2014 Honda CR-Z EX Navigation Road Test

A terrible hybrid, a mediocre sports coupe, but a pretty good car.

What It Is
Honda's intended sports hybrid coupe.
Best Thing
It's surprisingly stylish, well-built, and fun to drive.
Worst Thing
Fuel economy isn't that great, relatively speaking. Neither is performance.
Snap Judgment
A good car, just not very good at its intended purpose.


A trope of automotive journalism is that we remember old cars through rose-colored glasses. Ah, yes, those were the good old days. By proxy, many new cars have lost their way; automakers have given up on making passionate, inspired vehicles. Honda is among the most afflicted and conflicted to fall under this trope, if only because the cars it used to make were so ahead of their time. Or to put it another way: Honda made good cars in the 1980s and 1990s when many other automakers were still lazily producing junk.

When Honda introduced the CR-Z in 2010, it set a high bar for expectations. The car supplanted not only the original Honda Insight coupe--which regularly achieved upwards of 60 mpg--but also the Honda CRX, one of the most fun and frugal Honda models ever built.

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How could Honda's modern sports hybrid coupe possibly stack up to such high-flying predecessors, especially when rated at "just" 36 mpg city/39 mpg highway? We wondered so much that we took one in for a week to find out.

What We Drove

The Honda CR-Z is available in three equipment levels--base, EX, and EX with Navigation--with two transmission options--a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. Naturally, Honda bestowed upon us an EX with Navigation with all of the bells and whistles to evaluate. But instead of giving us a slick-shifting six-speed, Honda filled our weeklong order with a CVT model, a $650 option. Including $790 for destination and handling, our Honda CR-Z rang in at $24,780.

Powering the 2014 Honda CR-Z is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system that nets 130 horsepower between the gas and electric powerplants. There aren't a whole lot of natural competitors, but because our car came with navigation, HID headlights, Bluetooth, backup camera, and a 360-watt stereo, among other features, we figure it'd align well with the 138-horsepower, non-turbo Hyundai Veloster, which also carries one more door and door more seats--the CR-Z is just a two-passenger car in the U.S. market. Feature for feature, the Hyundai would cost $23,645 to spec it similarly to the Honda. Plus, it has a panoramic sunroof, which is kind of a big deal for kind of a small car.

The Commute

Honda's IMA hybrid system is a little bit of yesteryear's technology, as it's more or less an electric motor that sits sandwiched between the engine and transmission. It never fully drives the car; like the name suggests, it assists. It works well when the car is moving, but outside of its automatic start/stop, it behaves very much like any other gas-powered car out there, albeit slightly more efficiently.

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Over the course of the week with plenty of stop-and-go driving, we saw 30.2 mpg, which isn't especially great, but it does the trick all right. On some jaunts where we frequented highways, we saw upwards of 45 mpg, but we found ourselves saddled into traffic more often than not.

Driving the Honda CR-Z, we found its interior cozy, comfortable, and solidly built, albeit showing its age. The functional, but antiquated, navigation system serves as centerpiece on the dash, with small controls and graphics from the 1990s. Outward visibility is impeded somewhat in the rear due to the car's split rear window and tiny rear quarter windows. But frontward visibility is excellent, and the car's compact dimensions make it an easy car to maneuver.

The Grocery Run

The Honda CR-Z isn't the most practical vehicle in Earth, but rarely is a car billed as a sports hybrid ever. Honda lists cargo capacity at a commendable 25.1 cubic feet. In Japanese-specification models, there's a small rear seat designed for two passengers; in the U.S. version, it has been replaced with a plastic shelf that carries the vestigial shape of that bench. We're wondering if Honda uses it to calculate some of that cargo space because the rear under the glass hatchback simply isn't that big.

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It can carry a weekend's worth of supplies for two people traveling around, but we measured just nine of our measured grocery bags sitting upright in the rearmost space without fitting any into the cracks in between. When all of those bags are back there, it can impede some rear visibility that's especially noticeable in parking lot perusing. But with a backup camera, we generally found ourselves with little problem getting around.

The Weekend Fun

Hardly the most powerful, fastest, or most capable car out there, we took solace in knowing that at least the CR-Z is fun to drive. Incredibly fun to drive. The little Honda feels light on its feet in a way that rivals the best front-drivers like the Mini Cooper and Mazda3. The difference is that the CR-Z's steering feels shaper; its torque is readily available thanks to that little electric motor. The only downside is that its suspension, coupled with its short wheelbase, can feel quite choppy over less than smooth pavement.

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And the CVT isn't bad, either, especially with the pre-programmed shift points available by way steering wheel-mounted paddles. So, there, we said what you might've wondered: The Honda CR-Z drives the way a Honda ought to, providing plenty of replay value for the casual driver or the enthusiast out there. It's just a shame that it's slower than molasses running on a cold day, which brings us to…

Summary

Retracing history. There's the elephant in the room that the Honda CR-Z isn't quite the sporting vehicle its CRX predecessor was. That's true. Absolutely true, especially in context to the CRX being the giant killer that it was back in the 1980s. In fact, the worst part about the Honda CR-Z is the fact that it's called CR-Anything. It should've been allowed to stand on its own instead of in the big shadow of its much smaller predecessor.

Likewise, the first-gen Insight doesn't take much prodding at all to reach well into 60-mpg territory. Our little Honda saw half of that. Heading to an environmentalist program over the weekend I had the CR-Z, I felt proud knowing I was one of the only drivers there without a Prius or a Tesla. But in the back of my mind, I still felt like the CR-Z wasn't quite the eco status symbol it ought to be.

So it's neither a great sports car nor a great hybrid. But I'd trust it to keep me safe in an accident, which isn't something I could say about either the CRX or Insight. Still, after living with it over the course of a weekend, I can say that the 2014 Honda CR-Z is a good, solid car and one that I questioned why anyone would get before driving it. Now, I'd happily recommend it. And if its credentials seem lacking, it's not like it's going to be easy to get 60 mpg out of this car by taping a giant aero foil to it, but Honda is now selling a supercharger upgrade, boosting power to 187 ponies, along with a more performance-oriented suspension and limited-slip differential. The only question we have is why Honda didn't introduce the kit earlier.

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Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $24,780
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 36 mpg
EPA Highway: 39 mpg
EPA Combined: 37 mpg
Cargo Space: 9 grocery bags Child Seat Fitment: Not Applicable
Estimated Combined Range: 392.2 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Good

Notebook Quotes

"This Insight-based coupe asks a lot of its driver, and gives little in return compared to the sporty Civic Si; unfortunately, it costs just as much. Fuel economy is good, but at 30 mpg it's not spectacular. It's quick, but the Si is at least a second quicker to 60 mph, and it feels and sounds better, too. Plus, the Civic just handles better because it has a better suspension." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director

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