Small sport coupes and small hybrids are typically meant for two different missions. One is designed for fun, the other for frugality. Combining the two, as Honda has attempted to do with its 2013 Honda CR-Z, would seem to be a great idea for those who enjoy driving and want to look sharp and sip gas while doing so. But sadly, the CR-Z excels neither as a sport coupe nor as a hybrid.
Although it's peppy enough and nimble around town, the CR-Z doesn't really provide the invigorating drive characteristics that the sleek styling suggests. And although the Honda's fuel economy ratings are strong, they're actually not that much higher than some non-hybrid small hatchbacks that are more practical, better equipped and usually more refined.
Underneath the CR-Z's body you'll find it has essentially the same underpinnings as the Insight, Honda's small four-door hybrid. As such, the CR-Z is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor/battery pack. For 2013, the CR-Z receives a new, more powerful battery pack that pushes the combined output up to 130 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque, increases of 8 hp and 12 lb-ft (4 lb-ft for CVT-equipped models), respectively, over last year's CR-Z. Despite the increased muscle, the new powertrain also boasts a slight increase in fuel economy, rating 1 mpg greater in a few cases. However, unlike the hybrid systems used by Toyota and others, the CR-Z's can't propel itself on electricity alone, and thus can't achieve the exceptionally high city fuel economy that you might expect.
Given its limitations, we think buyers can generally do better than the 2013 Honda CR-Z. We'd suggest looking at the 2013 Mini Cooper, which boasts comparable fuel economy and better handling, or the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth, which oozes Italian personality and turbocharged performance. The 2013 Hyundai Veloster is another good choice considering its added versatility.
The two-seat 2013 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), a rearview camera, cruise control, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a cargo cover, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, Bluetooth audio, steering-wheel audio controls, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The EX adds automatic xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, foglights, heated mirrors, two-tone black and red upholstery, metallic interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a seven-speaker upgraded audio system. The EX can also be had with an optional navigation system that includes a touchscreen interface, Pandora radio, text message reporting and voice controls.
While the 2013 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 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 basically a sporty economy car, not a luxury coupe, so the interior trim is fairly plain. It's also important to note that rear visibility is problematic through the dual-panel rear glass and the bodywork that surrounds it. The newly standard rearview camera, however, goes a long way toward easing anxiety during backing maneuvers.
The front-wheel-drive 2013 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 130 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. The torque number drops to 127 lb-ft with the optional continuously variable transmission(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. This year brings the new Plus Sport System, which (provided the battery is more than 50 percent charged and the CR-Z is traveling over 19 mph) allows the driver to enjoy a boost in acceleration. Pressing the "S+" button on the steering wheel does the trick by allowing maximum power from the battery pack for 5 seconds. This feature can be used in any of the drive modes.
In Edmunds performance testing of the previous, slightly lower-powered CR-Z, a manual-equipped version went from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds: still quicker than average for its class. With the CVT, this time grew to 9.2 seconds. We'd expect the 2013 CR-Z to better those numbers by a tenth or so. EPA fuel economy estimates are 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 36/39/37 mpg with the CVT.
Thanks to its tidy dimensions and quick steering, the 2013 Honda CR-Z is fairly nimble on city streets. Push harder, however, and the little Honda feels less agile, as there's more body roll and instability than one would expect given the car's sporty style and two-seat-only cockpit. Furthermore, the CR-Z suffers from elevated amounts of road noise, making it a less-than-ideal companion for long slogs on the interstate.
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. Regardless of mode selected, one can always hit the Plus Sport button when a boost in power is needed. 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 2013 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, the CR-Z came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet -- a good performance 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 its frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
For 2013, the Honda CR-Z gets a mild styling refresh, a few more standard features (such as a rearview camera and Bluetooth phone/audio) and a bit more power.