Honda Hybrids: CR-Z

January 6th, 2011 by Potato

I very nearly bought a Honda Civic Hybrid to replace my Accord when it was stolen in 2006. The HCH was every bit as driveable as a regular Civic, got great gas mileage (on par with the 2nd gen Prius), and was cheap enough that it made financial sense even with sub-$1 gas prices (though that was due in large part to the federal and provincial rebates available at the time, and the small-ish markup over the Civic LX model). However, it was stricken from our list of possibilities due to the compromises in storage space: the battery in the trunk ate up about a third of the trunk space, so that sunk the deal right there.

The Prius, being a versatile hatchback and custom-designed around its hybrid system, outsold the pants off the HCH. There was speculation as to why this was, often with people saying that because the Prius was a unique, hybrid-only model, buyers were choosing it for the “statement” it made — it was recognizable as a hybrid. Myself, and others interested in the Prius thought that was hogwash. Indeed, not only do I not care about the “statement” my car makes about me, I’d prefer if it blended in and looked more like say a Matrix. It was simply a practical car that required very few sacrifices for the hybrid technology, unlike the other models. This was largely with respect to trunk space, helped by the hatchback design.

So Honda came out with the Insight-II, a car that at first glance looked like a mini-Prius. Unfortunately, there were some bizarre design decisions: the hybrid system looked to be more primitive than the one Honda had been running on the HCH for a few years: if you came to a stop and the engine turned off, so did the air conditioning. The fuel economy was worse than in the larger HCH. The interior “felt cheap”. The price tag, while lower than a HCH or Prius, was still too high for such a small car, with such a small improvement in rated fuel consumption over its smaller competition (e.g., the Fit). Plus, right around the time it was introduced, the federal government canned the EcoAuto rebates.

Oddly enough, Honda looks to have continued this trend of making their hybrids worse and cheaper with the new 2-seater CR-Z. They also went back to a manual transmission, and while there are some die-hard 2-seater gearheads that simply must have a manual, any failures in the early Insights and HCHs (gen I) were much more likely to occur in manual transmission cars. That decision may bite them in the butt further down the road. It scored so low in their testing that Consumer Reports can’t recommend it. (Though to nit-pick on CR’s post, many cars have absurdly low rated weight capacities, due to how those are calculated and the margins of safety that go into them).

I don’t understand why Honda is not getting this right — why each successive iteration of their hybrid system seems to be worse than what they had in 2006 with the HCH.

One Response to “Honda Hybrids: CR-Z”

  1. ben Says:

    That’s too bad it’s so crappy, it’s a cool looking little car. I have to admit though, I’m still on the fence when it comes to having only 2 seats…