"This car is a bit of a stumper. I've owned around twenty cars over my driving career, and this is certainly up there for my favorites. As every review you'll likely read will mention (and your sales person surely ought to), this is positioned as a sports hybrid. Okay...
Step one: buy the 6-speed manual. Buying the CVT means you don't care about sporty. At that point, you're throwing away one of the best features of this car, and a great deal of its raison d'etre (sorry for lack of accents...)- a wonderful, Honest-to-God Honda manual transmission. They really are some of the best in the business. Skip the CVT, or go buy a Prius, Insight, etc. They're much more efficient, plus can seat 3-5 people! The shifter could use a bit more weight to be excellent, but it still is superb. The clutch, too, could use a bit more firmness (a heavy-duty pressure plate would be a nice upgrade down the road), but otherwise, this is an excellent combination for anything but a racetrack.
Step two: Forget much of the sport. This car has a combined rating of 130 BHP. This is a momentum car- if you're used to passing at will (as I was, coming out of an upgraded '13 Focus ST, with a 300 WHP '11 WRX before that), forget it. Planning is a must. However, if you maintain momentum, particularly in hilly terrain, this car comes alive (again, 6-speed!). One thing I must say is that after letting the engine break in for the first 1,000 miles (no heavy abuse, nothing north of 4,000 RPM, etc. [NOTE: Honda does NOT recommend or require a break-in period. It is not even mentioned in the owner's manual at all! This is entirely a self-imposed regimen to ensure maximum reliability]), between 1,200 miles and now, the engine feels noticeably more lively. As engines break in, they often gain a bit of power and efficiency, albeit only a small amount.
On the other side of sport is braking and handling. On both of these, the CR-Z lets you down. The brake pads are decidedly not aggressive enough, leaving you wanting more even in moderate driving. They always get the job done, but only just. The suspension suffers from being largely carried over from the Fit Sport (the CR-Z can truly be considered the Fit Coupe Hybrid, as many parts are carried over unchanged), which is at least 100 pounds lighter. This means that the damping and spring rates are soft in the CR-Z, leaving a bit too much body roll, but without the benefit of a softer ride. Better shocks/struts are a must-do if you want to really get the most out of this car on a backroad or track!
Step three: Forget ultra-efficiency. Let's face the elephant in the room- the CR-Z gets decidedly unimpressive fuel economy numbers. A 1.0L, 3-cylinder Fiesta will handily beat the CR-Z's fuel economy, practicality, and many other traits, while saving ~$6K+. Driving the car aggressively, but with an extremely smooth foot, I'm averaging 40.8 MPG on country roads (I actually went up 0.2 MPG switching to Sport mode full-time, likely due to my very attentive and aggressive driving style. While certainly not a hyper-miler, I have a tendency to get great fuel economy, likely due to preserving momentum). My last tank included a fair bit of A/C use due to heavy rains here in NY, and only dropped that number to 40.7, but of course, your mileage WILL vary. All this on NY 87 octane with ~10% ethanol, so higher numbers are certainly possible in those states fortunate enough to not have corn in their fuel. Also, the engine is still breaking in (I only have ~1,800 miles on it so far), so this should improve a bit.
Step four: Forget practicality. Despite being a hatchback, the CR-Z is still (gasp!) a three door. The rear "seats" (they are actually usable and belted in other markets, but not in the U.S.) offer a bit of usable space, and if the divider is folder, they are covered, making for some hiding space for some goodies. The hatch area is deep, but putting taller objects in there will hurt what little rearward visibility this car has. Thankfully, a rearview camera is now standard on the CR-Z (it wasn't in '11-12), which helps. However, rear quarter visibility is still pretty poor (Holy blind spots, Batman!), so be careful when changing lanes in traffic!
Step five: remember, it's a Honda! There's a reason that I love this car. It's quirky, but in a good way. For all its flaws and drawbacks, it's still an excellent car. It's a Honda, so I expect it to remain that way for a long time. Driven well, it's easy to keep speed up, even in hills, and it's rather tossable, despite very underwhelming tires (they're great on the Fit Sport, but less-than-stellar on the CR-Z. Extra weight, again?), and surprisingly good fun. The interior fit and finish is excellent, and the instrument cluster is very cool while being very easy to read. The lighting scheme is neat, and effective (although, as I said, I just leave mine in Sport mode now)- in Normal or Eco modes (stay out of Eco- it's a waste of time), the ring around the speedometer changes colors between green and blue, depending on the efficiency of your driving style. The shift indicator arrows mercifully disappear in sport mode (a constant annoyance in the Focus- they would appear mid-corner and distract the driver's eyes from the road- unacceptable in a sports-oriented car!), but are much more reasonable and unobtrusive than in many other cars.
The seats are very comfortable. My one gripe is that the rear-"seat" access tab is on the driver's seat (???) instead of the passenger side, which seems like an omission in the transition from right-hand drive to left-hand. A minor gripe, but if you need to access the back regularly, it's a bit annoying. Also, the latch for the hatch area hangs low, so taller users (I'm 6'0") WILL hit their heads on it with some regularity. You've been warned...
I happen to have the EX with navigation (and 6-speed, of course!), so a few notes on that:
The navigation system is surprisingly good. Having dealt with many other brands' navigation systems, this is up there as one of the best (top two are this and those in the new Kia vehicles, believe it or not!). The load time is excellent, even in VERY rural areas, like where I live. The voice recognition does fine with my voice, despite a bit of an Irish brogue. The introductory speech that the system gives after pressing the voice command button is infuriating, however, as it takes several seconds (5+), meaning I usually end up using my fingers instead, negating any benefit. The touchscreen is very responsive, although the graphics/color schemes available are not very engaging, nor do they match the IP's colors very well.
The HID low beams are nice, but the high beams and fog lights could use a bit more wattage, but this is an easy upgrade if you deem it necessary (aftermarket HID and LED kits are available). The OE sound system is very good, although the equalizer control for bass does not seem to do much in terms of subwoofer output. Sound quality is pretty darn good for a stock system.
One last thing I have noticed is that the S+ "push-to-pass" button does not seem to do anything. There is zero discernible power/torque increase. I really think that it does not do anything. Oh well...
Anyway, I love the car. It's a great, quirky car for this quirky man. If you like it on the test drive, and the payments work for you, and you can deal with the quirks and oddities, buy it! You won't regret it."
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