CR-Wheee!: Is Honda’s CR-Z Hybrid a Worthy Successor to the Famed CRX?

[Editor's Note: This story ran in our November 2010 issue. Some information, like David owning a CRX or Honda's CR-Z being new are no longer the case.]

If you’ve already made up your mind about the Honda CR-Z—Honda’s new sporty two-seat hybrid that not-too-accidentally invokes the spirit of the legendary CRX—you may as well stop reading. If you think that there’ll never be another CRX, and that any attempt to duplicate such an iconic and effective piece of automotive history is a fallacious attempt at recapturing the lightning in a bottle that was the first two generations of that magical car, well, we can’t really help you.

Because you’re right.

That’s not nearly the entire story, though. Please, pull up a seat and follow along as we take an objective look at both cars in an attempt to sort the truth from the prejudices. 

For the Lulz

There’s been a lot of online whining about the CR-Z. Most of this kvetching claims that the new hybrid will never be as cool as the CRX, or that it would be better if it had a VTEC (yo!), or that it’s too heavy, or that it’s stupid and terrible and every other thing that the Internet loves to get riled up about. 

Of course, most of these opinions come from folks who haven’t driven a CR-Z—many of whom have never even seen one in person. Far be it from us to suggest that actual experience become a qualification for being an Internet expert, but we do see the value in adding some real data to the discussion. And this one seems tailor-made for a head-to-head comparison test.

So we gathered a fresh example of Honda’s newest hybrid sporty two-seater, that being the CR-Z in question, plus an unmolested example of the iconic benchmark, a second-generation CRX owned by Honda technician Steve McClesky. His 1988 CRX Si is still in bone-stock condition, making it perhaps one of the last few that haven’t been chopped up or thrashed to death. A set of old Falken Azenis tires were the only upgrade.

Now, despite our sarcastic bashing of the Internet bashers, we bring some apprehensions of our own to this comparison. We also share a deep and abiding love of all things CRX. Most of our staff members have, at one time or another, owned the lovable little Honda. Some even regret having parted with their CRXs so much that those traumatic events were the lynchpin for a nightmare descent into booze and pills that ultimately led to Nowheresville. Okay, it’s possible we stole that last bit from every “Behind the Music” we ever saw, but some of us really do miss our CRXs. Fortunately, we still have David’s VTEC-swapped ’88 HF in the fleet.

Side by Side

We could sit at a computer terminal and compare numbers all day long, but the only real test of Honda’s new contender is to drive it back to back and side by side with its spiritual predecessor. 

What’s that? You said that the actual spiritual predecessor of the CR-Z is the first-generation Insight? Nope. Sorry. You’re wrong. Despite the similarities—both cars have hybrid drive systems and manual transmissions wrapped in a two-seater hatchback body—the original Insight was much more geared toward ultimate commuter efficiency than the CR-Z is. 

Despite its hybrid system, the CR-Z really shares its purpose more with the second-generation CRX. It may have economical and practical features, but those features are wrapped in a true driver’s car. (And it does have i-VTEC, though it’s the SOHC flavor.)

Like most of us, the CR-Z has grown larger than its ancestor. It’s about 10 inches longer than the ’88 CRX and sports a 7-inch-longer wheelbase. Nevertheless, the new car still features the overall low-hood/bubble-hatch proportions of its predecessor. And like the second-gen CRX, the CR-Z’s wheels are pushed all the way out to the corners, where they can do some good.

Most surprising is the weight of the CR-Z. Car enthusiasts love to complain about the weight of new cars, but the simple fact is that there’s a lot more stuff in new cars, so we’re going to have to deal with heavier weights until we start getting some of that sweet “Star Trek”-type technology that made the USS Enterprise possible. (Or until they start making cars from decommissioned flying saucers—which is really the same thing.)

In the 20-plus years that have passed since the second-gen CRX hit the streets, safety standards have evolved to dictate certain design elements—like wider sills, higher and thicker doors, and larger crumple zones. This means the CR-Z has to carry a lot more metal than the CRX. However, we found that the weight penalty is not as great as we expected: Our test CR-Z came in considerably under the manufacturer’s stated curb weight. Our fully loaded test car—which had the navigation system plus the upmarket sound system—weighed in at 2586 pounds with half a tank of gas and no driver. Once we put someone behind the wheel, the cross-weights were just 0.07 percent from perfect. 

Our 1988 CRX, in comparison, tipped the scales at a featherweight 2106 pounds. Admittedly, this is considerably less than the CR-Z, but we still have to give Honda some props for making a modern, well equipped hybrid-drivetrain car that comes in at a reasonable weight in this age of multiple airbags and SUV-proof door bars.

Of course, the CRX’s charm goes way beyond its number on the scale. Our love of the CR-Z’s ancestor is due in large part to its exceptional utility. That original space-pod styling was not just for show, as becomes obvious once the hatch opens to reveal the cavernous cargo area. We’ve always loved the roomy passenger-compartment space provided by Honda’s releases of this era. You feel as though you sit on the car rather than in it. Sure, you’re surrounded by walls and dividers that rise from the floors to meet the dash, but you get the distinct feeling that the area immediately around the seats is an uncrowded oasis reserved for the business of driving. 

Despite the roominess, there’s no sense of the agoraphobia we sometimes experience in today’s most exaggerated interior spaces. (We’re looking at you, Nissan Cube.) While it feels like you have plenty of room to do your job in the CRX, you can also easily reach all of the sensible controls without stretching or bending.

How does the new upstart compare? Surprisingly—or not so surprisingly, depending on whether or not you subscribe to the “nothing new is ever good” theory of progress—the interior of the CR-Z is darn near as useful as the CRX’s. While the Z’s physical hatch opening is somewhat smaller, it opens into an area that is shaped and sized quite similarly to the CRX’s. Thanks to the multiple configurations available from the various screens and protectors, you could probably create a couple of quite useful cargo holding pens at once.

Up front the CR-Z is, well, very CRX-like as well. That same sensation of spaciousness exists despite the CR-Z’s obviously more padded and protected interior surfaces. Honda has used careful architecture to create a sense of openness and freedom. For example, most curves angle away from the driver and provide valuable space, including ample knee room. Our tallest staff member had no problem fitting in the CR-Z, even with his helmet on.

In typical Honda fashion, all of the controls feel about like they look—which is to say they are solid and provide real tactile feedback. Shift action for the six-speed transmission is slick and positive, with just enough notchiness to remind you that you’re operating a mechanical device.

The hybrid’s power delivery is an interesting departure from the 16-valve CRX we know and love. Instead of the steadily climbing power provided by the classic four, the modern powerplant has a bit more of a linear, dare we say torquey, feel to it. 

This is due mainly to the electric assist motor that provides an additional 13 horsepower and a whopping 58 lb.-ft. of torque to the CR-Z’s 109-horsepower, 1497cc gas engine. The combination of electric and gas powerplants puts out maximum torque at just 1750 rpm, giving the small four-cylinder a surprising amount of grunt. 

There’s enough grunt, in fact, to make up for the hybrid’s extra weight in straight-line performance. Both cars posted zero-to-60 runs of right around 9 seconds, although the CRX did feel a bit more comfortable running the engine hard through the gears. The CR-Z accelerated with enough force, but it just felt more comfortable in the middle and lower rpm range, using that electric motor to squirt around and make life easier. 

Three assist modes are available—Econ, Normal and Sport—each with its own powertrain profile. Sport provides a more aggressive throttle map, generous doses of electric motor assistance, and a slight reduction in power steering assist. Econ strives to save fuel, and Normal splits the difference.

Another similarity between the two cars is their fuel efficiency. Steve McClesky reported 36 mpg on his trip to our test day, which is right in the 34 to 38 mpg range usually seen by other CRX owners. We averaged around 38 mpg—right what Honda predicted—during our time in the CR-Z, and we were driving it like journalists, which is code-speak for maybe a little more aggressive than average.

Then there’s the price comparison. Back in 1988, a new CRX Si would have set you back about $10,975. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that same sum is worth $20,225 today—exactly what it would cost to buy a new CR-Z. Well, technically the CR-Z starts at $19,200, and fully loaded with the available CVT transmission, navigation system and EX package, it tops out at $23,210.

