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2011 Honda CR-Z preview drive (photos)

Honda's CR-Z is its new two-seater hybrid that echoes the old CRX look. We took the CR-Z on a drive through Northern California, and can safely call it the most fun drive we've had with any hybrid currently available. But it does have its quirks.

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Wayne Cunningham
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Fans of Honda's old CRX have been anticipating the CR-Z, not so much an update but as a modern interpretation. The CR-Z is a new hybrid sports car from Honda, and as such, has no direct competition.
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Honda lowered the grille on the CR-Z to emphasize its ground-hugging nature, while retaining Honda styling DNA in the front end.
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With two doors and two seats, the CR-Z isn't the most practical car around; however, its hatchback gives you a good amount of cargo space.
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This front-wheel-drive car uses disc brakes all around, and recovers energy to recharge the battery while slowing. It uses MacPherson struts for its front suspension, while its rear relies on a torsion beam.
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The cover for the cargo area offers three positions, a clever bit of engineering that lets you adjust the size of the space for different sized objects.
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In other parts of the world, the space behind the front seats gets two small rear seats. But in the U.S. this space is used for a cargo shelf.
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The dashboard in this photo is from the top-trim CR-Z, an EX model with navigation. Honda put some nice touches in its interior design, such as semisoft surfaces and tin door handle covers with an interesting finish.
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The CR-Z uses electric power steering, which Honda tuned reasonably tight for a sports car feel.
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In Normal drive mode, the ambient ring in the tachometer lights up in blue. But when you switch the car to Eco mode, the ring turns green. Honda uses red for Sport mode to signal the aggressive tuning.
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The monochrome display in the lower right shows a number of different screens, including power flow. This screen shows three different fuel economy ratings, letting different drivers compete for best mpg.
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The Eco guide screen can offers useful information for more economical driving, except it is a little too far out of the view forward for frequent consultation.
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We were surprised to find a six-speed-manual transmission in the CR-Z, as all other hybrids use some form of automatic transmission. The manual version of the car does not get as good of gas mileage as the CVT version does; however, it is more fun.
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The three different drive modes are easy to engage with buttons on the right of the instrument panel.
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Honda has offered this navigation system in various of its models for some years now. It really could use an update.
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An iPod and USB port sits at the bottom of the stack, hidden in a convenient little enclosure.
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Out on the autocross course, the suspension shows some travel in a corner.
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The CR-Z's all-season tires let it slip in the turns, although none of the autocross drivers got completely out of control.
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Honda packs a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine under the hood, along with its Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system, which adds a 10-kilowatt motor into the power train.
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In this cutaway view, the electric motor can be seen sitting between engine and transmission.
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The rear of the car holds the nickel metal hydride battery pack and motor control units.

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