Coupes are known for offering style and performance, and the 2015 Honda CR-Z aims to bring a certain measure of coupe flair to the staid and sensible hybrid segment. The CR-Z bundles high fuel economy with sharp two-door sheet metal and handling that surpasses that of the typical green machine. It's an intriguing mash-up, but the end result is ultimately a bit of a letdown.
In some respects, this Honda hits the right notes. Compared to other hybrids, it makes for an engaging city runabout, thanks to its low curb weight, quick steering and small size. And with its sleek and sporty exterior, the CR-Z is one of the cooler-looking hybrids on the market. Likewise, the adventurous dashboard design offers extra helpings of visual interest.
In other areas, though, the CR-Z is a disappointment. Though its EPA rating of up to 37 mpg combined is impressive relative to gas-only models, it falls short of the high bar set by certain hybrids. Due to its lack of a backseat, it's also a lot less practical than most alternatives. And while the CR-Z handles well and is certainly entertaining by hybrid standards, it doesn't offer the kind of driver engagement you'd get with a true sport coupe or hatchback. This shortcoming quickly becomes evident if the car is driven back-to-back with some of its sportier gas-only rivals.
Given the CR-Z's limitations, we'd recommend considering other choices in this price range. With its stellar 50 mpg EPA combined rating and useful four-door hatchback body style, the 2015 Toyota Prius C is a more versatile and practical choice, though it's compromised by lackluster acceleration. If driver engagement is a priority, we'd recommend the four-door 2015 Ford Fiesta ST, which teams superb handling and sprightly acceleration with a respectable 29 mpg EPA combined rating. There's also the more expensive 2015 Mini Cooper that offers responsive performance and strong fuel economy, along with loads of personality.
While the 2015 Honda CR-Z's core mission of being a frugal hybrid that's fun to drive is certainly appealing, the car doesn't fully deliver on this promise in the end. Whether your priority is practicality or driving enjoyment, there are competing models that will likely serve you better.
The two-seat 2015 Honda CR-Z hatchback comes in two trim levels: base and EX.
Standard equipment on the base model includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED brake lights, full power accessories, a rearview camera, cruise control, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a retractable cargo cover, Bluetooth phone 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, back-up guidelines for the rearview camera, 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 multi-angle rearview camera, voice controls, Bluetooth streaming audio (unavailable on lesser models), Pandora Internet radio and text-to-speech message capability for compatible smartphones.
Either trim can be outfitted with optional 17-inch wheels and performance tires.
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 2015 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 be lowered easily to create a flat load floor and hide any items in the parcel shelf's bins. A multi-position 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. Disappointingly, Bluetooth streaming audio is unavailable unless you get the pricey EX trim with navigation.
Bear in mind that the 2015 Honda CR-Z is basically a sporty economy car, not a premium coupe, so the interior materials are fairly plain. In addition, rear visibility is problematic through the dual-panel rear glass and the bodywork that surrounds it. Fortunately, the standard rearview camera goes a long way toward easing anxiety when the car is in reverse.
The front-wheel-drive 2015 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, 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.
In Edmunds testing, a manual-equipped CR-Z went from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, while a CVT-equipped model made the sprint in 9.2 seconds. Both times are quick relative to other hybrids in this price range but slow compared to competing sport compacts.
The opposite is the case on the fuel-economy front. With EPA fuel economy estimates of 34 mpg combined (31 city/38 highway) with the manual transmission and 37 mpg combined (36 city/39 highway) with the CVT, the CR-Z excels by sport-compact standards but comes up short relative to similarly priced hybrids.
Thanks to its tidy dimensions and quick steering, the 2015 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 be a better fit. Furthermore, the CR-Z suffers from elevated road noise, making it a less-than-ideal companion for long slogs on the interstate.
With a total of 130 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 yields 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 2015 Honda CR-Z comes with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags and active head restraints. A rearview camera is standard and an upgraded multi-angle 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 -- good for a hybrid, but subpar for a sport compact.
In government crash tests, the Honda CR-Z earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), including four stars for frontal-impact protection but just three stars for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CR-Z its highest rating of "Good" in the 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 2015 Honda CR-Z carries over unchanged.