Rick Campbell: 2011 Honda CR-Z Review – Week 4 of 4

Posted on 27 April 2011 by admin

I’ve had the CR-Z about a month now, and I’ve had a chance to drive it under a variety of conditions, so I can give a more complete report.

First, we should say that is really not a car in the traditional sense, but a computer with four wheels attached.

It has taken a while to understand all the displays and controls and functions, but they are very well designed and logically thought-out in the typical Japanese engineering fashion. It is all very cool: dash, controls, wands, storage, stereo system. It is especially nice to access the iPod functions of my iPhone through USB. But you have to read the manual.

It has also taken some driving experience to understand the various driving modes and how the integrated motor assist (IMA) works with the automatic continously variable transmission (CVT). But I now appreciate what the Honda engineering team intended, and it is an excellent solution.

It is all a study in energy management and conservation. You can think of the gasoline engine as the “check book” and the batteries and IMA as the “savings account”. In a conventional car, the energy lost in coasting downhill and braking is gone. The CR-Z system conserves it through regeneration, and then seamlessly feeds it back into the power train, depending on what its computer brain considers optimum. I find that it likes to keep about a 75% charge on the batteries, and quickly replenishes them to about 90% average when cruising. Fun to watch the displays show this on a road trip.

The computer can calculate the right balance of performance and power that the driver asks for, depending on whether you are in Sport (Power) mode, Normal mode, or Econ mode; and in the CVT models, can consider three variables: the infinitely variable gear ratio, the engine RPM, and the amount of IMS electric motor assist used, if any.

If you want power (Sport mode), the engine revs go up, the CVT gears down, and the IMS kicks in vigorously on acceleration. There is all the power I need, and I use it mostly for merging onto freeways, or on urban freeways to make lane changes and climb hills.

If you want economy (Econ mode) the engine lugs down, the CVT gears up, and the IMS comes in gently to add engine torque when needed, as when going up hills at highway speeds with cruise control on. Responses are more subtle, but surprisingly, they are not all that bad on a road trip.

Overall, the computer hates high revs, and shifts down whenever possible, so the engine rarely gets above 4,000 rpm unless you use the paddle shifters. This is not intended to be a high-reving car, and the IMA makes that unnecessary in any case.

For me, a car enthusiast with an interest in engineering solutions, the vehicle and its systems are intriguing, and I enjoy taking part in controlling (optimizing?) the vehicle. It is possible that the average driver won’t appreciate the incredible high technology that is designed into this car, or might be confused by them. It will probably always be a cult car in the U.S.

As for mileage, I now have experienced city driving, urban freeways, and a secondary road loop. As I mentioned in my last report, city driving seems to average about 36 mpg, urban freeways and secondary roads about 38 mpg, and a freeway trip to Seattle and back was 42 mpg.

On the freeway trip, we traveled at legal speeds, and I tried to keep the cruise control at 67 mph when traffic allowed. In economy mode at 67 mph, the computer likes to lug down the engine to 2,100 rpm and achieves about 40 mpg on level ground in pleasant weather. From CR-Z engine HP curves I found on the web, I calculate that the engine is using 50 hp to maintain that speed. The CR-Z will comfortably cruise faster of course, but I would expect a drop in mileage– from the mileage meter I’m guessing cruising at 72 mpg would bring mileage down to about 37 mpg, still not bad. And it is comfortable for 3-hour stretches of driving.

The CR-Z works very well for my driving around Portland, and performed just fine in Seattle traffic.

But it is different. The driver has to get used to the engine stopping while waiting for lights in city traffic. I’m used to it now. I’m also coping just fine with the rear vision issues. I don’t know how the CR-Z would work on the LA freeways, or in hilly high country like Denver.

I like all the high-tech features, the styling, the climate controls, the exterior lighting, luggage space, and the handling, too. I’ll give you another report in a month when we’ve tackled some mountain driving.

Rick Campbell
Rick Campbell, Creative.
Portland, Oregon USA

Comments are closed.

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos