Honda’s New CR-Z – A Step Forward in Hybrid Car Design

Although it’s not a sports car in the true sense of the term, Honda’s new CR-Z is not your typical hybrid. Honda has chosen to market only the two-seat version of the CR-Z in the U.S. Europe and Japan will also get a plus-two model that features two rear seats. The U.S. version offers expanded cargo area that can be reconfigured to accommodate larger payloads.

Japan’s No. 2 automaker was able to cut the CR-Z’s development cost by adopting the Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system and engine used in the Insight five-door hatchback hybrid.

According to the automaker, “The engine is the main driver and the [electric] motor is just an assist,” Norio Tomobe, CR-Z chief engineer, said about using the hardware carried over from the Insight. “It is a light, compact, low-cost system. It is optimal for small vehicles.”

Tomobe said Honda considered offering the CR-Z with a 1.8-liter engine instead of the 1.5-liter engine used in the Insight but doing so would only have increased power by 20 hp. He said a higher performance engine may be available in the future.

The CR-Z is available with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission.

To improve the fuel efficiency of the CR-Z, Honda equipped the car with 16-inch wheels and fitted it the front suspension with forged aluminum lower control arms.

The CR-Z offers drivers a choice of driving modes. Power is reduced when driving in “eco” mode but the fuel savings are significant. Throttle input is monitored to boost the vehicles power when driving in “sport” mode. A third mode, “normal”, was used by the EPA to determine the cars fuel efficiency estimate.

Instrumentation for the CR-Z includes a 3-D speedometer / tachometer that changes colors, from green to blue to red, to reflect driving behavior.  Honda also equipped the car with a 160-watt, six-speaker audio system with USB connectivity. The CR-Z also comes with variable wipers, automatic climate control, a security system, cruise control, LED brake lights and advanced traction and braking systems, all standard.

Honda’s decision to go with a torsion-beam rear suspension results in what some have described as a “jouncy ride” and the CR-Z’s fuel-efficiency is comparable to that of the Honda Fit non-hybrid. One independent road test reported an average fuel economy of only 35 mpg in country / highway driving.

The CR-Z received a New Car Assessment Program crash-test rating of four out of a possible five stars.

Honda says the new CR-Z will be available in the U.S. on August 24 with a base sticker price below $20,000 including shipping. Honda has projected annual sales to be around 15,000 units.

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