on this.


We spent several hours exploring some of our favorite back roads north of San Francisco, and the CR-Z showed its athletic side with nimble handling and reasonably brisk acceleration. The chassis is tight, the suspension is firm and there's a hint of understeer. The car feels a bit heavy — the 6-speed model weighs 2,630 pounds — but most of the bulk is down low, and the CR-Z is fairly easy to toss around.

You've got a choice of three driving modes to suit your style. Sport — where we spent most of our time — gooses the output of the electric motor, optimizes throttle response and gives the electric power-steering a tighter feel. Econ shifts the equation toward maximum fuel efficiency. Normal splits the difference.

The gasoline engine does most of the work regardless of the mode. The small (5.7 ampere-hour) nickel–metal hydride battery and 10-kilowatt electric motor are there to boost acceleration and ease the load on the engine when cruising. The gas-electric combo gives you 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque.


Set the car in normal mode and it'll get 35 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway (37 combined) with the automatic tranny. Chose the 6-speed and you'll see 31 city, 37 highway, 34 combined. Yeah, you might expect a hybrid to do better, but the CR-Z skews ever so slightly toward performance end of the spectrum over efficiency. Still, Honda says it's among the top-five fuel misers in America (based on combined fuel economy figures of 2010 models).

Around town, the CR-Z trudged through an afternoon commute without complaint. The cabin is relatively spacious and nicely appointed. Our car had the optional seven-speaker, 360-watt audio system and the optional navi (with 6.5-inch screen). Both were easy to use and performed reasonably well.

The seats are supportive, and there's plenty of leg and headroom for all but the tallest people. You've got up to 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, and a huge hatchback makes it easy to use it all.

When Honda unveiled the production version of the CR-Z at the Detroit auto show earlier this year, it all but called it CRX 2.0. It has toned down the comparisons, but the Z bears a strong resemblance to the X. It's wide and low, and at 160.5 inches long and 54.9 inches tall about the size of the Honda Fit. Honda claims it's more aerodynamic than the Toyota Prius.


The car is not without its flaws. The instrument cluster, though comprehensive and easy to read, is laughably futuristic. "Aluminum-style" interior trim always looks cheap. The shifter feels limp — a mortal sin in a car with sporting pretensions. And the rear quarter windows are useless, with blindspots about the size of an SUV.

But those are minor quibbles in a car that'll run less than $20,000 or so when it goes on sale Aug. 24. Choose all the options that came with our test model, and Honda says you'll pay less than $24,000. (Honda hasn't finalized pricing.)

As nice as the CR-Z is, those who truly enjoy driving will want a bit more power and handling prowess. Honda has "nothing official" to say about whether we'll see a sportier Si version, but the tuner crowd already is developing parts. If the CR-Z isn't the second coming of the CRX, it might soon be.

Until then, Honda has done something remarkable. It's made an affordable hybrid that's actually fun to drive, even sporty.

* Body Style: Coupe
* Engine Type: Hybrid
* Manufacturer: Honda
* Price: $24,000 (estimated)​

 

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Discussion Starter #13
Pricing


The all-new 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid coupe is set to debut at dealers on August 24, 2010, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) starting at $19,200, plus a destination and handling charge1 of $750, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., announced today.

Developed as a stylish, driver-focused vehicle with an emphasis on efficient 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. A 1.5-liter i‑VTEC 4-cylinder engine works with Honda’s unique, compact and lightweight Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system to supply both power and efficiency to the CR-Z. A sport-focused, six-speed manual transmission is a first for any mass-produced hybrid. An automatic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is available and includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual-like gear-ratio control.

A new, exclusive 3-mode drive system allows the driver to configure the vehicle’s responsiveness for Sport, Normal or Econ (Economy) driving modes. Driver efficiency tools include Eco Assist™ and Eco Scoring, which together can help drivers find improvements to efficient driving styles, while also comparing economy achievements to previous trips as well as the life of the vehicle.

The CR-Z is available in two equipment grades – the well-equipped CR-Z (base) and the feature-rich CR-Z EX. Standard features on the CR-Z include an AM/FM/CD/USB audio system with six speakers, automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, remote entry, cruise control, and more.

