Detroit News Gets it Wrong About the Honda CR-Z

Detroit News writers recently got the chance to test-drive one of Honda’s new, “fun to drive” CR-Z hybrid coupes. They wrote about their experiences, and (after they got done calling Americans overweight and shallow) they told us about Honda’s new CR-Z and its chances in the US market.

They were wrong.

It may be bad form to “call out” another publication, but it’s clear that DetNews doesn’t “get” the new CR-Z, and take issue with a few of the assertions they make regarding the CR-Z in yesterday’s review.

First issue:

“The CR-Z is a sharp-edged hybrid racer that will fail to connect to Americans in literally every way. It’s a two-door hatchback; Americans want sedans. It has a manual version; Americans prefer right-foot driving only. It’s a hybrid without super high mileage figures; Americans hear the word hybrid and think they will only have to fill up once a month. It does not have a back seat: Oh no!”

The DetNews is right about everything they say there—but clearly doesn’t get the CR-Z. Simply put, the CR-Z is being marketed as one thing and one thing only: a new-age CRX.

The CRX—Honda’s 80’s sporty compact—was a 2 door hatchback with a manual transmission and 2 seats that was fun to drive. The car was practical, sure, but it was the CRX Si (with mpg ratings in the 30’s) that built up a loyal following and helped launch the Japanese import tuning craze that has (so far) led to 4 Fast and Furious movies, several comic books, scads of video games, and aisle after aisle of bolt-on baubles at every local auto parts store… NOT the gas-miser CRX HF model.

If the CR-Z was anything BUT the 2-passenger hatchback it is, then it wouldn’t be a new CRX, and it would flop.

Second issue:

“The CR-Z was supposed to be a reincarnation of the CR-X—that funky hatchback everyone drove until the wheels fell off. But the new CR-Z cannot answer all of the extreme situations of what ifs so many consumers seem to ask: What if it snows? What if I buy a boat and need to tow it? What if two of my Facebook friends actually want to meet me in person and they both need a ride? At the same time?”

The original CRX couldn’t answer any of those questions either, and (nearly 20 years after the original was discontinued) a CRX remains desirable. Furthermore, if the new CR-Z could answer any of those questions, then it wouldn’t be cool. It would be practical, and it would flop.

Third issue:

“The six-speed manual transmission provides a little more sportiness, though if you kept the revs high, the gas mileage would surely suffer. Most buyers, however, would likely opt for the gearless Continuously Variable Transmission, which I did not test but fear would sap the fun out of the car.”

Here, the writer displays a total misconception about what a CVT is all about: maximum torque. All. The. Time.

Continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) address the fact that all internal combustion engines operate with different levels of efficiency at different rpm. With a fixed set of gear ratios to select between, a driver must adjust engine speed (rpm) to accelerate the car, switching gears when the engine runs out of revs. A CVT changes the dynamic completely, allowing an engine to operate at its peak power rpm (for example) while adapting the gear ratios to the engine. When the situation demands better fuel economy, the engine can be “set” to its most fuel-efficient rpm, and the CVT can adapt to that. It’s brilliant tech, and (with so many fewer moving parts than a conventional manual or automatic transmission) leads the way in performance, economy, and manufacturing tech. In fact, CVTs offer such an enormous performance advantage that the technology was banned in Formula 1 racing, out of fear that the first team to perfect the CVT (Williams) would become so dominant that no one else would show up to race against them, effectively bankrupting Formula 1, the FIA, and dozens of supporting industries that surround the sport.

To any other CVT doubters out there, watch and learn.

If the car didn’t have a CVT option, it would lose its ties to Honda’s history and reputation as a technological leader and innovator. In other words, it wouldn’t be the type of modern CRX that Soichiro would have built, and it would flop.

Fourth issue (and final, I promise):

“There will be some people … willing to admit they don’t need everything in a single vehicle and use the CR-Z as a tool for getting around in style. They know that not everyone needs a back seat for imaginary friends who will never ride in their car.”

“They will see the mileage numbers as impressive and appreciate the car’s road-worthy abilities, mixing efficiency with sportiness.”

“They will be Europeans.”

Ask VW about the New Beetle’s sales figures in Europe and why they haven’t built a retro-style minivan and they will explain, in no uncertain terms, that Europeans do not buy retro cars.

Make no mistake: the CRX is Honda’s Mustang, it is Honda’s Beetle, it is Honda’s Camaro. It is a nostalgia model, and if it helps Honda’s CAFE numbers, that’s great—but that’s not what this car, the CR-Z, is for… this car is a love letter from Honda’s current design staff to the original CRX, and the buyers of this car will be customers who would write love letters to the CRX themselves, if they had its address…

…I know I’d write such a letter (or sign the card, at least), and I’ve got my eye on the first red, CVT-equipped CR-Z that lands in Ohio.

SOURCE:  Detroit News.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.