“You say you want a revolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world.”–(The Beatles)
In an interview with Norio Tomobe, the lead engineer for the 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid sport coupe project, he admitted to me that as a teenager he loved The Beatles. Well, Mr. Tomobe may not have become a world famous rock star like those four famous Brits but his work is no less revolutionary.
So how on earth is a hybrid sport coupe revolutionary? Well, thanks to Mr. Tomobe’s vision and the work of countless others Honda has managed to create the world’s first fun to drive hybrid. It is the first hybrid available with a six-speed manual transmission and it is the first hybrid I have driven where I actually forgot I was driving a hybrid.
Honestly, shouldn’t gas-electric technology be unnoticeable as you are driving instead of always feeling like your car is trying to put on some elaborate show for you as you drive to the grocery store? You know, like some other very famous hybrids from other competitors that I could mention.
Over the course of the next week I am going to be creating a comprehensive guide to the 2011 Honda CR-Z based on my experiences at the 3 day San Francisco press launch. In this article I will cover all the facts, figures and basics of what went into creating such a special little car. It is, quite frankly, the coolest Japanese two door to come along since the CRX and the first generation Mazda Miata.
In later installments I will give you the details of my full exclusive interview with Mr. Tomobe, a comparison of the CR-Z with a first generation CR-X that Honda had on hand to test drive, driving impressions from a day of driving the CR-Z on winding Sonoma County roads as well as on an autocross course and much more. Trust me, by the time I am done you will be a believer too in the automotive revolution that is the 2011 Honda CR-Z.
Pricing Estimates, Standard Features and On-Sale Date
Judging by how many people in San Francisco were staring at the CR-Z as I drove by I think many of these hybrid sport coupes will be bought solely on looks alone. Well, those folks will be lucky when they also get a heaping side helping of “fun to drive” along with stylish new set of wheels. So if you just have to own the first CR-Z off the boat remember U.S. sales start on August 24th, 2010.
Honda also really priced the CR-Z perfectly and while exact figures have yet to be released we were told it will start under $20,000 with destination and will max out under $24,000 for a fully loaded EX variant with navigation. Base model CR-Z coupes come with standard automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel mounted audio controls and a 160-watt AM/FM/CD/USB 6-speaker audio system to round out the essentials.
The more luxuriously equipped EX models come with glorious sounding 360-watt AM/FM/CD 7-speaker audio system with subwoofer(I need driving music so I put my CR-Z EX tester’s sound system through its paces), a leather wrapped steering wheel, HID (High Intensity Dischage) headlamps, fog lights, ambient interior lighting, hands free Bluetooth, a sportier shift knob for the available six-speed manual and the option of Honda’s excellent in-dash navigation system.
Also, the EX variant comes with polished tin alloy interior accents on the door grab handles and dashboard that really help make the CR-Z’s interior look far more expensive than it is. The use of that material is also a first in any production automobile. In other words, the EX is totally worth the extra money as it usually is with Honda. (Note: I will comment further on the design, features and layout of the CR-Z’s interior and exterior in a later report.)
The CR-Z’s two seat cabin is roomy enough for two sweaty, plus sized auto journalists (is there any other kind?) and also offers a whopping 25.1 cubic feet of cargo volume. The CR-Z really is the perfect weekend getaway car for any couple that hates packing light.
The cargo area also has a retractable cover which folds into a special “Secret Mode” (Honda’s name not mine) that allows you to corral smaller items in the cargo area so they won’t fly around the cargo area during spirited driving. In fact this did come in handy during some hairpin turns in Sonoma County when my briefcase/Man-bag would no doubt have otherwise flung forward and knocked me unconscious. And I didn’t particularly want to have to explain to Honda how I wound up getting their CR-Z stuck in a muddy field full of cows.