 

Side by Slide

Speaking of squirting around, we’ve come to the part where we compare lap times around our test track, Central Florida’s Ocala Gran Prix circuit. We’ll cut right to the chase and say that the two Hondas were nearly identical. 

When we say “nearly identical,” we mean that the averaged times after a whole morning of runs were within 0.03 second of each other: 41.76 seconds for the CR-Z and 41.73 seconds for the CRX.

True, the two cars went about their missions slightly differently, but not as differently as you’d imagine. The CRX is legendarily light and nimble, always begging for more and rarely doing something weird without letting the driver know well in advance. The CR-Z is obviously bigger and heavier, but it drives “small” and rotates on its front tires like a car clearly designed to carve a nice line. From behind the wheel and when tossing them into corners, the CRX and CR-Z were really more similar than they were different.

And that’s probably the whole message of this story. Despite the fear and paranoia that Honda was going to produce a bloated barge that didn’t deserve to have the letters CR placed anywhere on it, the CR-Z has managed to overcome. It will never replace the CRX in the minds of enthusiasts, but it doesn’t need to—nor is it trying to. 

The latest CR car is merely trying to be a fun, frugal, sporty car that carries on Honda’s long tradition of cutting-edge two-seaters. Whatever the name, it accomplishes that mission in fine fashion.

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Comments
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pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture PowerDork
10/21/19 1:59 p.m.

Generally of note is that CR-Zs really seem to be tanking in value lately. You kind of really have to not want a Fit in order to justify one, since they are objectively slower and less practical than a Fit yet return similar real-world MPG, but they are much easier to accept as a novelty compromise car in the $6-7k range. There are more aftermarket parts available than there were when I last looked as well.

spacecadet
spacecadet Dork
10/21/19 2:16 p.m.

In reply to pointofdeparture :

That's a pretty solid take and I agree with your logic. The CR-Z and Fit of a similar age are very close in price. 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
10/21/19 2:29 p.m.

In reply to pointofdeparture :

Fits are really uncomfortable, though.  And I thought CR-Zs were good for 45+mpg while Fits were 35ish.

spacecadet
spacecadet Dork
10/21/19 2:37 p.m.
Knurled. said:

In reply to pointofdeparture :

Fits are really uncomfortable, though.  And I thought CR-Zs were good for 45+mpg while Fits were 35ish.

Fuelly shows most users in the 37-41 area being the top of the bell curve for the CR-Z. I saw in the 32-34 range in my manual fit at Houston's 70 mph freeway speeds. 

 

And the CR-Z uses the same type of rear suspension as the Fit, rear twist beam.

The Fit isn't perfect, but I've never thought they were uncomfortable and I've got a bunch of miles in 1st gen and 2nd gen's They're actually 1 of 2 cars with perfect seating position for my weird ergonomics so I really like them. They're a bit louder because they skipped on sound insulation, but they're worlds more practical than the CR-Z. 

 

 

_
_ HalfDork
10/21/19 3:07 p.m.

We drove a crz before buying our fit. "Fits" like a glove. The crz didn't. 

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture PowerDork
10/21/19 3:23 p.m.
Knurled. said:

In reply to pointofdeparture :

Fits are really uncomfortable, though.  And I thought CR-Zs were good for 45+mpg while Fits were 35ish.

Having driven both and before buying a 2g Fit, I would say they are equally uncomfortable. And the CR-Zs don't get anywhere near that kind of fuel economy in the real world.

I really wanted to like the CR-Z but it felt like I had to make a LOT of compromises for 5.4 MPG. The Fit felt quicker and lighter on its feet. I would probably still have my Fit if I didn't get a job that required a 20 mile freeway commute at 70MPH.


jstein77
jstein77 UberDork
10/21/19 3:28 p.m.

Why was this posted now?  Honda doesn't even sell the CR-Z anymore.

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
10/21/19 3:32 p.m.

They also don't sell Porsche 356s but they just had tech tips for them posted.. ;-)

slowbird
slowbird HalfDork
10/21/19 3:34 p.m.

