Hybrid Sports Car For Driving Enthusiasts: 2011 Honda CR-Z

June 6, 2010/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS GREEN WHEELING BY DAN CARNEY

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.

honda crx

Honda has, thankfully, produced a good one, with smooth, linear clutch action and a shifter that has short, quick throws, so CR-Z interacts gracefully, flattering the driver with gear changes that may be more competently performed than the driver’s input would suggest. The car includes a “hill-holder” feature too, holding on the brake so the car doesn’t roll backwards embarrassingly when starting out on a hill.
The green ingredient — the CR-Z’s hybrid electric drivetrain — is also important to the car’s enthusiast appeal, even though the electric motor doesn’t produce a viscerally attractive sound like the car’s 1.5-liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine.
What it produces instead is abundant torque, a quality that is characteristically lacking among Honda’s racy, high-revving gas engines. The electric motor not only boosts the torque to a level well beyond that in the old CRX (128 lb.-ft. vs. 100 lb.-ft. in 1991), it does it at absurdly low rpms because that’s where electric motors make their power. So rather than having to rev the gas engine to launch the CR-Z off the line or out of a corner, the electric assist motor propels the car ably from low revs.
So, even though the 2011 CR-Z weighs a quarter-ton more than the 1991 CRX Si, it actually has more torque per pound than that car, helping it feel as light on its feet. And now we can enjoy the little Honda two-seater without being followed by a dark cloud of fear of the outcome of a crash, thanks to the raft of new safety features that contribute to that extra 500 pounds of bulk.
Considering how much has changed under the skin since the CRX’s day, it is impressive how little has changed from the driver’s seat in the CR-Z. — Dan Carney, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010