A hybrid and the curvy mountain roads of Mulholland for a first encounter and chance to drive the new 2012 Honda CR-Z seemed unnatural. You see, hybrids have been known to be strictly ultra-efficient econo-boxes. Don't get me wrongcurrent on-the-market hybrids are great cars that have fabulous functionality, but most will not put a smile on your face when looking for a fun, sportive drive down the road, especially a stretch of pavement that twists and turns around the Santa Monica Mountains of California.
I didn't know what to expect from the 2012 CR-Z. All of my experience sampling hybrid vehicles has given me the expectations of driving a monorail. The CR-Z is, of course, meant to be more than a monorail, although it can be for those times when you want it to be just that, say on the 405 freeway, driving from Honda Headquarters to the peaks and valleys of the Angeles Crest. But it can also be much more due to its 3-mode drive system.
Set on ECON, the CR-Z will drive like any other hybrid down the concrete jungle of LA's highways. Normal mode will do for most city driving, and then, of course, there is Sport mode, where the FUN begins. The engine gets an extra pep due to a program change in engine tune, and the steering tightens up just enough to give you more road feel. The CR-Z chassis was a joy to swing around the switchbacks of Mulholland. There were many times that I forgot I was driving a hybrid while breaking out in a sweat pushing the car in and out of corners like a Civic Si. I sampled both the CVT transmission and the manual. Personally, I loved the 6-speed manual. I don't know how Honda engineers did it, but the 6-speed on this hybrid was silky smooth and just a blast to row through. It was just as nice a gearbox as any of my previous sport-minded Hondas (Integra GS-R, S2000, Civic Si, NSX).
Being a Honda enthusiast for many years, I did notice that the CR-Z likes to live and be driven in the mid-range vs. high rpm. That was a new surprise and quite a new experience for me. I am sure this is due to the additional torque gained via the electric motor, which I could feel help push the car the greatest in the low-to-mid rpm range, but it was something that I welcomed and a feature that helps make this car much more fun to drive.
Our hour-long session ended in what seemed like a blink of an eye. I could have kept driving the car until forever's end because the 2012 CR-Z proves that green CAN be FUN!
RJ de Vera is a sponsored contributor to this Honda blog