These days there are a lot of sporty coupes on the market and more than a few hybrids. But there's only one sporty hybrid coupe, and that's the 2012 Honda CR-Z.
Trouble is, this compact two-seater doesn't really excel in either area. While the CR-Z feels decidedly zippy, a suspension that's tuned more for comfort than speed creates handling that's just so-so thanks to a notable amount of body roll. Likewise, the CR-Z's fuel economy numbers are quite strong, but really no better than non-hybrid economy hatchbacks that are more practical, better equipped and usually more refined.
Built on the same underpinnings as the Insight, Honda's small four-door hybrid, the CR-Z is powered by a hybrid powertrain that combines a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor for a total output of 122 horsepower. A choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive round out the drivetrain details. However, unlike the hybrid systems used by Toyota and others, the CR-Z doesn't propel itself on electricity alone, and it doesn't achieve the exceptional city fuel economy that you might expect.
Given its limitations, we think buyers can generally do better than the 2012 Honda CR-Z. Competitors that offer similar or superior fuel economy include the Mini Cooper, which boasts better handling and an abundance of style. The new Hyundai Veloster is another great choice considering its added versatility, while it's also worth considering the sporty Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta.
Compared to the CR-Z, all are more practical, less expensive and have quieter, higher-quality cabins. If getting Honda's famed reliability is important, the Civic coupe enjoys the same advantages. As such, the Honda CR-Z may be one of a kind, but that doesn't make it the one to buy.
The two-seat 2012 Honda CR-Z comes in two trim levels: base and EX. Standard equipment on the base model includes 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, hill-start assist (manual transmission models only), cruise control, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a cargo cover, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, steering-wheel audio controls, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The EX adds automatic xenon headlights, foglights, heated mirrors, metallic interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and a seven-speaker upgraded audio system. The EX can also be had with an optional navigation system that includes a touchscreen interface and voice controls. Notable dealer-installed options include 17-inch alloy wheels, performance tires and satellite radio.
While the 2012 Honda CR-Z sold in other worldwide markets has a small backseat, Honda has chosen to equip the American version with a flip-down rear parcel shelf instead. The idea is to apparently better associate the car with the original two-seat CRX, though some measure of practicality is sacrificed, of course. Seat comfort is adequate, but tall drivers may find a lack of adjustability.
The CR-Z's rear cargo divider can easily be lowered to create a flat load floor and hide any items in the parcel shelf's bins. A multiposition cargo shade is also part of the deal. Maximum cargo capacity is 25.1 cubic feet, and two golf bags should fit with the divider lowered.
The interior's most notable feature is its space-age dash design, which is built around a large digital speedometer surrounded by an equally prominent analog tachometer. Adding a wow factor are background lights behind these gauges that change color to indicate driving style efficiency. A configurable display allows you to call up other useful information including instant and average fuel economy readings.
This is a practical car, not a luxury coupe, so the interior trim is fairly plain, although it's fair to say that it's less premium than the CR-Z's competitors. It's also important to note that rear visibility is problematic through the dual-panel rear glass and the bodywork that surrounds it.
The front-wheel-drive 2012 Honda CR-Z is powered by a gasoline-electric hybrid system that mates a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor for a total output of 122 hp and 128 pound-feet of torque with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. Torque numbers drop to 123 lb-ft with the optional CVT, which also comes with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
A three-mode drive selector allows the driver to choose from Sport, Normal or Econ modes. Each adjusts parameters for throttle sensitivity, steering assist, transmission programming (CVT), additional electric motor assist (manual transmission) and air-conditioning usage.
In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped CR-Z went from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds -- quicker than average for its class. With the CVT, this time lengthens to 9.2 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 35/39/37 mpg with the CVT.
Though the 2012 Honda CR-Z is not meant to be a sports car, it is still a fun little car to drive, with quick steering and a nimble feeling that comes from its short wheelbase and light weight. The ride quality is firm, but not objectionably so for a car like this. Road noise is louder than for many other similar cars, though.
Powertrain performance depends largely on which of the three drive modes you select. Punch the Sport button and the car gets up and goes, while the fuel mileage-maximizing Econ mode makes for noticeably pokier acceleration. Most drivers will find the Normal mode just about right. Both transmissions are winners, with the six-speed manual offering easy action and a nice mechanical feel, while the CVT still manages to seem sporty by virtue of its steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The 2012 Honda CR-Z comes with standard safety features that include antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags and active head restraints.
In Edmunds brake testing, it came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet -- a good distance among compact cars.
In government crash tests, the CR-Z earned an overall rating of three stars (out of a possible five) as well as three stars in both overall frontal and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CR-Z its highest rating of "Good" in both its frontal-offset and side-impact tests, but a second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
Introduced just last year, the 2012 Honda CR-Z returns essentially unchanged.