Friday, March 4, 2011

New Honda CR-Z is a hot-looking hybrid

This review originally appeared in the February edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin' News published out of Folsom, California -- mg

Sacramento, California -- The Honda CR-Z is all-new for 2011, and let me state from the beginning that it looks hot.

Seriously hot, with stealth fighter jet angles and a Euro appearance that looks like the love child of a Lambo and an Alfa. You really don’t mind having a hatchback with the front-drive CR-Z, because the long-length cargo cover is an essential part of the aerodynamic styling.

Oh, and it’s a hybrid. You have a 1.5-liter in-line 4 matched up with an electric motor putting out 122 horses.

Given the lightweight construction, the power plant does pretty well in normal and sport mode. If you hit the switch to select eco mode, however, you’re going to find yourself with a power shortage that won’t bode well on your next high-speed freeway merge.

And on the city streets, the hybrid engine system does not sit well. In normal mode, the car stopped at an intersection drifts off to a fuel-conserving sleep. Upon hitting the gas, the car lurches back to life with the engine doing the heavy lifting.

That’s the thing, though. It literally lurches. The transition from dormant to drive-it is not seamless. It’s downright jarring in most cases. And if you have the car in eco mode, you get even more instances of jarring. No fun that.

The interior is comfortable enough, and the center stack of controls is pretty easy to understand. Likewise, the back cargo-carrying area is impressive for a two-seater. Interior comfort/convenience features are outstanding for a small transporter of two.

But getting into the low-slung car takes some practice. For a tall guy like myself, you have to do a bit of a freefall into the cockpit, and you need to master a little head shift to avoid banging your melon on the roof-level hardware. Vision from the cockpit is very limited. It’s so limited that I had to go with double over-the-shoulder looks to make sure I was not about to ram cars in the blind spots. Again, no fun.

Fuel mileage is great – especially with the prospect of a $4-a-gallon-and-up springtime in California – at 35 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

And the price is right. My CR-Z with the navigation system and a continuously variable transmission came in at $23,210, and that’s the most expensive of six trim levels. You can get an entry-model starting at $19,200.

Overall, this is a first effort that likely will turn the heads of shoppers, but the CR-Z needs some tweaking in the months and years ahead to warm the hearts of buyers who first fell for its looks.

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