Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Honda CR-Z Hybrid--Shift for Yourself

The Honda CR-Z is the first hybrid car with a manual transmission. This makes it more fun to drive, but doesn't improve the fuel economy. Today's automatics are better at driving "green" than we are. I achieved 33.7 mpg, a fine figure for a car, but a number that pales next to the almighty Prius.

The reason is, Hondas use the gas engine/electric motor combination differently from Toyotas. A Prius can run on gas only, electric only, or, normally, a combination. Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system uses the electric motor as a supplement to the gas engine, which runs all the time--except during "Auto Stop," when it shuts off at a traffic light or stop sign. This means the fuel savings come from using a smaller gas engine (a 1.5-liter, 122-horsepower 4 in this case) and from the stops. However, I found that with a clutch, I occasionally ended up shifting into nothingness--outsmarting the automatic-on function of the engine. It was a little disconcerting in traffic.

The CR-Z is the modern successor to the popular two-seat CR-X sold from 1983-91. It was a junior-size Civic. I looked at one in 1986 and ended up buying the Civic Si hatchback instead, because it offered rear seats. The CR-Z, like the CR-X, is strictly a two-seater, with storage behind the seats, but there are rear "panels" that fold down to create a large cargo area--big enough to carry my upright bass. Several people doubted I could do that and were amazed to see the large instrument materialize out of the diminutive vehicle.

My red tester, with a crisp light gray interior, drove smoothly and quietly along all roads and didn't feel as small as it looked from the outside. A few people commented on its cute appearance--it got more comments than most other test cars.

My tester priced out at $23,310 in the EX level with a navigation system. Prices start at $20,295 for the regular model. An automatic transmission is available.

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