The CR-Z EX adds a 360-watt AM/FM/CD high-power audio system with seven speakers – including a subwoofer – Bluetooth® HandsFreeLink®, leather-wrapped steering wheel and more. The CR-Z EX is available with the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System™ with Voice Recognition2.

The CR-Z demonstrates the Honda commitment to safety in the vehicle’s design and construction. The Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) body structure is designed to help protect vehicle occupants in a frontal collision. Additional safety technologies include Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®); standard dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags; standard front-side airbags with passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS); side-curtain airbags; active head restraints; an anti-lock braking system; a tire pressure monitoring system; and a pedestrian injury mitigation design in the front of the vehicle.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Fun & Sporty


SAN FRANCISCO -- Although it's no sports car, the Honda CR-Z may change some people's minds about just how sporty a hybrid vehicle can be.

On the other hand, by giving the two-seater such a sporty appearance, Honda may be overstating how hot the CR-Z is.

The Basics: For the United States, Honda made the CR-Z just a two-seater, whereas Japan and Europe get a plus-two version of a back seat.

Honda saved development costs by using the engine and much of the Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system from the Insight hybrid five-door hatchback. The CR-Z comes with a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic.

Notable features: To improve performance, Honda shaved weight in such places as the 16-inch wheels and by using forged aluminum lower control arms for the front suspension.

A "sport" mode provides a noticeable boost in power by monitoring throttle input. An "eco" mode cuts the power but sips gas. The federal fuel economy tests were done in "normal" mode.

The instruments have nice touches, like a 3-D speedometer and tachometer ring that glows green, blue or red depending on how cautiously or aggressively the CR-Z is being driven. The stereo is a six-speaker, 160-watt system with a USB port. Instead of two rear seats, the U.S.-edition CR-Z has an expanded cargo area that can be reconfigured.

Standard features include security system, variable wipers, LED brake lights, automatic climate control, cruise control and the usual traction and braking-assist technologies.

What Honda says: "The engine is the main driver and the [electric] motor is just an assist," Norio Tomobe, CR-Z chief engineer, said about using the hardware carried over from the Insight. "It is a light, compact, low-cost system. It is optimal for small vehicles."

Compromises and shortcomings: Honda considered using a 1.8-liter engine instead of the Insight's 1.5 liters, but it would have added only 20 hp. Tomobe said a higher-performance version may come in the future.

The ride is a bit jouncy because Honda chose a torsion-beam rear suspension instead of a fully independent setup. A day of spirited country-highway driving netted 35 mpg -- not much better than the similarly sized Honda Fit, which isn't even a hybrid. The CR-Z received four stars out of a possible five on the revised New Car Assessment Program crash-test ratings.

The Market: The CR-Z goes on sale Aug. 24 at a price expected to be less than $20,000, including shipping. Sales goals are modest -- about 15,000 annually. The CR-Z Web site has had 1 million hits since the car's public unveiling at the Detroit auto show in January.

The Skinny: So is it a sports car? Well, it won't set your hair on fire, and a small car can feel fast even when it isn't. Is it more fun to drive than a Prius or Insight? Definitely.

2011 Honda CR-Z
Wheelbase: 95.9 in.
Length: 160.6 in.
Width: 68.5 in.
Height: 54.9 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter inline-4
Horsepower: 122 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.: 128 @ 1,000 rpm*
Electric motor: 13 hp, 58 lbs.-ft. torque
Curb weight: 2,637 lbs.
Base price: Less than $20,000 (est.), including shipping
*Manual transmission; CVT has 123 torque rating​
 

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Discussion Starter #15
AP


Honda is at it again — building a fuel-sipping, two-seat gasoline-electric hybrid car. This time, though, the car is not just thrifty, it's comfortable and lively.

With a starting retail price of $19,950, the new-for-2011 Honda CR-Z, coming to showrooms in August, is slated to have the lowest starting price for a hybrid in the United States from a major automaker.

