Monday, June 6, 2011

2011 Honda CR-Z

There are some moments in your life where you see something so inspiring that you wish your eyelids were actually the shutters for some inner camera lens that could record the vision in front of you for the rest of your days. On a recent drive in this 2011 Honda CR-Z along the coast of Southern California north of Camp Pendleton near San Diego, I found myself gazing upon a still and serene expanse of crystal blue Pacific Ocean as two military Apache helicopters ran low and fast across the water. It was mesmerizing.
After my ocular nerves enjoyed that deliciously visual moment another thought struck me. I would never experience that moment again in my entire life. No moment in your life ever really does repeat itself in its exact previous form. Kind of like how a very special car from an automaker’s past can never, ever be repeated no matter how much people might want that to happen. Seriously people, it’s time to get over it.

If you are a little slow then I will let you know which car I am, of course, talking about—the much vaunted Honda CR-X. First off, the 2011 Honda CR-Z is not and clearly was never intended to be a “new CR-X.” I know it has two doors, a hatch and a similar silhouette but if having these design elements makes the CR-Z an homage to anything you could claim it apes the looks of the original hybrid Insight. The lines are purely meant to be as aerodynamic as possible.

Even if the much rumored 1.6 liter turbocharged engine variant arrives, the CR-Z will still never be like the CR-X and while I apologize for being the one to break this to the Honda faithful, I say thank God (more on that in a moment). I have read so many vicious attacks on the CR-Z in various publications and countless websites so instead of screaming like yet another screeching media howler monkey for the rest of this article, I am here to tell you what might just be right about the 2011 Honda CR-Z.

I know that saying all of this will no doubt find me in hot water in countless forums, chat-rooms and blogs across the internet but after recently Googling myself I realize that this happens to me anyway. Maybe you could say I relate to the CR-Z’s misunderstood reputation. Seriously guys, do you talk to your mothers with that kind of language? You know, that woman whose basement you still live in.
(Note: I wrote a six-part report detailing every aspect of the 2011 Honda CR-Z after its press launch back in June so I am going to focus this report on parts of the car that I haven’t previously analyzed. For more information on the 2011 CR-Z, check out the links to those 6-articles at the bottom of the page.)

A Little Perspective
I drove a 1985 Honda CR-X Si on the freeway at the CR-Z’s press launch and was sure I was going to wind up stuck in the wheel well of a passing Semi. I turned the air conditioning on at a stop light and it stalled. The doors were skinnier than a coked out supermodel. It was louder inside the cockpit at freeway speeds than a gaggle of screeching teenage girls at a Jonas Brothers concert. You know, back when they were popular.

Sure, the steering offered up a level of feel you don’t find in any modern car, the transmission was deliciously tactile in the way it moved through the gates and it cornered like a go-cart. Funnily enough, however, the 2011 CR-Z also has terrific steering, a stellar six-speed manual and corners much like same said go-cart. That 1985 CR-X Si and the CR-Z are also both not very fast, either.
Honda has a long history of making utterly unique and memorable two seat sports cars. The CR-X is a member of Honda’s Hall of Fame team along with models like the S2000 roadster and the Acura NSX. But I hate to break it you but none of those cars are ever going to happen again.

Do you realistically think Honda is going to engineer and sell another convertible like the S200 that isn’t offered with an automatic and doesn’t feel fast until you swing the tachometer near the 8,000RPM redline? They are a still a business and need to make sure they actually sell the cars they so carefully and exactingly engineer.

Now, as I mentioned before I attended the CR-Z’s press launch and have now driven it for a week so I am going to try and address some of the more common misconceptions I have noticed in the media and from individuals that haven’t spent as much time with this little sport coupe. Yes, I am daring to be so bold as to do the car review equivalent of speaking into the camera. But don’t worry; I don’t plan on Googling my name any time soon.

But Why Isn’t the 2011 Honda CR-Z More Efficient?
In my rev-happy little hands returned a decent 34 miles per gallon in the real world. That 34 mile per gallon figure impressed me most considering the fact that I never, ever took the car out of the “gas guzzling” Sport mode. Even if I did, from time to time, manage to grow quite a few digital flowers in the eco-gauge on the dash.

For those of you who don’t drive new cars each week I will let you in on a little secret. EPA estimates are still utterly unrealistic and never correct. The best I ever got in a Prius was 43 miles per gallon (not 50), the 35 mile per gallon 2011 Sonata barely cracked 21 miles per gallon and I got 16 miles per gallon in a basic Mitsubishi Lancer that should have returned something in the high 20’s at least. To put that last one in perspective a 2010 Dodge Ram with a 5.7 liter Hemi V8 also returned 16 miles per gallon.

The CR-Z is one of only a handful of new cars that have surprised me by returning real world figures above or near the EPA estimates. So that takes care of the complaint, in my mind at least, that the 2011 Honda CR-Z isn’t fuel efficient enough. Only a VW Golf TDI topped EPA estimates during a week with me by returning an average a little over 41 miles per gallon, in case you were wondering.

What was Honda Thinking?
Well, if you want to know what Honda was thinking when they designed the 2011 Honda CR-Z you might want to talk to Norio Tomobe, the man who was the lead engineer on the project. I should know a thing or two about him because I had a long conversation with him at the press launch and this experience gave me very important insights into what he was thinking during the development process.

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