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Honda’s new Hybrid CR-Z Sports Car

- Honda is a company much admired for its engineering and creativity. In addition to automobiles, motorcycles, boat engines and lawn mowers, they now build jets and humanoid robots.

Being creative and taking different routes has its risks and you may not achieve your objectives at all or at least not on time. HondaJet deliveries (with a value of $3,900,000 dollars each) have been delayed nearly two years, and with a price tag of $1 million dollars per robot, ASIMO still hasn’t entered the market, if ever.

Now comes the 2011 Honda CR-Z, which is billed as the world’s first hybrid sports car. Is this now one of Honda’s good ideas, or is it one of the bad ones?

With only two seats, a six-speed manual transmission and a hatchback design, the CR-Z is quite sporty. The hybrid part of the equation comes from an electric motor that starts the engine, accelerates and recharges the battery. Honda calls it a “integrated motor assist system” and states that it is the most compact and simple design of the market.

Still, this coupe is a bit more than the sum of its parts. That’s a good thing because only based on the official numbers, the CR-Z does not up hold well. For example, the hybrid powertrain is not that helpful when it comes to fuel economy, with 31 miles per gallon city/37 mpg highway, the CR-Z can’t go much farther on a tank than the Honda Fit, which has two more seats.

The acceleration is not a big deal either. From zero to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, compared with nine seconds of the Fit, which is powered by the same 1.5-liter engine with four cylinders, the CR-Z will not be starring in some of the endless “Fast and Furious” movies.

These cars are not a bargain either, the suggested price for the silver metallic model equipped with a navigation system, comes up to $ $ 22.560. A Honda Fit, with the same equipment, is priced at $ 16,410 dollars, that is $ 6,150 less.

So what can I recommend? The design. The forked front grille, exaggerated accent lines along the flanks and stubby rear end won’t be to everybody’s taste, but they are striking and original.

The same applies to the instrument panel. which offers a wealth of information packaged in an unusual way, and is organized with Honda’s traditional ergonomic design.

When running in normal mode, the CR-Z performs capably. There is none of the usual hybrid delay when turning the ignition, and the gasoline/electric interface is all but transparent except when the car is stopping.

However, press the “Sport” button and the character of the Honda CR-Z changes. The battery kicks in, and managing the throttle becomes more aggressive, making the car feel like it’s leaping ahead. Shifting the six-speed manual transmission produces a dramatic effect in the car and a visceral one in the driver.

Better yet, you can amuse yourself with all the fun of a sports car without harming the fuel economy and the environment. In several hundred miles, I got an average of nearly 42 mpg. (Do not bother with the Econ. mode, Honda recommends that it be used only when stuck in traffic).

So the CR-Z is captivating to the eye, rewarding to sit in, and fun to drive. Best of all, there’s nothing else like it. In this rare occasion, heart trumps the brain.