2014 Honda CR-Z Quick Take: Sport/Hybrid is not an oxymoron
Expectations are funny things. When the CR-Z two-seat hybrid was introduced four years ago, visions of the CR-X Si danced in the heads of the Honda faithful. Despite being the first hybrid to offer a manual transmission, the reality of the performance of this two-seat fuel sipper was disappointing to the fan boys and perhaps that perception unfairly tarred what is arguably a fun and efficient commuter-which was ironically the mission of the original CR-X when it was introduced way back in 1984.
Still, the 2014 Honda CR-Z soldiers on, adding tweaks that enhance its sportiness while delivering fuel economy in the 30-plus mpg range. The CR-Z is what some would term a mild hybrid, its Integrated Motor Assist using a 15 kW electric motor to give an extra boost to the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine for a combined output of 130 horsepower. While the manual is designed to appeal to the enthusiast set, the best fuel economy is obtained with the CVT-the manual earns 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway for a combined 34 on the EPA cycle, while the CVT boasts 36 city/39 highway for 37 mpg combined.
Prices start at $19,995 for the base model equipped with the 6-speed up through the $23,990 we saw with our CR-Z EX CVT with navigation. This top-of-line model features comfy sport bucket seats, a thick, grippy steering wheel and responsive handling you'd expect from the tidy two-seater that rides on a 95.9-inch wheelbase. The electric power assist steering has plenty of feel and weight to take advantage of the car's crisp turn in and nimble road manners. The powertrain is responsive and the stepped CVT is tuned to minimize the elastic feel and high rev droning often exhibited by these transmissions. And in a tip of the hat to Honda's IndyCar efforts, there is even a push to pass button-called Sport Plus-that gives an extra squirt of power from the electric motor for passing maneuvers and freeway merging. That boost is only available if the battery has more than a 50-percent charge and the vehicle is travelling at least 20 mph.
Aside from the Sport Plus button, the driver can select from Econ, Normal and Sport modes that changes the responsiveness of the accelerator and the aggressiveness of the regenerative braking system. Speaking of the latter, braking action is linear with good pedal feel unlike other hybrids which are not as consistent thanks to varying recapture rate of the vehicle's kinetic energy.
While it's no Si, the CR-Z is no slouch, either. It is fun to drive, affordable and returns good fuel economy. The downside is the lack of utility that comes from having just two seats. But among the growing list of hybrids on the market, the 2014 Honda CR-Z has carved out its own unique niche.
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