2011 Honda CR-Z First Impressions
In summing up his presentation introducing Canadian journalists to the Honda CR-Z, Jerry Chenkin, Executive Vice-President of Honda Canada exclaimed: “Honda spirit is back.” That spirit is born out of three pillars that underpin all Honda development: Environment, Technology and Motorsport.
Many autocross participants and compact-car enthusiasts maintain a fondness for Honda’s now-defunct CRX sports coupe. It was viewed as a frugal, fun, highly track-competent performer. Many rued the day its production was curtailed.
For them and for a whole new set of buyers, Honda will repeat the past but they will do so with benefits derived from the latest in automotive design and technology, including hybrid power. The soon to be released CR-Z is a two-door, two-seat, compact coupe that draws heavily upon roots reaching back to the CRX.
Like the CRX, the CR-Z is a sporty, front-wheel drive vehicle that exhibits a distinctive appearance featuring a glass hatch and plenty of cargo room. The CR-Z embodies a low centre of gravity and a low seating position. This combination is preferential for handling purposes, but it also enables a low-slung, flat roofline, which enhances aerodynamics, ensuring that the vehicle slips through the wind with minimal resistance.
The reduced drag also benefits the CR-Z’s fuel economy which, thanks to its hybrid powerplant, is indeed impressive.
Hybrid-powered sport coupe
“Sport coupe” and the word “hybrid” are not generally used in the same sentence, until now that is. The CR-Z is powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), “mild” hybrid technology. The combined output is rated at 122 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque.
Power flows through a 6-speed manual gearbox—the first ever in a hybrid vehicle—or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) for those preferring no stick work.
In addition to adding grunt to the 1.5-litre i-VTEC inline 4-cylinder engine, the hybrid arrangement assures good fuel economy from Honda’s little runabout coupe. The CR-Z has been rated at 6.5 L/100 km and 5.3 L/100 km city and highway driving respectively, when equipped with the 6-speed manual box.
The CVT-equipped version receives a more favorable rating of 5.6 and 5.0 L/100 km, respectively. During my “real world” testing in the city and on the highway, I averaged in the low 6.0L range with the 6-speed manual. I doubt it would be possible to use more than 7.0 L/100 km regardless of how heavy one’s foot may be.
So from a fuel economy perspective, the CR-Z can be driven hard while maintaining its fuel frugality; the bigger picture though is environmental. The CR-Z spews lower levels of carbon emissions into the atmosphere thanks to its IMA technology, and this is consistent with Honda’s long-standing “blue skies for children” policy adopted 40 years ago.
Unlike a “full” hybrid system, Honda’s IMA doesn’t enable the vehicle to be propelled exclusively by battery power. Although the engine shuts down when the vehicle is stationary, it instantly fires up when the manual shifter is placed into gear, or in the case of a CVT-equipped version, the brake is released.
The IMA system seamlessly combines engine and electric motor output for improved acceleration and overall efficiency, making for a motoring experience that more resembles a conventional powertrain setup than a typical hybrid arrangement.
Behind the wheel
Honda did an excellent job of infusing lost spirit into the CR-Z, provided one’s definition of “spirit” isn’t based exclusively on power. The CR-Z is a lively performer, but it’s not a pocket rocket. That said, torque is plentiful early in the performance curve, which remains fairly linear throughout.
Despite the absence of seat-sucking acceleration, there’s plenty to enjoy behind the wheel. I was impressed with the refined character of the CR-Z—the car exhibits a more upscale feel than its anticipated low $20K pricing would suggest.
Honda gave us the opportunity to throw the CR-Z around an autocross track, and I can vouch for its toss-ability. The little coupe feels balanced and predictable when cornered hard and pushed to the limit of its passenger car tires—and the athleticism doesn’t come with a corresponding sacrifice in ride quality.
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