Test Drive: 2011 Honda CR Z videos car test drives hybrids honda green scene1
2011 Honda CR-Z. Click image to enlarge

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By Paul Williams;
photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2011 Honda CR-Z

Unique in the Canadian market, the 2011 Honda CR-Z is a two-seat sports car with a hybrid powertrain (Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist, or IMA). However, its sporty character is not derived from horsepower; with the CR-Z, it’s all about the handling.

The CR-Z was a long time coming. Recalling the fondly remembered CR-X from the 1980s, concept versions have appeared at various international auto shows over the past few years. Honda has been criticized for introducing a succession of conservative products that are less engaging than the earlier vehicles like the S2000, Prelude, Integra and NSX. Maybe the CR-Z represents a change in direction.

The first thing to note is that this hatchback coupe has only two seats, and that’s got to narrow the field of potential buyers. Not having one is a disadvantage for many buyers, but even so, the CR-Z was a close runner-up to the Volkswagen Jetta in this year’s AJAC Canadian Car of the Year awards (Small Car, over $21,000) – voting journalists must have seen a lot to like despite the missing back seat.

Test Drive: 2011 Honda CR Z videos car test drives hybrids honda green scene1
2011 Honda CR-Z. Click image to enlarge

On the plus side, the CR-Z is packed with technology and standard equipment for a very competitive price. For its starting price of $23,490, it comes with automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels (17s are optional), stability control, tilt and telescoping steering column with remote controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows, HID headlamps, power and heated mirrors and premium interior materials.

The interior is a particular stand-out. Apparently, Honda got the message after the comparatively Spartan second-generation Insight failed to wow its target market.

Likewise, the exterior design seems stylish and modern, with most people at least intrigued by the look of this car. And you can do quite a bit with it, as this year’s SEMA CR-Zs demonstrated.

Test Drive: 2011 Honda CR Z videos car test drives hybrids honda green scene1
Test Drive: 2011 Honda CR Z videos car test drives hybrids honda green scene1
2011 Honda CR-Z. Click image to enlarge

The base transmission is a six-speed manual, and for an extra $800 you can select an entertaining paddle-shifting CVT automatic. The six-speed is a joy to use, though, sporty and precise through the range. The clutch is light and shifting is a pleasure, although the CVT transmission does return better fuel economy (5.2 L/100 km city/highway combined, versus 6.0 L/100 km for the manual).

There are three drive modes available in the CR-Z: Econ, Normal and Sport. Normal is the default, and this mode offers acceptable acceleration and a pleasantly direct steering response. Eco takes things down a notch, softening the throttle response, conserving fuel throughout the driving experience. Sport wrings everything out of the 122-hp (combined) 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine with Integrated Motor Assist, sharpening the steering and throttle response so that the CR-Z carves its way through a slalom course as if it was purpose-designed.

Nonetheless, this is not an overtly rapid car from standstill. It’s nimble all right, but there’s no rush of acceleration and raspy exhaust note as you move through the gears (or gear, if you have the CVT). In Normal mode, it takes 9.8 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h, which is average for compact cars (the Chevrolet Cruze takes 10.4; the Kia Forte takes 9.1).

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