With each new advance in fuel economy technology, enthusiasts despair the demise of the simple, fun-to-drive car.
Honda understands this despair. After all, Honda grew from motorcycling roots and its heritage includes being the first Japanese manufacturer to win world motorcycle and Formula One championships. They are car guys. Or were anyway.
The 2011 CR-Z is the company reassertion of those credentials, albeit translated into contemporary, politically correct, Corporate Average Fuel Economy-compliant terms. Drivers who are old enough to grouse that cars today just aren’t as much fun as in the old days, are also old enough to notice that the CR-Z sport hybrid coupe is a near-dead ringer for an earlier Honda product, the CRX.
That sprightly two-seater appeared in 1984, enjoyed a substantial upgrade in 1988 and bowed out too soon in 1991. Critics of hybrid electric drivetrains are often quick to point out that the 1.3-liter high-efficiency version of the CRX achieved EPA ratings equivalent to 38 mpg city and 47 mpg highway without the benefit of an electric assist motor and battery pack. But the fun-to-drive Si version of the CRX achieved only 24 city and 30 mpg highway in the EPA’s 1991 test, when equalized to today’s test procedures. This neo-CRX, in contrast, returns ratings of 35/39 mpg with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and 31/37 mpg with a six-speed manual.
That manual transmission, though it will probably only account for about 10 percent of CR-Z sales, is the crucial item to the CR-Z’s enthusiast appeal. The ability to rev to the redline, blip the gas pedal on a downshift approaching a turn, and floor it exiting a turn, knowing the transmission won’t decide to make an unwanted gear change, are all critical to an enthusiast driver’s appreciation of a skilled backroad dance partner.
The more efficient CVT propels the car nicely and will be satisfactory to the commuters looking for a sporty two-seat conveyance to drive to work. But enthusiasts will only be satisfied by the manual transmission.