All serious hybrid gasoline-electric cars and trucks have two things in common. They use less gas, and they’re generally as fun to drive as an ox cart. Fortunately, Honda is out to change that with their new CR-Z sport hybrid coupe. Now by putting sport before hybrid, Honda is making the intentions of its most compact two-door obvious. So let’s find if hybrid and high performance can really co-exist.

Fans of the sport-compact scene were heartbroken when their beloved Honda CRX met its demise back in 1991.  Now, after a 20-year lapse, the 2011 Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid Coupe is poised to try and fill that void in a most modern way.

Like the CR-X, the CR-Z is a low-slung, wedge-shaped, three-door hatchback. But, it rides on the same platform as the Honda Insight Hybrid, with a shorter wheelbase and wider track. A deep-jaw grille between wing-like extensions form an athletic front fascia. Step up to the EX for HID headlights and deep set foglamps.

The CR-Z’s creased profile is accented by an upward swept beltline and a sharply-arched roof, with 16-inch alloy wheels below. The sawed-off rear end is a blend of classic CR-X and modern Insight, with form-fitting taillights and glass lower hatch panel.

Going with a larger engine than either the Insight or Civic Hybrid, the CR-Z’s Integrated Motor Assist Hybrid System mates the energetic 1.5-liter four-cylinder from the Fit, with a 10-kilowatt electric motor and 100-volt battery pack. Total output is 122 horsepower, 24 percent more than Insight, and slightly more torque at 128 pound-feet.

True to Honda form, the CR-Z mostly uses the electric motor to assist the gas engine. It accelerates on electric power alone only while the gas engine is restarting after a traffic stop.

Now the best part: you can order the CR-Z with a genuine six-speed manual gearbox. Or a CVT automatic with paddle shifters, if you must. But it is the short-throw six-speed that makes the CR-Z unique among hybrids sold here, allowing the extra power to be put to proper, if still green, use. Honda says gears one through five are spaced for performance, while gear six is optimized for fuel economy.

Results are also a tradeoff. Zero to 60: no better than 10 seconds. Government Fuel Economy Ratings are better than other sporty coupes but less than the Civic Hybrid. 31 city/37 highway with the manual, and 35 city/39 highway with the optional CVT.

But, from there on, CR-Z specs fulfill the fun to drive promise, with a stiff chassis and performance tuned suspension and brakes. When things get tricky, stability and traction control are there to help.

The standard three-mode drive system has Sport, Normal, or Economy driving styles.  In Sport, the tachometer glows red, and the CR-Z quickens throttle and steering response, while upping the electric motor power assist.

And, we found it all comes together with precision on the lovely curved roads of Northern California. Here the CR-Z felt quick-footed with a solid, well-connectedness to the pavement. Perhaps not quite as agile as our CR-X memories, but it still boomeranged around corners with plenty of confidence, and zipped in and out of traffic with an easy feel.  And though it is tuned for a peppier drive, its ride was quite comfortable and compliant, making it a well-rounded little sport coupe.

The futuristic cockpit-like cabin perfectly echoes the exterior of the car.  Black textured material unites with aluminum trim to create a space age feel.  The high-tech instrument panel boasts a vibrant blue gauge cluster comprised of a multitude of digital readouts. Ergonomics are first rate.

And the sporty cloth seats are well-shaped, providing good lateral support. The CR-Z comes in two trim levels: base and EX.  The base includes automatic climate control, cruise control, and a 160-watt stereo with MP3 player. EX adds a leather-wrapped wheel, Bluetooth, aluminum pedals, and a 360-watt, seven-speaker sound system. Navigation is optional.

Behind the front seats is a unique mid-ship console with twin-bins for smaller items.  For more sizeable cargo needs, simply fold down the hard cover and the CR-Z has a nicely configured rear storage area that’s flat, wide, and relatively deep.

But, you won’t need deep pockets. Expect CR-Z pricing to range from just under $20,000 to $24,000 fully equipped. Hands down the CR-Z is more entertaining than any other hybrid. Its compromises show in sluggish acceleration and good rather than great economy ratings. But, then, life is full of compromises, as was the original CR-X. So be happy! The 2011 Honda CR-Z is a step up, since now you can finally be politically correct, and have a ton of driving fun, too. 



  • Engine: 1.5-Liter Four-Cylinder10-kilowatt Electric Motor100-volt Battery Pack
  • Horsepower: 122
  • Torque: 128 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 10.0 Seconds
  • EPA: 31 MPG City/ 37 MPG Highway