Engine, Transmission and Fuel Economy
All 2010 Honda CR-Z models are equipped with a 1.5 liter 4-cylinder engine mated to Honda’s IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) hybrid system. Together the electric and gas motors put out a combined 122 horsepower at 6,000 RPM/128 lb. feet of torque at 1,000 RPM on manual transmission models whereas CVT automatic equipped CR-Z variants have the same horsepower readings with 5 less lb. feet of torque at generally the same engine speed.
The IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) battery puts out 30% more power than the unit in the Insight and you can really feel it when you drive the CR-Z in “power” mode which optimizes the powertrain for performance and not fuel efficiency. In “power” mode the IMA becomes more of an electric turbocharger than an aid in helping the engine run as efficiently as possible. The instant torque from the electric motor is truly addicting.
There is also a “normal” mode for daily driving and an “eco” mode if you decide you want to torture yourself and blunt all the razor sharp harmony of the CR-Z transmission/engine/IMA battery combination. Do keep in mind that all EPA estimates for the CR-Z were done only in “normal” mode so your mileage may vary depending on which mode you choose.
CVT equipped CR-Z models all come with paddle shifters on the steering wheel and do a great job of helping you hold onto gears longer for optimal performance. Can you tell I never once felt the compulsion to drive this car at all slowly? In fact, my driving partner and I never took it out of Sport mode and drove it like we stole it all the while still averaging 31 miles per gallon. That is a really impressive real world economy number.
Official EPA mileage estimates 31 city/37 highway for 6-speed manual transmission equipped models like the example I drove most of the time and 32 city/39 highway for CVT equipped CR-Z models. Honda expects U.S. sales to be made up of 25-30% manual transmission equipped CR-Z models with the rest being CVT automatics. Apparently some of us are too lazy to use a third pedal. Some of us are seriously missing out especially if you own or are thinking of buying a Honda.
The 2011 CR-Z is a relatively lightweight car considering all the safety equipment and body reinforcements that are needed to have cars pass mandated Government crash tests (about 2,600 lbs. give or take a cheeseburger or two). The 2011 Honda CR-Z also is lightweight because during its development period the engineers were very conscious of how they could possibly make each component lighter. For instance, each of the stylish 16-inch wheel is 5 kilograms lighter than is normal for wheels of their size.
The CR-Z also has the lowest center of gravity of any hybrid thanks in part to efforts like redesigning the intake manifold so the engine and hood could be lower to the ground. This obsession with a low center of gravity is perhaps part of Mr. Tonobe’s admitted (to me, at least) love of Porsche sports cars all of which use “flat” boxer engines to help lower the center of gravity as a means to improve handling. And we all know that has worked out pretty well for Porsche over the years.
As is the norm with Honda nowadays, the 2011 CR-Z was designed with its acclaimed ACE design structure that helps their cars perform equally well in a crash no matter if it is with a taller SUV or a similarly sized car like the Honda Fit. There are also pedestrian impact safety features like breakaway windshield wipers and a pop up hood both of which aid in preventing serious injuries should the unthinkable happen.
Now I know there are always techno-geeks out there that want all of the official stats and figures so I will follow this article with as detailed a list as I can bear typing. Do look out for
Part 2 of this report is where I examine the interior design, exterior design and some of the inspirations that led to the creation of this very special sport coupe. Oh wait, hybrid sport coupe. I keep forgetting it’s a hybrid.
Engine: 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) Hybrid System
Power (6-speed Manual): 122 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque
Power (CVT Auto): 122 horsepower/123 lb. feet of torque
Fuel Economy (Manual): 31 city/37 highway (test done in Normal Mode only)
Fuel Economy (CVT): 32 city/39 highway (test done in Normal Mode only)
Length: 160.6 inches
Width: 68.5 inches
Height: 54.9 inches
Wheelbase: 95.9 inches
Weight Distribution: 60% front/40% Rear
Turning Radius: 35.4
Gas Tank: 10.6 Gallons
Required Fuel: Regular Unleaded
Airbags: Front, Side and Side Curtain
Cargo Volume: 25.1 cubic feet
Brakes: 4-wheel disc Anti-lock Brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution