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Honda CR-Z - Road Rage

Honda's PR machine will have you believe that its new CR-Z is indeed very much like its almost storybook-like, 1980s, two-seater hatchback reinvented, only better. It isn't.

Aaron Bonk
Oct 1, 2010

Losing Touch
Don't lie. You know you think Honda's new CR-Z is lame.

Htup_1010_01_o+honda_cr_z+aaron_bonk Photo 2/2   |   Honda CR-Z - Road Rage

You also know that you don't want to be the guy who publicly goes against Honda's grain and ruffles the feathers of those who presumably don't think the CR-Z is lame. But it is. At least if you expect it to be anything like Honda's golden child CRX like others would have you believe.

Although the right side of my brain wants to like Honda's newest hybrid for all of the reasons Honda's PR people tell me I should (37mpg, least expensive hybrid in the country, "fun to drive," etc.), the left side of my brain keeps telling me what a dip I am for almost believing that it has any remote similarities to my treasured CRX. Honda's PR machine will have you believe that its new CR-Z is indeed very much like its almost storybook-like, 1980s, two-seater hatchback reinvented, only better. It isn't. Instead, I'd argue that Honda just might've lost touch with what exactly performance-minded enthusiasts-like former CRX owners-are looking for.

The choice was clear: when Honda's product planners went ahead and named its 37mpg, $23,000 gas-electric hatchback the "Compact Renaissance Zero," they knew full well that CRX historians would begin pointing out correlations between the two.

Unfortunately for the product planners, the correlations are few. The designers and engineers of the first- and second-generation CRXs did something terribly right-they produced something so unique, so enjoyable, that nearly 25 years later, even for a company as advanced as Honda, it's become quite difficult to replicate, let alone improve upon.

Some argue that the ninth-generation Civic's deviation from its scheduled launch date is further indication of a car company that's lost its step, even lost touch with its performance base. Honda's own president, Takanobu Ito, eluded this very sentiment recently, saying that the company may have become "complacent." Thing is, though, Honda never really catered to any performance base-it just so happened that it's made cars for the last 30 years or so that guys like us are interested in. The fact that B-series engines transfer nicely into Civic engine bays, that Integra four-wheel disc brakes bolt up to CRXs, and that VTEC cylinder heads attach nicely onto non-VTEC engine blocks are simply byproducts of cost-conscious manufacturing-not performance agendas. So while some may say that Honda's decision to send its latest-generation Civic back to the drawing board so near to its pre-planned release date is a bad one, I'd like to think it's a sign that Honda is at least conscious of the fact that it may potentially be losing its base and intends on doing something about it.

Despite all of this, Honda better do something spectacular when it does finally unveil its latest Civic incarnation. And I don't mean make it bigger, get rid of something else cool like it did with its fabled independent suspension, or stuff extra cylinders into it, like the brand's done to almost every other model in its lineup for the past 20 years. (Dear Honda, the Civic is quite large enough, thanks.) Girth aside, the brand's Civic and Integra prodigies of the late '80s and '90s won't carry the company forever. Perhaps for another decade or so, but not forever.

Sheer numbers alone will tell you that the CRX is smaller, shorter, and lighter than the CR-Z. A quick power-to-weight calculation of both chassis will also prove that they're within five percent of one another. Still, none of this translates into the CR-Z that you'd like it to be. The CRX's perfectly crisp-shifting gearbox, its rev-happy 1.5- and 1.6-liter engines, its timeless shell, its sport spirt: the CRX isn't just good by 1980's standards, it's good by today's standards. The CR-Z, well, it simply doesn't measure up to any of this. Ah, but it gets nearly 40mpg and costs less than 25 grand, you say. Uh, well, so does the Fit. And then there's that whole double-decade-old CRX HF thing, too.

Perhaps all of this CRX and CR-Z comparison making and Civic delaying is a good thing, though, and, to be sure, I'll put my money on Honda at the end of the day. Now if we can just get a few of those 1980s CRX designers and engineers who are still with the company, lurking in upper management, to cast some of their mojo down the production line we'll be just fine.

By Aaron Bonk
405 Articles

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