Pros: Distinctive design; unique driving experience

Cons: Tiny interior space; neither sporty nor fuel efficient

The Honda CR-Z is a three-door hatchback subcompact hybrid that came out initially in 2010 as a 2011 model. The CR-Z was designed in homage to one of Honda's most iconic designs, the CR-X. With the CR-Z, Honda wanted to build a fuel efficient, cheap, and-most important-sporty hybrid.

Comfort & Utility

Utility isn't the CR-Z's strong suit. With only two seats, the CR-Z has more of an urban cruiser feel. In the place where a back seat might be, Honda has installed a plastic storage tray. Behind it is another small storage space accessed by the rear hatch. This, too, isn't large but will easily hold a couple of bags of groceries.

The front passenger compartment is classic small Honda. Space is limited but well designed. The seats are slim but comfortable, and despite its diminutive size, larger drivers will have little problem fitting into the CR-Z.

Technology

The CR-Z comes in base and EX trim levels. All CR-Zs receive automatic climate control, a six-speaker audio system with compact disc player, USB input for iPod, power windows and locks and keyless entry.

When customers step up to the EX, Honda includes many more technical features. The EX includes a 360-watt high-power audio system with subwoofer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and alloy pedals. Honda's satellite navigation system with voice activation and a 6.5-inch touchscreen is an option on the EX.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The CR-Z has a 1.5-liter inline-4 gasoline engine producing 122 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. This small inline-4 has been cleverly fitted with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system. Its electric motor/generator uses electricity stored in on-board battery packs to assist with acceleration. During cruising the IMA system remains at rest. During braking or decelerating, the IMA system helps slow the CR-Z through regenerative braking, which generates electricity that is sent back to the on-board batteries.

Customers will be able to choose between two transmissions: a six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an option on all CR-Zs. The CR-V is rated at 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway with the manual, and slightly better at 35/39 mpg with the CVT. These numbers are enhanced by idle-stop technology that shuts down the gasoline engine at stops and re-engages when the driver takes his or her foot off the brake.

The CR-Z features a three-mode hybrid drive system that allows drivers to switch vehicle performance using Sport, Normal, and Econ modes. Sport mode increases the IMA power delivery curve at lower rpm and electronically increases steering effort for an enhanced performance feel. When Econ mode is activated, it will shut off the gasoline engine sooner when coming to a stop, especially useful during stop-and-go city driving. Normal mode, the default setting, is a balance between the accelerative properties of Sport mode and the fuel-saving features of Econ mode.

Safety

The CR-Z has dual-stage, multiple threshold front airbags, front and side airbags with Honda's Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) on the passenger's side and side curtain airbags. Active head restraints and ABS complete the safety package. The front of the small CR-Z's chassis also has a pedestrian injury mitigation design and what Honda calls its Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, which helps absorb and disperse energy in the event of a front-end crash.

Driving Impressions

Honda has touted the CR-Z as a sport hybrid. In spite of its sport-inspired features, the CR-Z isn't actually very sporty. It is quite agile, however. On the open road, the CR-Z grips the corners confidently, and the engine sounds energetic at higher rpm. The most fun part-where drivers really notice the power boost from the hybrid system-is right off the line. Acceleration in Sport mode is peppy. Above 20 mph, there's not much sporting feel to the CR-Z.

Drivers looking to achieve both a sporting driving experience and fuel efficiency will be disappointed with the CR-Z. In the city, making most of the CR-Z's limited sporting attributes, drivers will achieve a miles-per-gallon rating closer to the mid-20s than the mid-30s that is claimed by Honda. If customers come at it from another mentality, however, they will find the CR-Z much more enjoyable. We figure the word to best describe the CR-Z is "quirky."

The CR-Z is small, light, nimble and really can't be directly compared to any other vehicle on the market. Yes, there are other subcompacts out there, but the CR-Z provides a completely different motoring experience than anything else on the road. Drivers should settle in and enjoy the CR-Z for what it actually is: one part go-kart, one part spaceship and one part hybrid.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Yaris - Starting at $14,115, the Yaris is perhaps the sportiest subcompact to compare with the CR-Z. Yes, the Yaris isn't available in hybrid but it is capable of an estimated 38 mpg on the highway.

Mazda2 - We're sticking with sporty little hatchbacks to compare with the CR-Z. The Mazda2 Sport starts at $14,530 and is a real kick in the pants. With five doors, a manual transmission and an optional neon green paint color, the Mazda2 gives the CR-Z a run for its money.

Kia Rio - The all-new Rio starts at $13,600 for the LX five-door and features one of the nicest interiors in its class. Not only does the Rio look good and drive even better, it also comes with a 100,000-mile warranty that's hard to beat at any price point.

AutoTrader Recommends

For customers enamored with the CR-Z's distinctive looks and driving feel, we recommend they step up to the EX with navigation, priced starting at $23,055. Featuring a six-speed manual transmission and Honda's satellite navigation system with voice recognition, the CR-Z features all the sporting and technological features an eco-conscious urban driver could want.

author photo

Nick Jaynes developed a passion for writing about cars working his way through Journalism School as a Volvo mechanic. When he's not writing, Nick can be seen hosting the popular automotive web-show DownForce Motoring. In his free-time, Nick collects vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

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