The CR-Z also is expected to be the only hybrid in the country offered with a manual transmission. And the six-speed stick shift CR-Z is fun to drive while delivering a government fuel economy rating of 34 miles per gallon for combined city and highway travel. Highway mileage alone is rated at 37 mpg.

The $19,950 is for a base CR-Z — which stands for Compact Renaissance Zero — with manual transmission.

The other transmission available is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which pushes the government fuel economy rating to 37 mpg for combined city/highway travel and highway mileage rating to 39 mpg. Drivers operate a fuel-conscious CVT as they would a regular automatic transmission. A CR-Z with CVT has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $20,600.

The CR-Z competes with larger hybrids that have back seats. These include Honda's Civic Hybrid, which remains in the lineup and starts at $24,550 as a 2010 model, and the Toyota Prius, which starts at $22,150 as a 2010 model.

The CR-Z doesn't look or feel like a cheap, thrifty car, though it is a tidy, easy-to-park package stretching just 13.4 feet from bumper to bumper. This is just 15 inches longer than a Mini Cooper.

The CR-Z body is wedge-shaped, with a cargo liftgate that's so high off the ground it comes to near chest level on me. To aid driver views out the back of the car, both the liftgate and small, upright rear area above the bumper have glass in them, a la the Honda CR-X sporty car. At the front, the CR-Z has a gaping mouth grille area that's similar to some Audi cars.

Inside, there are attractive upholstered seats, high-tech gauges and a good amount of standard equipment, including mesh-covered sport seats, 160-watt AM-FM stereo with CD player and six speakers, USB and MP3 interfaces, automatic climate control, rear window wiper, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control as well as curtain air bags.

Given the limit of two passengers and cargo space that tops out at 25.1 cubic feet, which is enough for two golf bags or a couple of suitcases, Honda officials aren't looking for huge sales of the CR-Z.

The company's initial sales target is 15,000 for the first year. In comparison, the Toyota Prius, which is the best-selling hybrid in the United States, tallied 139,682 sales in calendar 2009.

In some respects, the CR-Z harkens back to Honda's groundbreaking history in the U.S. hybrid market. Honda was the first major carmaker with a gas-electric hybrid car for sale here in December 1999, and it was a two-seat Honda Insight.

But compared with the early Insight's lightweight, flimsy feel, rough ride, odd, bug-like exterior styling and thin, uncomfortable seats, the new CR-Z is a significant upgrade.

Using the chassis from the Honda Fit small car, the CR-Z is wide enough — 68.5 inches — that passengers don't feel cramped. Seats are bolted low to the floor, so headroom inside is a commendable 36.9 inches. Too bad, though, that the front passenger doesn't get seat height adjustment.

There's not a tinny sound when the long CR-Z doors close. Just be sure to watch how closely you park to other vehicles.

I loved the easy, short-throw shifting of the manual transmission in the test CR-Z. The clutch pedal took just the right amount of leg muscle, and power delivery was linear.

The car moved in a sprightly manner in normal mode, where I passed other cars without much delay on flat roads. But a sport button on the CR-Z dashboard immediately added some verve to the acceleration by adjusting engine throttle response, electric motor power assist and the power steering effort.

Fuel economy isn't best in sport mode, but there's also an econ mode where the engine operates for optimal fuel economy, and the air conditioner is managed for a lighter load on the engine.

The CR-Z suspension is nicely compliant and not punishing. But note: There's much road noise from the tires.

For all the spunkiness of the CR-Z around town and in passing maneuvers, the gasoline engine is pretty much the same one as in the Honda Fit: A 122-horsepower, 1.5-liter, single overhead cam four cylinder with Honda's variable valve technology.

But unlike the Fit, the engine is mated to a 10-kilowatt electric motor that adds up to 13 horsepower at a very low 1,500 rpm. The electric motor, which comes on and off on its own as needed, also contributes up to 58 foot-pounds of torque at 1,000 rpm, which explains the decent acceleration.

The four-cylinder engine's torque tops out on its own at 123 foot-pounds to 128 foot-pounds, depending on the transmission.

Regular gasoline is all that's needed, and the electric motor recharges on its own from the engine and regenerative brakes. To save gas, the CR-Z also turns off its gas engine on its own when the car is coming to a stop.

