Unexpected Comfort

My first and most lasting impression was how comfortable the CR-Z's ride is. Take a small car with sporty intentions, and you have the formula for a stiff ride. Add the fact that it comes from Honda, whose suspensions lean toward the firm, and the expectation is perfectly reasonable. The CR-Z goes way in the other direction. The short wheelbase does result in some fore-aft rocking, but overall I found it more comfortable than some larger Hondas.

On the downside, this ostensibly sporty model exhibits a lot of body roll, a common but no longer inevitable tradeoff of a compliant ride. This was unexpected, in part because the CR-Z's hybrid battery pack — mounted low toward the rear — lowers the car's center of gravity. The front/rear weight distribution is 59/41 with the manual transmission and 60/40 with the CVT, which is the norm for a front-wheel-drive car. All the same, the CR-Z feels more nose-heavy to me than do the Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Golf. Granted, those are four- and five-seaters, respectively, but the two-seaters with which the CR-Z arguably competes are usually rear-wheel drive, and that makes for an intrinsic weight-distribution advantage among many CR-Z competitors.

The CR-Z goes into a corner with understeer, as expected, though the standard tires have some bite, and the electric motor provides respectable torque at low revs to pull you out of the turn. There was no opportunity to truly flog the car on a racetrack, but my impression is that it's reluctant to rotate on its axis — something the Golf and Cooper do well. A high point is the CR-Z's precise, well-weighted steering from what Honda notes is the company's smallest steering wheel. The handling is definitely sporty, but the CR-Z didn't beg to be driven hard. Part of this is about power.

I'm no power junkie. Power is the easiest and crudest element manufacturers can put in a car — as they often do to mask shortcomings. What many car reviewers call underpowered, I call modestly powered. That's how I characterize the CR-Z, but here modest is a problem. The CR-Z is meant to be a sporty, fun car. Sporty cars typically are less efficient than normal ones, and a sporty hybrid can be expected to be less efficient than a normal hybrid. The CR-Z is, as shown below.

The problem is, the CR-Z might not be powerful enough to justify its lower mileage. It's smaller than the Insight, has fewer seats and is generally less versatile. Those are all tradeoffs. In the absence of substantially greater acceleration, the CR-Z's low-mileage rationalization simply falls apart.

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