Honda has unveiled a new hybrid-electric economy car. Honda has also unveiled a sporty little two-seater equipped with one of Honda’s signature VTEC high-performance engines and a six-speed manual transmission. The good news is that both these models are rolled into a single new model, the 2011 CR-Z hybrid sport coupe.
The all-new CR-Z matches the dynamic handling of a compact two-seater with the benefits of an efficient hybrid-electric drivetrain.
With the new CR-Z, Honda was able to develop a near-clone of its most fondly recalled pocket rocket of two decades ago, yet escape the “retro” label. The CR-Z looks like the much-loved CRX of the 1980s, giving tribute to the old car’s design with a contemporary look of today.
The CRX was a fuel-economy champ, so former owners of that car may wonder why the new hybrid-powered model scores EPA fuel economy ratings only in the mid-30s. The reason is that the CR-Z packs nearly 1,000 lbs. of safety and comfort equipment the CRX lacked.
In 1983, drivers didn’t know Bluetooth from Bluebeard, and High Intensity Discharge headlights might have been thought to be a product of the government’s Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program of the time.
Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system is simpler than the design used by Toyota, Ford and Nissan in their hybrids, with an electric motor sandwiched between the gas motor and the transmission. Technophiles may dismiss this as less exotic than competing designs, which integrates the electric motor into a Continuously Variable Transmission, but Honda’s approach has advantages.
It is more compact and cost-effective, which have been its primary areas of appeal to this point. Because it isn’t built into a CVT, Honda’s design leaves the choice of transmissions options open for buyers.
In a sporty model like the CR-Z, the automaker is offering the industry’s only hybrid model with a six-speed, shift-it-yourself manual transmission. This is probably the last thing economy-minded commuters want, so the CR-Z is also available with a CVT, which has the benefit of changing ratios automatically and is more efficient than the manual transmission.
Honda estimates that the EPA ratings for the CVT-equipped model will be 36-mpg city and 38-mpg highway.