I recently drove a Honda CR-Z EX, a car the project leader described as “a sports car without guilt”. Below are a few of my first impressions after driving ~50 miles.
Terrible visibility, adequate response in Sport mode, excellent handling, good ergonomics and a somewhat intuitive dashboard.
The CR-Z has the worst visibility of any car I’ve ever driven. The engineers tried to overcome the giant blind spots by using convex side-view mirrors, but I nearly had a panic attack merging with the left lane of I-5 S from WA-520. If you plan on taking this car for a test drive, make sure you try backing out of a parking space in a crowded lot.
The CR-Z has three operating modes that *seemed* to impact shift points, battery assistance, and climate control: Sport, Normal, and Eco. For the most part, I left it in Eco – because I like to see the glowing green leaf on the dash and green ambient lighting around the speedometer. However, I activated Sport mode on several occasions to make semi-aggressive passes on I-405. One such maneuver seems to have taken the battery charge level down one full indicator bar (1/8?). Mid-pass I noticed the ambient glow had changed from green to red; but I’m still not sure how to interpret this. Red can mean “take more risks” or “stop, you’re hurting Mother Earth”.
The responsiveness in Eco was only slightly more anemic than my 115 hp 2003 Honda Civic LX, which weighs in at an impressive 2,449 lbs (curb weight, source: Edmunds.com). Despite carrying a battery pack and some electrical motors, the CR-Z comes in at 2,650 lbs (curb weight, source; Edmunds.com). Switching to Sport mode without changing my throttle position resulted in a pleasant increase in response, although this could be as much a result of drive-by-wire throttle mapping as an actual increase in available power.
It was very apparent this car’s chassis is more capable than its drivetrain. While I consider this an admirable trait generally (as on the Honda S2000 or NSX), in this package it seemed more like wasted potential. (Some have FI’ed the heck out of the stock engine to achieve higher power, ex. 533hp Bisimoto Honda CR-Z.) I can’t say I pushed the chassis to its limits, but it did feel much more stable and planted than my ’03 Civic on tight highway onramps.
When I first entered the “cockpit”, I found my head touched the roof. I soon discovered a lever to adjust seat height and scooted my seat back a touch. While my preferred seating position is relatively upright and close to the steering wheel, this was simply not possible for a 5′ 11″ individual. This more relaxed seating position contributed to my reluctance to test the limits of available grip.
As mentioned earlier, the Eco mode seems to impact climate control. I left the climate control setting on Auto, targeting 72~74 F. When I switched from Normal to Eco, it seemed like the A/C either shut off or reduced its output.
The model provided to me was equipped with the EX trim, which included a subwoofer and an audio system that definitely improves on the stock one in my 2007 Honda Accord EX-L. There was also a retractable cargo cover that I used while parked in Queen Anne to cover my athletic bag from prying eyes; I’m not sure if this was part of the EX trim but it was a welcome touch for an econo-sport-hatchback.
The dashboard could stand improvement. The MPG readout is not numeric as it should be. Instead I found a horizontal bar with indicators at 0, 50, and 100. Not a lot of precision available there.
For those with larger families, the CR-Z appeared to be a two seater, although I could not make out what exactly was between me and the trunk. They seemed like small, cushion-less seats for toddlers at best.
Disclaimer: The CR-Z was provided at no cost to me by a Honda dealer while my Civic was in for service.