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2011 Honda CR-Z
A sporty hybrid? It's a wild and CR-Z idea!

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Honda CR-ZA hybrid is supposed to be practical and a good friend of Mother Earth. But sporty? Dear Mother, no.

That's about to change with the introduction of the Honda CR-Z, a car that would at first blush seem a little mixed up with its purpose in life. Or is it?

This nifty little sport coupe, which arrives in August, is Honda's attempt to target a younger eco-aware demographic looking something fun and affordable to bop around in.

Compared to the four-door Honda Insight, the CR-Z certainly fits the bill and is also pretty darn cute, even if one San Franciscan side-walker thought it was a Mazda3. Although both disparate models feature similar wide-mouth grilles, the CRZ's nosepiece is easily the car's most attractive visual element. At the opposite end, the dramatically truncated tail ending barely aft of the rear wheels makes the entire design appear a bit lop-sided.

The CR-Z actually bears some resemblance to the ancient CRX, Honda's fondly remembered Civic-based runabout that was available from the mid-1980s to the early '90s. And like the CRX, North American CR-Zs seat two passengers.

2011 Honda CR-ZLifting the mostly glass rear hatch reveals an abundance of cargo room as well as a hidden console directly behind the passenger seats that's ideal for storing valuables.

The twin bucket seats are comfortable and supportive and certainly feel sporty, by they're covered in a clashing spacesuit-tweed-like material. Fortunately, the dashboard's intuitive layout is one of Honda's better efforts and conveys a proper sense of quality. And since the CR-Z borrows from the four-door hybrid Insight's architecture, the wide cabin has plenty of elbow room, something the skinny CRX (and original two-seat Insight, for that matter) lacked.

The CR-Z has a 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine combined with a helper electric motor/generator that makes 122 horsepower, 24 more than the current Insight's powertrain with its smaller 1.3-litre gas engine.

Transmission picks consist of a six-speed manual (currently the only one available on any hybrid), or optional continuously variable (CVT) unit with paddle shifters. The six-speed isn't as fuel-efficient as the CVT (6.5/5.3 l/100 km, city/highway, versus 5.6/5.0), but the stick makes the CR-Z more fun to drive. As well, the buttery smooth shifter will turn even the clumsiest gear changer into a pro. Hill Start Assist - that briefly holds the car while you let out the clutch pedal to prevent rolling backward - eliminates the stress of launching the car on an incline.

2011 Honda CR-ZBoth transmissions provide the driver with a selection of operating modes: Normal for everyday city/highway activities; Sport, which provides noticeably more zip and steering effort; and Econ for maximizing fuel economy. Selecting either the Normal or Econ activates either a blue- or green-colored ring inside the tachometer/rev gauge to indicate your driving style. The more green displayed, the better your fuel economy.

On snaky San Francisco Bay-area roads, the CR-Z is a competent cruiser that, with its front and rear wheels set relatively wide apart, handles all but the sharpest turns with ease. This is in sharp contrast to the four-door Insight. The CR-Z's cabin is also well insulated from road and wind noise, allowing mainly the throaty burble of the sport-tuned exhaust to invade the cabin.

All CR-Zs feature climate control plus the usual power-operated controls, a premium audio system, Bluetooth wireless networking, high-intensity-discharge headlights, fog lights, heated seats and metal trim and pedals.

Buyers wanting a sunroof or leather-interior upgrade are out of luck, as is anyone wanting their CR-Z in red (the U.S.-only model is shown here).

Honda officials won't rule out an eventual power-upgrade option for the CR-Z, but for now the current version with its estimated $25,000 pricetag should satisfy those seeking a sports-flavoured car that holds their carbon footprint to a minimum. Mother Earth had best trade her gardening gloves for driving gloves.

What you should know: 2011 Honda CR-Z

Type: Two-door, two seat compact hybrid hatchback
Engine (hp): 1.5-litre SOHC I4 113/13-horsepower electric motor (122, net combined)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; continuously variable (CVT) opt.
Market position: Honda continues to show its capability for developing niche-market products by introducing an up-to-date sporty hybrid that delivers excellent fuel economy for a relatively modest investment.
Points: New model recalls original Insight and Honda CRX models; Hybrid powerplant produces respectable performance; Honda Canada expects 50 per cent of CR-Z sales to be manual-gearbox models; Door open to offer higher-output powertrain (not necessarily hybrid) option; Why option list appears so limited is a deep, dark mystery.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 5.6/5.0 (CVT)
Base price (incl. destination): $25,000 (est.)

By comparison     

Honda Insight
Base price: $25,300
Likely the main rival to the CR-Z; trades power for space and better economy.

Kia Forte Koup
Base price: $19,950
Not a hybrid, but sporty and economical and perhaps better looking.

Scion tC
Base price: $20,000 (est.}
New-to-Canada model arrives this fall as part of Toyota's youth division.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted October 31, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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