There are many fuel mileage indicators in the CR-Z, including a circle that changes color in the instrument panel to denote fuel-saving driving (green) or fuel-draining driving (red).
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Australia


Honda says its new CRZ sports coupe breaks the hybrid mould. RICHARD BLACKBURN finds out if the car lives up to the hype.

The words environmental responsibility and fun rarely go hand in hand. Neither do the words hybrid and sporty. But Honda is hoping to change all that with the Honda CRZ.

The CRZ is the world’s first two-door hybrid sports coupe and the first hybrid car that comes with a six-speed manual transmission.

It’s a car with a split personality: racy looks and sporty intent on the one hand and trick fuel-saving technology on the other.

The car won’t arrive in Australia until the second half of 2011, but it’s already making waves overseas. Honda says they sold 10,000 CRZs in its first month on sale in Japan; they had planned to sell 1000.

If it’s as well received in Australia, it will kill two birds with one stone for the Japanese car maker. On the one hand, it gives them an entry back into the world of affordable sports coupes, a market they abandoned when they dumped the popular Integra and Prelude.

Secondly, it provides an opportunity to wrestle back some of the environmentally-friendly limelight from Toyota. Honda was the first company to sell a hybrid car in Australia, but since the launch of Toyota’s Prius the company has had to play second-fiddle to its fierce rival.

CRZ is a mild hybrid, with a small electric motor that can move the car under its own steam but supplements the power of the car’s four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine.

It’s not as efficient as the Prius, a full hybrid that has an official fuel rating of 3.9 litres per 100km, but it’s not far behind, using just 5.0L/100km.

The power generated by its petrol-electric engine is hardly likely to send hot-hatch buyers racing to get out their cheque books.

The petrol engine combines with an electric motor to put out a combined maximum of 91kW of power. It may be modestly powered, but the CRZ is anything but a shrinking violet in the metal, with its gaping front grille, wedge-shaped profile, sharp creases along its flanks and a distinctive chopped-off rear end that invokes memories of Honda’s popular 1980s CRX coupe.

Get behind the wheel and the car lights up like a fairground when you turn the key and press the red start button.

The needles flick around the prominent tachometer and the instrument panel glows bright blue. There’s a prominent digital speedo in the middle of the tacho and it’s surrounded by a luminescent ring that glows different colours depending on how you drive the car.

Go easy on the throttle and it glows green, drive harder and it turns blue, and press the sport button, which makes the throttle more sensitive, and it glows an angry red.

The car’s trip computer also has displays that encourage you to save fuel. If you drive efficiently, leaves grow and turn into flowers on the screen before you.

Scroll through the screen and you’ll find a diagram that tells you when the electric motor is supplementing the petrol engine.

Honda says that driving styles can make a difference of up to 20 per cent in fuel consumption and by using visual cues it can encourage people to drive more economically.

But the little Honda doesn’t just rely on driver encouragement to save fuel. It also has an economy mode that dulls the throttle response and reduces the load on the engine from ancillaries such as the air-conditioning.

The company says the go-slow button can reduce fuel consumption by up to 12 per cent. The Honda cabin is one of the most attractive around, with its spaceship-style instrument panel, sporty steering wheel and classy alloy finishes on the door handles.

The leather seats offer plenty of side support through corners and there are plenty of storage options, including a covered cubby hole with an iPod connector.

The rear load area is also a handy size and the rear seats fold flat to accommodate longer items. The only flaw in the cabin (if you expect practicality in a two-door, four-seat sports coupe) is a cramped back seat that is only suitable for very small children, with no leg- or headroom to speak of.

On the road, a second flaw presents itself. The engine is underdone for the role of sports coupe. It revs cleanly, with a suitably raucous exhaust note, but it lacks any punch off the mark and struggles to keep momentum when confronted with hills.

It’s a shame, because the CR-Z is a lot of fun to drive along a winding bit of countryside. It sits flat on the road, feels well balanced through corners and remains settled and composed over bumps.

