2011 Honda CR-Z: First Drive

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What do you get when you take some of the inspiration of Honda’s much-loved CRX two-seater from the 1980s and cross it with the also-much-loved Insight coupe from the past decade, then give it the latest version of Honda’s hybrid system? Honda says you get the 2011 Honda CR-Z.

 

We’re leaning more to “Insight two-door” after our first drive of the CR-Z from Manhattan to the suburbs and back. Even with its own sheetmetal, crisper steering feel and an available six-speed manual transmission, the CR-Z doesn’t add more than a dash or two of driving fun to the usual hybrid driving experience.

 

It shrinks the appeal of the Insight in two important ways, too: it gets worse fuel economy, and it loses the in-a-pinch usefulness of the Insight’s admittedly smallish back seat.

 

After a very brief first drive of the CR-Z in and out of New York City, we’re left more wanting of a classic 1984-1991 CRX than ever. If you’ve never driven one, find a good example and get in it—it’s on the bucket list for every driver under 50 years old, in our humble opinion. Unassisted steering and non-anti-lock brakes might sound like something drawn on cave walls, but the CRX was a halo car for Honda when it hadn’t set out to create one.

 

The CR-Z isn’t one, period. It’s a pioneer, all right—but we’re just not convinced there’s a pack of “hybrid enthusiasts” out there who can overlook either the CR-Z’s numb, hybrid-like driving feel, or its sub-Insight fuel economy. A stock Ford Fiesta will better the CR-Z’s gas mileage—and might feel better, dynamically.

 

We’ll reserve a final take on the CR-Z for later this year, when we can wring one out on our favorite switchbacks. But we’re pretty sure in our opinion that Honda should have dubbed this car something else. Maybe the CR-Z should have been an Insight Sport. Or maybe Honda could have added hybrid technology to its spunky Civic Si hatchback instead.

 

Or as our lanky deputy editor Bengt Halvorson asked, “What if Honda had built that diesel it planned for Acura, and put it in a Civic-based coupe?”

 

It didn’t, and instead, the CR-X feels more like the old fuel-sipper CRX HF than the track-friendly Si versions. Most of all, it feels like the Insight—the sportiest hybrid by far, but a mixed message at best.

 

We think it’s either way ahead of its time, or plainly off the mark. You can read our full first drive over on TheCarConnection’s 2011 Honda CR-Z page, and stay tuned for a review of other takes on the CR-Z and our own follow-up drives.

 
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