In recent years, Japanese sports cars seemed to be an endangered species. Honda discontinued the S2000 and the Acura NSX this decade. Toyota hasn't had a real sports car since the MR2, while Nissan's entrant, the GT-R, is too pricey for most mortals. The ubiquitous Mazda Miata became the last car standing.
With the 2011 CR-Z, Honda attempts to reintroduce the Japanese sports car, giving it a green edge to make it more welcome in a newly energy-conscious market. The result is a unique-looking and very tossable car with a body style that echoes that of the Honda CR-X, which ceased production in 1991.
But the CR-Z relies on Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) gas-electric hybrid system, which has never been particularly efficient and suffers from very rough driving characteristics. Looking at fuel economy and power output numbers, Honda's hybrid system offers little advantage over a high-revving, low-displacement pure gas engine.
Honda gives the CR-Z a futuristic dashboard that should appeal to the marque's fans. Adorned with the kind of accent lighting found at auto parts stores for pimped rides, this dashboard's only analog feature is the tachometer. And even that comes embedded with a digital speedometer and an ambient light ring that changes color based on driving style.
The instrumentation may look like it got here by time travel, but the navigation next to it is clearly from the past. DVD-based maps appear only in 2D, and show poor resolution, with jagged street names and lines. Forget current amenities such as traffic overlays; the CR-Z's maps only offer the most basic information. This navigation system is, essentially, the same equipment Honda has been offering for many years.
The CR-Z's voice command system is also a relic of Honda's past, but as that system was cutting-edge when it came out, it still holds its own against competitors. This system offers good control over navigation, and responds to questions such as, "What time is it?"
But as has been the problem with other Honda models, the CR-Z uses two separate voice command systems, with two sets of buttons, one for navigation and other car functions, and one for the phone system. The buttons pile on each other between the left spokes of the steering wheel.
The phone system shows more recent technology than the navigation system, as it can import a paired phone's contact list. The interface for looking up contacts is not the most usable for drivers, as it uses a search paradigm rather than a simple list of names.
As with other Honda vehicles that use this head unit, getting at the CD player involves opening up the LCD, not the most elegant arrangement. And indicative of the age of this equipment is the PC Card slot behind the LCD, an audio source that never caught on in cars, or anywhere else for that matter.
Honda included a USB pigtail, sticking out of a compartment under the head unit. Along with USB drives, that pigtail works with an iPod. The iPod integration works well, and most people buying a CR-Z would probably rely on it or the XM satellite radio instead of CDs.
The audio system is also a little better than you would expect from an economy car. Along with six speakers, Honda has fitted it with a subwoofer and 360-watt amp, anticipating that a CR-Z buyer would enjoy music. Although not really audiophile quality, this system is better than average, the amp making a big difference with its powerful output. The subwoofer serves to enrich the music without being intrusive.