There’s plenty of grip on faster corners and the steering is sharp, accurate and consistent. Even the brake pedal, which usually feels a little wooden on a hybrid, has a confidence-inspiring feel.

The ride is also impressively calm and comfortable at speed. Unfortunately, at low speeds it’s not so composed, getting jittery and a bit harsh over potholes and corrugations.

We won’t give a definitive verdict until we’ve driven the car on local roads, but it may prove a bit tiresome on rough backroads.

Honda Australia is unwilling to talk equipment and pricing at this stage, due to the volatility of the dollar and Japanese yen, but the CR-Z is likely to cost about $35,000 and come with six airbags and stability control as standard equipment.

Our European spec test car had leather, climate control air-conditioning, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Honda’s senior director for Australia, Lindsay Smalley, says the company is likely to offer just one CR-Z model and he expects its equipment to be similar to the European car.

He expects to sell between 350 and 400 CR-Zs a month, depending on availability of stock. It’s a bold claim for an untried formula, but the CR-Z has plenty to recommend it.

It’s not really a spiritual successor to the CRX, Prelude or Integra. It’s a little heavy and slow for that.

But it looks great both inside and out and it’s the first hybrid to mix the business of saving the planet with the pleasure of driving a coupe.

 

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Discussion Starter #17
C&D


Since Honda began selling the Insight—the 1st hybrid vehicle in North America—way back in the concluding month of the 20th century, it has struggled to find a winning formula for the carbon-conscious hybrid crowd. That first odd-looking, all-aluminum Insight was a fuel-economy champ, but it offered little room for belongings and only 1 additional seat, forcing most would-be buyers to wait 7 long months for the more practical Toyota Prius.

The 2003 Civic hybrid didn’t capture hybrid buyers’ apparent desire for something that looked different, that made a statement. The same can be said of the 2005 Honda Accord hybrid—and that V-6–powered sedan didn’t produce as big a bump in fuel economy as did the Civic.

Fast-forward 5 years to a completely new Insight—a low-drag, 5-door wedge similar to the Prius. That Insight won a comparo against the Prius [“Mileage Maestros,” July 2009] mainly because it drove better, not because it was the more efficient hybrid.


Apparently a lot of people missed that test—or perhaps they value the Toyota’s superior mileage and vastly larger back seat and cargo hold—because the Prius outsold the Insight more than 6 to 1 (80,141 to 12,115) during the 1st 7 months of 2010. In fact, through 2009, Toyota sold more than 3 times as many Priuses as all Honda hybrids combined. So what must Honda do to jump-start its hybrid line? Try combining 2 paragons of its past?

Honda would like you to think of the 2011 CR-Z as the spiritual successor to its sporty and now iconic CRX of  ’80s glory. But the Z is more of a 2-seat Insight and thus the spiritual successor to the original, and now, ironically, much-sought-after Insight.

Underpinning the CR-Z are the same building blocks that compose the Insight and the 10Best-winning Fit. Compared with the Insight, the CR-Z’s wheelbase is 4.5 inches shorter, at 95.9; its 160.6-inch length is clipped by about a foot, though the Z is wider, at 68.5 inches, by 1.8.

However, some CRX similarities trickle into the new Z. Both are 2-seat, 3-door hatchbacks that, in other markets, are (or were) 2-plus-2-seaters. And the Z’s flashy styling is inspired, in part, by that of the old X.

The beating heart of this hybrid is an electric motor, Honda’s familiar Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), sandwiched between a 113-hp, 16-valve SOHC 1.5-liter 4-banger (the current Insight and Civic hybrids use a 1.3-liter) and the transmission. Its 6-speed manual makes it the only hybrid with 3 pedals. An optional CVT adds $650.