I enjoyed the CR-Z in Forza 4. That's all I can contribute to this topic.

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Digital Editor
10/21/19 3:40 p.m.
jstein77 said:

Why was this posted now?  Honda doesn't even sell the CR-Z anymore.

When I went to post this video to our video page, I noticed that it referenced an article that had never been digitally uploaded. Since both cars can be found for sale still, I decided to upload the story to complement the video. 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
10/21/19 8:20 p.m.

In reply to pointofdeparture :

"Comfort" is one of those things that varies person to person.  This person finds the sippycup high-chair Honda Fit driving position to be a lower back killer.  As always, your mileage may vary, etc.

boxedfox
boxedfox Reader
10/21/19 8:50 p.m.

Don't they make supercharger kits for these cars? They could make a fun daily commuter with 180-200hp under the hood.

spacecadet
spacecadet Dork
10/21/19 9:15 p.m.
boxedfox said:

Don't they make supercharger kits for these cars? They could make a fun daily commuter with 180-200hp under the hood.

There is a supercharger for the CR-Z from HPD

https://www.collegehillshonda.com/product/06100-F27S-A00.html

Sprintex makes a supercharger for the Fit as well. 

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UberDork
10/21/19 9:35 p.m.

I really enjoy the looks of the CR-Z; however, the driving experience leaves a lot to be desired for. If you were going to track a CR-Z vs. a Fit it does have some benefits. Rear discs vs. rear drums. 5x114.3 vs. 4x100 (negotiable on which is better), CR-Z came standard with a sway bar vs. the Fit which only got it on Sport models (3rd gen ditched it all together), and I'm pretty sure some of the older generation Civic Type R rear suspension bits bolt up to the CR-Z as well. The CR-Z doesn't have the best cupholder locations ever, it has that IMA stuff, a weird cargo area, 

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture PowerDork
10/21/19 9:36 p.m.

In reply to Knurled. :

Yeah, I get that. Generally speaking though the CR-Z seats were pretty much equally economy-grade with awful lumbar support which is a big deal for me personally. The lower seating position was better, but the seats themselves still sucked.

Half the reason I ended up with a GTI over safer options was the great seats...

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/21/19 9:38 p.m.

Edmunds also did a take on this back in the day, only they used a first-gen CRX. Here's what JPH had to say.

https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/2011-honda-cr-z-vs-1987-honda-crx-si.html

Vigo
Vigo MegaDork
10/22/19 11:02 a.m.

I liked my Insights and wanted to like the CR-Z, but it's a little big and a little underpowered to have such mediocre fuel economy. I posted in Mazdeuce's Fit thread about how i spent years waiting to be disappointed and give up when Honda decided not to bring the Fit Hybrid to the US.  I think there IS a middle ground for a sporty hybrid, but the CR-Z didn't find it, at least not stock. I'd be more interested in the supercharger thing if it didn't drive the cost of the entire car up by 30%, and im too lazy to turbo one myself when... I still have an Insight that would end up cooler with the same effort. cheeky​​​​​​​

NickD
NickD PowerDork
10/23/19 5:23 a.m.

I kinda forget these exist, and half the time that I see them, I think that they are an Insight. There was one that showed up to my local race track (Pineview Run) with a Rotrex supercharger kit, that I, as a big proponent of Rotrex blowers, was excited to see go, but it had a pretty inexperienced driver, so it just poked around the track at low speeds.

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
11/5/19 4:36 p.m.

I'll just leave this here. Running with Honda's R&D rally team (along with a new Passport and a Fit)

Image result for rally cr-z

Kreb
Kreb UberDork
11/5/19 5:40 p.m.

The CR-Z was a huge disappointment for me. I really like the way that it looks, and really liked the CRXs. Can you imagine what a hoot the car would be  with some real cojones? 

spacecadet
spacecadet Dork
11/5/19 10:35 p.m.
Kreb said:

The CR-Z was a huge disappointment for me. I really like the way that it looks, and really liked the CRXs. Can you imagine what a hoot the car would be  with some real cojones? 

A K swap into one with the batteries removed sounds like my idea of a good Time. K swapped Fits are friggin awesome. This is a lower fit. 

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