The Honda CRX was a little sports car made during most of the 1980s. It wasn’t overpowered, but it was light, economical, handled well, and got terrific gas mileage. I finally bought one a couple of years ago, and loved it despite the lack of air conditioning (removing the AC was common by hot rodders). Unfortunately, mine was wrecked by a friend in 2009, but he’s dead now, so I can’t stay angry at him.
The CRX was a shorter, lighter, two-seat (in the US) version of the Civic. It was either a sport subcompact or a real sports car, depending on the engine. Honda ended the series around 1990, though it was resurrected a few years later with a different body in the unfortunately named Del Sol. The CRX is a common holy grail of import tuners, since it is so light, can be found cheaply, and takes the widely available Civic engines.
I lament the lack of new CRXs sometimes. A lightweight CRX with the new 197-horsepower Civic Si engine would be a force to be reckoned with in the sub-$30k sports car market, and would be fast and fun enough that even those who could afford pricier options might still want one. When coworker Corey III brought up the subject Friday night, he suddenly had my undivided attention.
“Hey, have you seen the new CR-Z? There’s one that comes through Henderson Hall.”
“WHAT? NO!” I had to know more. Was it still affordable? Had it been kept lighweight? Was the 197-horsepower engine an option? I was cautiously VERY excited. Which is a hard balancing act.
As I learned more, I became more excited. The CRZ is BEAUTIFUL, especially the Maserati-ish front end. It starts under $20,000, and even the highest-trim version with Nav package is under $25k. Weight is creeping up, but still about 400 pounds less than my Si. But what about power? What ABOUT THE POWER?
Here’s where reality pimp-slapped me. The CRZ is a sports HYBRID based on the Insight hybrid. Lightened, widened, with 2 seats removed (US version) and with an extensive makeover, how “sporty” is it? Well, I haven’t had a chance to drive one yet, but the answer seems to be, not much.
The CRZ has many of the hallmarks of a real sports car. Occupants sit just above the ground, in a sub-2600-lb beautiful body with poor rear visibility. It SOUNDS like a great car…but.
The CRZ takes off fairly fast, due to the immediate low-speed power assist from the electic motor. This assist runs out after the first two, short, gears, leaving the little car sweating to struggle up to 60 mph in 10 seconds. Though handling is good, the seats lack side support, and there are no side grab handles.
Driven in sports mode, how effective a hybrid is the CRZ? Again, not very. One reviewer got an abysmal 23 mpg while doing his best to run the car like it had guts. Even the advertised 37 mpg when driven in granny mode is not exceptional: many of the old CRXs with smaller engines managed that, while being fun to drive.
A quick look at the CR-Z makes it easy to believe Honda has missed the mark on this one. The car is not a good sports car, nor is it a great hybrid. It does succeed in being really cute in an aggressive way. Of course it’s already selling well in Japan.
A second thought does bring some additional thoughts, though. This is the first affordable sports hybrid. No, it’s not a great sports car, and it’s a poor hybrid. But it’s a first. And may there be more, and better.
Now, Honda, I still want to see a dedicated sports version without the batteries. Without those, you can have a vehicle in the same price range, with the powerful Si engine, at the same or less weight. And it will get better gas mileage when driven aggressively! THAT would sell like hotcakes, guaranteed.