This gas engine, while identical in displacement to the current 117-pony four in the Fit, is really closer to the 1st-gen Fit’s 1.5-liter in the Honda L-series-engine family tree, according to Honda. This version of IMA is identical to the current setup in the Insight: a slender, 13-hp electric motor powered by 84 1.2-volt nickel-metal hydride *batteries [see sidebar, below right]. The motor makes 58 pound-feet of torque, same as the Insight’s. Combined output is 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Adopters of the CVT must settle for 123 pound-feet.
original

On paper, the Z is 100 pounds lighter than the Insight, at 2644, and 24 horses stronger, which translates to a 0.7-second advantage to 60 mph (9.6 seconds) as well as in the quarter-mile (17.2). But its acceleration is slower by a full second to 60 mph, compared with a 105-hp 1988 CRX Si, and 0.6 second behind in the quarter-mile. And don’t even get us started on the extra 558 pounds the CR-Z is packing.


According to the EPA’s test procedures, the 6-speed CR-Z returns 31 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. With the CVT, it gets 35 and 39, respectively. Both the Insight (40/43) and the Prius (51/48) are more efficient. For the sake of comparison, the original Insight is rated at 49 mpg city and 61 mpg highway by the current stand*ards—and that’s a big reason people still want them.

Under our supervision, the CR-Z returned 36 mpg, with single-tank honors going to a 40-mpg highway trek. That aggregate is only 2 mpg better than the comparo-winning Fit [“Ego Shrinkers,” October 2010] and 2 mpg poorer than the Insight from the July ’09 comparo, where we also saw a Prius average 42. None can top the observed 48 mpg of our long-term first-gen Insight.

The CR-Z slots between its siblings in both performance and efficiency, so it would seem to make sense for it to line up pricewise between the $15,650 2010 Fit and the $20,550 ’10 Insight (2011 figures are not yet available). But the Z’s cost lands right on top of the Insight’s, in base form, at $19,950. Add the CVT automatic to the CR-Z, and it is 50 bucks more than a base Insight. Our fully loaded EX model (tier-two additions include HID headlamps, Bluetooth phone capability, aluminum pedals and shift knob, and an upgraded stereo) whistles a tune of $23,310, including an $1800 navigation unit.


A buyer confined to a Honda showroom could get the more practical, more efficient 5-door Insight for essentially the same money. Or, for a lot less money, there’s the Fit: slightly less efficient, but better in almost every way—and quicker. This will likely curse CR-Z sales no matter how good-looking it is.

But those who do opt for the stylish CR-Z will without doubt enjoy driving it. The car is filled with excellent Honda traits: perfect shifter, great ergonomics, superb chassis.

It may not have the power-to-weight ratio to compete with the old CRX, but the Z traverses blemished roads with poise. Road noise elevates the stereo-free cruising soundtrack to 71 dBA. Not exactly quiet but on par with other cars in its price range.

Inside, the well-laid-out cabin borrows switchgear and the nav unit from the community bin. The silver-cloth buckets sit low in the car, and a tilting-and-telescoping leather-wrapped wheel (another plus of the EX) and manually adjustable seat height deliver a comfortable driving position.

The hatch opens to a generous cargo area that will accept 13 cases of longnecks if the cargo partition (a hard-plastic folding shelf that, padded, would be the seatback for 2-plus-2-market CR-Zs) is folded. This small bit of practicality is overshadowed by the Fit’s ability to hold 35 cases.


A digital speedometer floats in the middle of an analog tachometer in the center ring of the instrument binnacle. The instrumentation reveals the car’s fuel-economy mission. To the left of the helm lie 3 mode buttons: normal, econ, and sport. In normal and econ modes, a color-changing ring, nestled between the tach and the speedo (as in the Insight), helps the driver get the best possible gas mileage. The ring glows green at idle and then transitions to blue with hard acceleration. Keep the ring green with gentle throttle inputs for optimal fuel economy. In sport mode, the ring glows red, steering effort increases, and the throttle gets touchier. Be wary of using the econ setting in hot, humid conditions because, in this mode, the air conditioning tones down its frosting abilities, reducing the accessory’s economy-zapping draw.

Another efficient tool is the engine’s stop-start function, which Honda has tuned more aggressively this time. In the CR-Z, the engine cuts out when slowing to a stop as early as 20 mph. As soon as you reselect a gear, it fires back up without any intrusive vibrations.

