Be honest with us, Honda: Does the CR-Z really deserve the same fate as Pepsi Clear and Mighty Max? Even though it never caught on the way you wanted, dammit if it didn’t have potential! Another brilliant creation, crushed by a series of miscues and the powers that be. Hell, just last year things were looking up when Honda gave the little hybrid some refreshes and us some hope, and now it’s totally toast.
When Automotive News first broke the news that Honda Motor Co. was “killing off the compact CR-Z hybrid,” it left us unsurprised and frustrated. Sure, it has been one hell of a slow-selling hybrid, due primarily to a lackluster performance-to-looks ratio that is apparent the moment buyers take the car out for a test drive, but that doesn’t mean nothing couldn’t have been done about it.
The CR-Z is a 100% made-in-Japan concoction, and Honda plans to cease production entirely by the end of the year, when the re-engineered Accord Hybrid becomes the main focus. But when the CR-Z first landed back in 2010, it drew attention due to its sporty styling and ability to blend performance fun with hybrid ingenuity. It was the modern day fuel-sipping CR-X HF from back when, and it had cool tech to make the drive much more fun, with multiple performance modes, color-adjusting gauge pods, and a six-speed manual gearbox earmarking the little hatch for stardom.
But the hype was short-lived. Honda was only able to sell 5,249 CR-Zs in the U.S. in its first year on the market, and last year sales slid 14% to just 3,073 vehicles, with sales remaining down another 6.7% to date in 2016. This slump is primarily due to the fact that over time buyers have realized that by trying to be both sporty and efficient, the CR-Z compromised quite a bit of both, and was left hanging in limbo as a mutt that no one really wanted. It wasn’t quick enough to be a genuine hot hatch, and its skinny hard compound tires and soft suspension caused it to handle quite poorly when driven aggressively. Hybrid lovers couldn’t get on board either, mainly because the Prius continued to trump all with its fuel efficiency, and also because two-door coupes aren’t all that practical.
With the CR-Z out of the way, Honda says it will plan on focusing on far more powerful sport hybrid options instead, with the three motor systems found in the Acura RLX and NSX supercar filling a fun role that the Accord Hybrid will likely never be able to experience. So while Honda makes plans to send the CR-Z off into the sunset with a special “Final Label” edition over in Japan, we angrily assess what Honda could have done differently — because for all intents and purposes, the CR-Z should have been a hit.
1. There never was an Si version
When Honda first announced it was bringing back the CR-X (at least spiritually) there was an appeal in the thought of being able to choose between an HF, regular, or Si model. But that never happened, and what we got instead was a single, lukewarm 130-horsepower motor, and zero chance of seeing the Si motor out of the Civic making its way into the engine bay. Sure, you could always do a full swap, but very few people outside of the tuning market have that kind of audacity, and without the addition of the basic 1.5-liter turbo Civic motor to the lineup, you can see why performance fans felt let down.
2. Honda never marketed it enough
Let’s be honest, outside of local dealership advertisements, when was the last time you saw a CR-Z commercial on television? Honda never made its sporty little hybrid a priority when it came to marketing. A fast-paced, edgy ad that showed the little hatch carving around a race track under gritty lighting, with a helmet-clad driver banging all six gears probably would have gone over quite well, especially if at the end a simple message read something like: “Yeah. It’s a hybrid.”
It would have been cool to see this campaign roll out at the same time as a very artsy, green hybrid spot hit the airwaves, where all the colorful CG animation from a modern video game showed a magical kingdom filled with different colored CR-Z hatchbacks. Then, toward the end, the driver pushes the “Sport” button, the gauges all turn red, and an evil boss emerges on the horizon, and a message on a black screen says, “Battle-ready hybrid.” Or something.
3. Change was slow to come, if at all
Fantasy-based, millennial-focused advertisement wishes aside, Honda didn’t get around to giving prospective CR-Z buyers what they wanted — better MPGs, or better performance. Honda was too diplomatic with the CR-Z, and in the end lost the debate altogether. Buyers were leaving dealerships nonplussed by either mediocre fuel efficiency or droll performance, and instead of tackling those issues right away, Honda opted to give the CR-Z mild updates, which proved to be too little too late.
4. No one knew about the Supercharger option
According to Honda, “Upon release of the Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid, our customers, dealers and the automotive press all requested a high-performance version of the vehicle.” The Honda Performance Development (HPD) Hybrid R Concept snagged our attention at SEMA in 2010, but the unveiling of a far more “streetable” supercharged HPD CR-Z showed the world what a 200-horsepower Si version really could look like.
HPD basically wanted to develop a production car-based performance product that took the race-ready concept and made a model that was 100% ready for the market. Supercharging the engine, upgrading the tires and brakes, adding more aggressive aero, a center port dual exhaust, and 10-spoke Enkei PF01 alloy wheels were thrown at the CR-Z. But without a marketing push, the demand to see a supercharged version on dealer lots across America never took root.
5. Simple fixes could have changed everything
A simple “sport pack” — better tires, suspension, components that are modded with regularity — could have made such a difference. Several variants of common HPD alloy wheels can easily be bolted onto this vehicle, and finding sticky tire options to match wouldn’t have been an issue. So while the factory wheel/tire combo was great for people wanting to get the most mileage out of the little hybrid, performance fanatics could easily upgrade the way the car handled, braked, and accelerated by conducting a simple swap. As a result, the CR-Z never found its crowd — and was axed before it got the chance.