As proof of my creeping senility, I commited to buy a Honda CR-Z that is on the boat from Japan. (Me in a hybrid?!?!?!?)
In any case, I have always had a soft spot for short little ugly cars (4 Sciroccos, XR4Ti, RSX) so I asked Gresham Honda to let me run a little test loop.
The CR-Z is an “assist hybrid,” not like the Prius. It never runs on the electric motor alone. It just has this little 20 hp electric motor around the drive line, which I believe is also the starter motor. In sport mode, it comes in to give instant torque. Gas motor stops at lights. There is a little shudder and you are running again. 35 mpg in town. The electric motor also performs the regenerative braking.
The car has three personalities– controlled by buttons on the console. Sport is fun but not blistering–auto CVT model (which I’m getting so Suzan can drive it too) has paddle shifters that pick 6 fixed ratios, so you can drive vigorously and hold a gear. Normal is boring, good for 39 mph on the road. Economy makes the car a slug, but bloggers say they can crack 45 mpg on the road. Everything changes about the car as you change modes– suspension, steering, sound, response are all programmed. Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyl, and Grandma.
So I took it on a loop. Troutdale up the scenic highway to Corbet, down the twisteys to I-84, then back on the freeway.
Fun and engaging to drive on the backroads– with a 55 speed limit anyway. Good supple suspension, designed for Europe. Battery pack in the back helps front-rear balance. It is fun to watch the dash MPG meter register 100 mpg when you are going downhill on regen braking. Disc brakes are very good, and I couldn’t tell when the regen kicked in.
On the freeway, the car is a better cruiser than it should be considering how short it is. Partly the battery weight and electric power steering. In sport mode, accelleration on the freeway is adequate up to 80 mph.
Styling is star wars, inside and out. But it has a good stereo, USB and Bluetooth.
Anyway, this is a retirement touring car. Room for two big suitcases and a couple of small bags, better than a Miata or Cayman.
Seats are designed for short Japanese, I will replace them with Recaros as soon as the rail kits are available.
Back visibility is bad. It’s gonna need a wide angle stick-on mirror on the left side. Parallel parking is only possible because the car is so short. We’ll see about that.
Unlike most Honda enthusiasts, I admire Honda for pushing the envelope. All cars are going to have these features in a few years– drive by wire, regen braking, programmed character and performance, and much better mileage.
Honda released this car in Europe and Japan last year because of their higher gas prices. Even in Vancouver BC, with $4 gal. gas, it would have faster payback. But where gas is $5 or $6, it will be a hit.
This is what the Germans had in mind years ago when they made the Porsche 356, Karmann Ghia, and VW Scirocco Mk I. Not much horsepower, but still affordable and fun to drive.
(I really should wait for an Si version with more power. Think of this as my own little stimulus package for the economy.)
Rick Campbell, Creative.
Portland, Oregon USA