Follow the shift strategy on the dashboard, and 6th gear is suggested before 40 mph. Engage 6th gear even earlier, and one anticipates unpleasant lugging, but there’s none. The electric motor’s additional torque boost at low rpm takes some strain off the gas engine.

Making the momentum game difficult is the gas engine’s slow march to its 6300-rpm redline. The neutral chassis can provide entertainment on 2-laners, but bleed off too much speed, and getting the CR-Z back up to a velocity sufficient to reach its 0.85-g handling limit will take another corner, maybe 2. Thankfully, the stability control is completely defeatable, and if you have the talent, the CR-Z will rotate under braking.

The electric power steering gives you all the quality feedback you might expect from a Chinese calculus professor—a poor trait that also plagues the Civic. The rear hatch’s split window and large C-pillars downgrade rearward visibility to merely adequate.

The CR-Z, in short, is good, but it’s not great like the Fit and the old CRX. It’s green but not Insight green. It’s fun to drive and looks cool. If its narrow appeal does bring buyers into Honda showrooms, they will likely find a more practical offering to the left of the CR-Z, and to its right.

 

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As a longtime Honda fanboi, I have to say, meh, to this one. My CRX DX that I bought new and sold after 20 years got nearly the same gas mileage. I drove my 370Z to the Z nationals in Atlanta last weekend and when I hit the interstate, I zeroed the navigation stats and by the time I arrived at the event, I had averaged 64.5 MPH and MPG was 30.5.

I just have to shake my head at this car...
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Award


During the 1st week of Dec., we’ll get to hang out with the 2011 Honda CR-Z for a week long review and we’re kind of looking forward to that – especially now since the CR-Z was just awarded The Car of the Year Japan 2010–2011 by the Japan Car of the Year Executive Committee.

“We are very proud that the CR-Z has been selected from the strong contenders of new models as the Car of the Year Japan 2010–2011,”
said Takanobu Ito, President and CEO, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. “This award shows that the public has accepted Honda’s aspiration to supply exceptional environmental performance in a fun-to-drive hybrid car at an affordable price, as well as Honda’s desire to spread the joy of owning and driving a car. We also believe that this award for the CR-Z reflects the true value of the combined efforts of our business partners and the many others who supported CR-Z development and production. Going forward, Honda intends to bring more joy to an even larger number of customers.”

Refresher: The 2011 Honda CR-Z is powered by a 1.5L i-VTEC mated to Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system. It produces a total of 122-hp and a maximum torque of 128 lb-ft. When mated to a 6-speed manual, the CR-Z returns an EPA-estimated 31/37/34 mpg (city/highway/combined). With the CVT transmission, the CR-Z returns 35/39/37 mpg. Prices in the United States start at $19,200.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
Award


Top Gear has crowned the Honda CR-Z their 'Green Car of The Year' in the magazine's fiercely contested annual Awards. This new trophy brings the total to 4 awards in as many weeks for the world's first sporty hybrid.

The Honda CR-Z's blend of sporty looks, agile handling and good fuel efficiency allowed it to deal with the bustling back streets of the 3rd Ring district in China to win over the judges at Top Gear.

Top Gear summed up: "Of all the cars we've brought to China, CR-Z is far and away the one I feel most at home with - and most excited about. Compact, accessible and responsive, it's a breeze to drive in this hectic and distracting place."

This Top Gear honour joins the Honda CR-Z's fast-growing awards cabinet, which already consists of What Car? Green Awards' Best Sports Car trophy as well as the more recent Japan Car of the Year 2010-2011 and Stuff magazine's Eco Gadget of the Year title, plus Most Economic & Environment Friendly Sports HEV at the first RAC Brighton to London Future Car Challenge.

Dave Hodgetts, Managing Director for Honda (UK), commented: "To be recognised by a publication as well respected as Top Gear is a great achievement for the CR-Z and for Honda.

"We're so pleased with the reception the CR-Z has received from the press, especially when you consider the strength of the competition out there. The car has only been on sale for 9 months but we're already looking for a bigger trophy cabinet!"


Honda CR-Z is priced from £16,999 OTR and brings together a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine, 6-speed manual gearbox and Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system - making a car that's as fun to drive as it is efficient.
 
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