By now, hybrid cars are pretty thick on the ground. Most manufacturers have a model of some kind on the market, and some – Toyota, for example – have embraced this technology whole-heartedly. At last count, Toyota had at least seven different hybrid models available for sale....and that's not counting Lexus.....and they are, far and away, the industry leader here.
Honda, meanwhile, has kind of flirted with hybrid technology. Over the years, they have introduced a fair number of hybrid models….Civic, Accord, Insight and so on, but they seem to go away as fast as they arrive, and, at this point, Honda has but one hybrid model for our consideration: the CR-Z.
And it’s kind of an oddball. Honda gave a nod to the still-loved CRX when they designed this one…..short, manageable wheelbase, chopped-off rear hatchback….it even has a split rear window just like the old CRX, which is actually kind of a pain in the ass….I’ll get to that later.
And it behaves like an economy sports hatchback. It’s nimble in traffic, easy to manhandle, displays remarkable handling and “tossability”, and makes a pretty decent city runabout. Like so many Honda products, it’s highly driveable and easy to get along with. As long as you don’t look behind you, it feels like you’re driving a much larger vehicle.
At the heart of the CR-Z is Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, which features a 1.5 litre four cylinder married to an integrated electric motor sandwiched between the engine and gearbox. You can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT automatic and overall, it develops 130 horsepower with 140 foot-pounds of torque. The CVT version has less torque but both will run happily on regular gas.
My tester had the six-speed and this kind of sets it apart from so many other hybrids….few, if any, offer a manual transmission, and it’s a welcome addition to this car’s drivetrain. Not to mention being buttery-smooth. Does anyone make smoother manual shift linkage than Honda? It’s a titch thirstier than the CVT – especially in town – and with a 7.3 L / 100 km overall fuel economy, it’s not one of the thriftiest hybrids out there. The Prius, by way of comparison, has a combined rating of just 4.5 L / 100 km.
But that’s kind of in keeping with the overall flavor of this car. It may be a fuel-sipping hybrid, but it feels like a sports car and that’s how it’s being marketed....so I drove it that way. No exaggeration; this car will stay with fully-fledged sports cars through the twisties and may be one of the best cornering cars on the market. In a slalom, it’s a barrel of laughs. Nice surprise there.
But for those who place economy first, the CR-Z has an “Eco” setting, accessed via a dash-board switch to the left of the steering wheel, that will tone down the car’s performance and transform it into a mild-mannered city schlep-mobile. Other technical highlights include a lane departure warning system, hill start assist, a charge/discharge display for the battery pack, and, with the CVT version, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. .
Don’t expect to carry passengers though. This is a two-seater, with a small cargo carrying area where the back seat would normally be. Again, this is sports car stuff and every other hybrid on the market will carry four or more people.
About that rear hatchback. Lift it up and there’s 711 litres of cargo capacity back there. Enough to go grocery shopping or tote your golf clubs, but that’s about it. Nor does this set-up enhance the car’s low-speed maneuverability. Backing up is a bit of a chore and rearward visibility kind of sucks.
Which either adds to or detracts from this car’s allure. It’s either an impractical, fun-to-drive, sports hatch that’s easy on gas, or a fuel-sipping city runabout that happens to have a hybrid drivtrain.
Either way, it’s fun to drive and easy to get along with.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1.5 litre four cylinder w. electric motor assist
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 130 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 140 ft. lb. @ 1000 – 2000 rpm
Base Price: $26,290
Fuel Economy: 7.9 L /100 km (city) & 6.5 (hwy.) Regular fuel.
Alternatives: Toyota Prius, Ford C-Max, Kia Optima Hybrid, Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid