Every automaker pretty much has to have a hybrid somewhere in its line-up these days. Honda tried to pull off a lot with the 2011 CR-Z, imparting a sports-flavored persona in a car that would impress with its fuel economy, but please in the performance department. That's not an arena in which hybrids are known to shine. They get you where they're going, but they're not speedsters and spongy braking due to regenerative braking systems is legion in the genre. Honda's goals are solid, but in the end, the CR-Z is a product with a touch of schizophrenia.
The CR-Z sells in an MSRP range of $19,345 to $23,355. According to U.S. News, the average price paid actually falls between $20,019 and $24,004. The vehicle gets 21 mpg around town, and 37 out on the road. Its major competitors are the Mini Cooper (28/37 and better seating), the Toyota Prius (51/48 but poorer handling), and the Ford Fiesta (runs on gasoline, but sells for $16,390 and has more cargo space.)
There are two trims, the CR-Z and the CR-Z EX. Reviewers like the manual transmission better than the continuously variable transmission even though the CVT returns the highest fuel economy. The engine is a four-cylinder with 122 hp and 128 lb. ft. of torque with the six-speed and 123 with the CVT. The car can operate in Eco, Normal, and Sport modes with progressively decreasing fuel performance as you move up the line. The steering also changes markedly, with tighter control in Sport mode and a more relaxed tension in Eco. Braking is, on a whole, good -- better, in fact, than many hybrids, with less of the jerking and lurching that characterizes such systems.
The CR-Z's shape is wedge-like and futuristic, with a small frame ideally suited to tight parking situations. The overall impression is stocky, with a low-slung stance that remains oddly innovative. The hood is long and the back-end chopped off, with a see-through hatch lid. All the elements work together nicely to make the CR-Z stand out visually from the pack. Inside the cabin accommodates two and the features are thin.
On the base model you get power doors and windows, cruise control, a 160-watt audio system, tilt / telescopic steering wheel, USB, and MP3/Windows Media. You have to move up a trim to get Bluetooth, a leather-wrapped wheel, polished accents, and a 360-watt stereo. And it takes another level and another $2,000 to pick up navigation and illuminated controls mounted on the wheel. Cargo space is 25.1 cubic feet, just enough for a couple of golf bags.
Disappointingly, the CR-Z gets just three stars from the federal government overall, and three on front and side crash tests. It did pick up five on rollovers, however. All the standard safety features are there, including a full array of airbags, brake assist, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, vehicle stability assist, and a tire pressure monitoring system. (Many reviewers complain that the sloping roof makes rear visibility poor.)
Simply put, the Honda CR-Z is a car you want to like and if it didn't try to be a hybrid, it might be great. As is, it's simply surpassed by the competition. Worthy of a test drive, but perhaps only a "must-have" for the environmentally conscious who are also Honda diehards.