2011-2016 Honda CR-Z | Used Vehicle Floodlight

The Honda CRX of the 1980s and early 1990s was undeniably rad. It was a sporty little two-seat compact hatchback that deservedly earned cult status among enthusiasts attracted by its cute looks and perky character. Nostalgia for the CRX (which also went through CR-X) remained high, as good-condition copies were still available in the late years, just when people feared that cars like the Toyota Prius would suck the fun out of driving for good. . Then Honda went back into its history and took the design notes from the CRX, shared the lessons of the first-generation Insight, and mixed them together to get the 2011 Honda CR-Z – a two-seat hybrid hatchback that was offered with a manual gearbox.

Why the CR-Z?

It’s efficient (-ish), weird, and most importantly, fun to drive. We already emphasized that it came with an available manual transmission, but we didn’t say how good that stick is to use. The CR-Z was launched in the era when Honda (and by extension Acura) had absolutely nailed that part of the driving experience. The stick itself feels great as it moves from one position to another with a short, light yet tactile throw. Combined with a smooth, easy-to-operate clutch, this setup is incredibly captivating, encouraging you to forget about fuel economy (31 cities / 37 highway for the MT) and make the most of the 122-130 horsepower and 127-140 torque pound-feet (depending on model year and transmission).

If those output figures look ridiculously small, don’t worry too much about it. No, it’s not a particularly fast car, it does 0-60 somewhere between 8 and 9 seconds depending on who is doing the test. But it doesn’t have to be fast to be fun, and what it lacks in acceleration it makes up for with excellent handling. This little hybrid was great for throwing around corners, but had a little more suspension on rough roads than its contemporary Mini Cooper counterpart.

It’s also a car that lends itself to customization, be it Recaro seats, aftermarket wheels or suspension, or even a supercharger from the Honda Performance Development catalog. Yes, the manual-equipped hybrid can (and still can) be recharged, giving it a total of 197 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque if you go the Honda-sourced route.

Finally, we like the CR-Z because it’s weird and relatively sparse. It came at a time when two-seater and three-door hatchbacks were declining in popularity, and they’ve only continued to do so. Honda sold only about 35,000 units over the course of the model’s production run. We highly doubt its nostalgic furor will ever reach the status of the CRX, but it’s sure to bring smiles and fond memories on the rare occasions when we see one in the wild.

Which CR-Z to choose?

Take one with a manual transmission, of course. That is one of the biggest draws of this car. The stick shift is just as good, and 122 horsepower feels like just that or worse when you’re stuck with a continuously variable transmission. If you’re concerned about power, buy a 2013 or later model, because that’s when the CR-Z’s hand-powered power jumped from 122 hp/128 lb-ft to 130 hp/140 lb-ft thanks to an updated hybrid system, complete with a new lithium-ion battery. 2013 also saw the addition of Bluetooth, a rear view camera, an S+ push-to-pass button, and some tweaks to the exterior design.

That’s really the only choice (besides color and mileage), as it came in two trims: EX or EX with Navi, with the 2016 model being the exception. The CR-Z’s final year saw an even rarer EX-L trim (which added heated leather seats) and stripped-down LX trim.

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What else to consider?

The Honda CR-Z came along at an interesting time in the auto industry. Tiny hatchbacks and wagons were still a thing – declined in popularity as crossover mania took hold, but still arguably viable. Hybrids started to make some progress, thanks to cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda’s own Insight. As such, the Lexus CT 200h seems like a great competitor to the CR-Z. It doesn’t have the same nostalgic charm as the CRX-soaked Honda, but it was charismatic and still a joy to watch when spotted in the wild. It was sold here in the United States at the same time as the CR-Z, but appealed to more luxury buyers who couldn’t bear the dullness of the Prius than enthusiasts looking for cheap thrills. Lexus sold significantly more CTs here than Honda CR-Zs, but price-wise, its luxury positioning more than negates its being less rare than the Honda. With the Lexus, you’re stuck with a CVT anyway, but you get a better mpg rating (43 city/40 highway), as well as a second row of seats and two more doors.

If you like a plucky little hatchback that will do well on the autocross track, you might also want to consider the Mini Cooper. Used Mini prices are comparable to the CR-Z, and manual transmissions abound. It’s not that rare, but a Cooper still feels new every time you step in it. You don’t even lose much in terms of fuel economy compared to the CR-Z – really only a few mpg in the city.

Finally, there is the Hyundai Veloster of the first generation. It’s not a hybrid, but, like the Mini, it’s almost as efficient on paper (although the Honda managed to beat its EPA ratings overall in practice). While the CR-Z has the better manual transmission, the Veloster’s longer wheelbase makes it a better companion once you get off the surface and the highway. It has a second row and an additional half door on the passenger side to allow access without a driver or front passenger getting out. At the time, the Veloster seemed like an almost equally odd duck compared to the Honda, but it became much more successful, appearing closer to the mainstream by the time production ended. And luckily, Hyundai saw enough popularity to revive the nameplate for 2020.