2011 Honda CR-ZEnlarge Photo
I was looking forward to the Honda CR-Z--the so-called "spiritual successor" to the Honda CRX. Even though the CRX was a bit before my time, I can still appreciate the CRX philosophy--lightweight and practical. Even the portliest of CRX's weighed in at under 2200 pounds, something that is absolutely unheard of today's era of safety and crash standards. Additionally the hatchback design meant a wealth of interior space and practicality, something anyone can appreciate. Again, the hatchback is a bit of a lost art in the States, although is just starting to trickle back into the market over the past year or two.
The original CRX was a very fun car. The extreme lack of mass and short wheelbase meant that the car was so nimble and easily chuckable in the corners--at any given autocross, there is a fair chance that there is a CRX is giving newer, more powerful cars a run for their money.
So when Honda announced years ago that they were developing a new version of it, I was absolutely ecstatic. Finally, a back to basics engineering exercise to produce a simple, lightweight, practical, fuel efficient, low cost, and fun to drive car. Given that Honda already had a fantastic, high revving four-cylinder in its Civic Si, I fully expected Honda to drop that spunky little motor into a modern, two-door hatchback body and call it a day. And you know what? That would have been fully acceptable. Imagine a two door hatch with 200 horsepower worth of 8,100 RPM Honda K20 screamer, hooked up to a limited slip diff (also out of the Civic Si) and six-speed stick. By reusing the drivetrain, Honda could have saved a lot in development costs, and have a cheap, little hot hatch to present to consumers.
The new CR-Z is a hybrid. Oh dear. Honda has walked this "sports hybrid" road before with their Accord Hybrid. The road ended up as a dead end. The car performed well, but was priced too expensive, and didn't provide the fuel economy people typically thought off when they thought "hybrid". In order to fix that problem, Honda would both need to decrease the price while increasing fuel economy--neither of those things are good things for sport - minded vehicles.
However, Honda gave it its best shot, and ended up with a two door hatch putting out 122 horsepower from its 1.5-liter four-cylinder and electric motor, and 36/38 mpg.
This seems like an embarrassing move by Honda. After all, one can walk right buy the Honda dealership and land themselves in a Mini Cooper (which, from all released details, appears to be about the same dimension as the CR-Z), that puts down 118 horsepower and manages to obtain 28/37 mpg, without the complexity of a hybrid system. Obviously, we can't make any statements about the handling of the CR-Z, but the if the addition of the hybrid system adds any significant weight to the equation, that won't means good things for the handling.
Honda missed the boat on this one. The CR-Z appears to be a hybrid masquerading as a hot hatch. If the CR-Z is the true spiritual successor to the CRX, then the CR-Z should have been designed as a hot hatch first, then perhaps a hybrid second. Done correctly, the Hybrid system can complement the dynamics of Honda's high revving, naturally aspirated philosophy quite well, but that's a story for another day.
Hopefully Honda can rectify the situation, and produce a fun to drive hot hatch that just so happens to be a hybrid. Until then, drop in the Civic Si's drivetrain and let us have some fun.