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2011 Honda CR-Z first drive: We couldn't wait, so we drove one in Japan

Honda must be happy with itself right now. The recently released CR-Z hybrid sports-eco car has racked up 10 times the sales Honda was expecting, with 10,000 cars being snapped up at dealerships across Japan. With Honda's Formula One retirement, as well as its halting development on the next-generation NSX, this is just what the company needed to shift its home profile in the right direction.

The CR-Z is Honda's new hybrid, with a six-speed manual transmission. We couldn't wait to try it, but Honda didn't want to give us a car to drive ahead of the official U.S. launch this summer. So we took matters into our own hands and dropped by a Tokyo dealership to take a spin.

A 113-hp, 1.5-liter VTEC powers the car. That might not sound exciting, but with a 13-hp electric motor assisting low-rpm response, the little Honda offers adequate acceleration. The metal-hydride battery pack under the trunk space supplies the voltage powering the flywheel-mounted brushless motor, supplying 58 lb-ft of torque instantly, allowing us to zip through Tokyo traffic effortlessly.

There are sport, normal and eco modes, with eco decreasing throttle response to boost fuel economy. The six-speed manual was a pleasure, offering a short and precise stroke--typical Honda. We also drove the CVT-equipped car, which is marginally more economical, returning 58.8 mpg compared with the manual's 53.0 mpg. These are Japanese figures, so don't expect cars to be quite so economical in the real world. During our drive through town, we averaged 35 mpg, a respectable figure considering Tokyo's clogged streets.

The CR-Z shares most underpinnings with the Insight but boasts a shorter wheelbase and wider front and rear tracks. The CR-Z comes alive in corners, but it might be a little too stiff for the daily commute. The car is quiet at low rpm and shuts off at stops.

The CR-Z is on the small side but Honda has done a good job in the packaging department, offering plenty of luggage space with the rear seats folded flat. In Japan, the CR-Z is available in two trim packages, with a seemingly limitless list of options to help you personalize your car to your heart's content. We especially liked the Recaro racing-seat option and the upcoming Mugen parts that help turn the CR-Z into a more focused sports car.

The question, however, remains: Will this initial success in the domestic market be repeated when the car comes to the United States? There is certainly nothing like the CR-Z out there at the moment, so we think Honda is on to something. Who said hybrids need to be boring?

2011 Honda CR-Z
On Sale: August
Base Price: $22,000 (est)
Drivetrain: 1.5-liter, 122-hp, 128-lb-ft I4 hybrid; FWD, six-speed manual
Curb Weight: 2,670 lb (mfr est)
0-60 MPH: 9.7 sec (est)
Fuel Economy: 33 mpg (mfr est)

Article Found At: 2011 Honda CR-Z first drive: We couldn't wait, so we drove one in Japan

Interesting that they put the sale date as August 2010, wonder if there is any substance to that or just a guess?
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