In general, hybrid vehicles are known for their extra-high fuel economy, while small sport coupes typically offer sporty fun. Combining the two, as Honda has attempted to do with its 2014 CR-Z two-door hybrid hatchback, would seem to be a great idea for people who enjoy driving and want to look sharp and sip gas while doing so. But sadly, the melding of these two genres in this diminutive Honda is underwhelming.
To its credit, the CR-Z is definitely more fun to drive compared to other mainstream hybrids. This is a relatively lightweight car, and between that and its quick steering, this Honda can be pretty entertaining to drive around the city. But while the CR-Z is quite fuel-efficient -- it's rated at 34 mpg combined, according to the EPA -- it doesn't deliver the hugely impressive mpg ratings most people usually expect from a hybrid car.
On the flip side, the 2014 Honda CR-Z doesn't offer the agile handling and swift acceleration that you'd expect from a small, sporty car. Drive it back to back with some of the sportier, non-hybrid cars in this price range and its limitations become quickly apparent. The Honda CR-Z is a good-handling car, but it's not the kind of car you'd go out of your way to drive at a brisk pace on a curvy back road. At the same time, it's one of the few cars in this price range that doesn't have a backseat, and that puts it at a disadvantage versus both higher-mpg hybrids and true sport coupes/hatchbacks.
Ultimately, with its two seats, two doors and two sources of power, the 2014 CR-Z looks the part of a cool hybrid hatch but fails to bridge the gap between the sporty and economical ends of the spectrum. Given these compromises, we encourage shoppers to look at some of the other choices in this price range. If fuel economy and versatility are priorities, the Toyota Prius C (http://www.edmunds.com/toyota/prius-c/) sets the standard. Its 50 mpg combined rating and four-door hatchback body style make it a much more useful commuter car, though the driving experience is admittedly rather dull.
For a car with more entertainment value, the four-door 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is a great choice, given its terrific handling and solid 29 mpg EPA combined rating. As for other sporty but still respectably fuel efficient two-door (or three-door) vehicles, the 2014 Fiat 500, Hyundai Veloster and redesigned 2014 Mini Cooper are also worth considering.
In the final analysis, the 2014 Honda CR-Z is a neat concept -- a hybrid car that's fun to drive -- but the actual execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. We think most shoppers will find its competitors more practical and enjoyable to own.
The two-seat 2014 Honda CR-Z hatchback 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 phone and audio connectivity; and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, steering-wheel audio controls, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Stepping up to 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 an upgraded seven-speaker audio system. The EX can also be had with an optional navigation system that includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface, a rearview camera, voice control, Pandora Internet radio and text-to-speech message capability for compatible smartphones.
Although Honda CR-Zs sold in other countries have a small backseat, the American version has a flip-down rear parcel shelf instead. The idea is to associate the car with the original two-seat CRX, but the lack of rear seating limits the 2014 CR-Z's practicality. Up front, seat comfort is adequate, but longer-legged drivers may wish for additional seat-track travel.
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.
Other than the two-seat layout, the interior's most notable feature is its distinctive 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.
Bear in mind that the 2014 Honda CR-Z is basically a sporty economy car, not a luxury coupe, so the interior trim is fairly plain. In addition, rear visibility is problematic through the dual-panel rear glass and the bodywork that surrounds it. The rearview camera goes a long way toward easing anxiety during backing maneuvers, but it's only available on EX models with navigation.
The front-wheel-drive 2014 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 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque with the standard six-speed manual transmission. 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 selector allows the driver to choose from Normal, Econ or Sport driving modes. Each adjusts parameters for gas-pedal sensitivity, steering effort level, transmission programming (CVT), additional electric motor assist (manual transmission) and air-conditioning usage. The Plus Sport System allows the driver to enjoy a boost in acceleration -- provided the battery is more than 50 percent charged and the CR-Z is traveling over 19 mph. 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.
Thanks to its tidy dimensions and quick steering, the 2014 Honda CR-Z is fairly nimble on city streets. Push harder around tight turns, however, and the little Honda offers less balance and grip than you'd expect given its sporty style and two-seat-only cockpit. If you really care about handling in a small car, a more athletic rival like the Fiesta ST will probably suit you better. Furthermore, the CR-Z suffers from elevated amounts of road noise, making it a less-than-ideal companion for long slogs on the interstate.
With a total of 140 hp on tap, the Honda CR-Z has enough pep to warrant the occasional detour from your planned commute, but not much more. 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 mpg-maximizing Econ mode makes for noticeably slower acceleration. Most drivers will find the Normal mode just about right. Both transmissions work well. The six-speed manual offers easy action and a nice mechanical feel, while the CVT feels moderately sporty by virtue of its steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The 2014 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. A rearview camera is included on EX models equipped with the navigation system.
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 four stars (out of a possible five) as well as four stars for frontal-impact protection. It earned just three out of five stars in side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CR-Z its highest rating of "Good" in its moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
The 2014 Honda CR-Z carries over unchanged.