Styling is the Honda CR-Z's most compelling attribute. The 2013 refresh was minor, but good enough to keep the CR-Z bold, youthful, and dare we say, even a little bit mean.
Our dark metallic blue-greenish test model did not do justice to the low-slung shoulders, nose, and hips of the CR-Z. Don't get that color, if you want to see the futuristic, aggressively aerodynamic lines of your car. Red shows off the styling well.
A big-mouthed mesh black grille swoops low and round along the bottom, with a straight horizontal edge along the top, as if flashing a big empty-toothed grin. The CR-Z does shoulders best. Headlamps cleanly sweep back, like the wings of a soaring hawk with crystal wings.
But it's the profile that carries the car. CR-Z follows Accord design cues. Deep lines sweep back and up from the front wheels, creating a sculpted wedge on the side of the car. The bottom rises only slightly, like a shapely rocker; while the top line climbs under the windows. Their outline makes another wedge, with a graceful curve. A small sharkfin antenna perches dead center on the roof.
Sheetmetal over the rear wheel rises to the near-horizontal hatchback that ends in a high chopped tail. Seen as part of the roofline, this bit of bodywork is like a C-pillar slanted sharply forward; in two-dimension. With some imagination, it mimics the profile of a big-winged 1970 Plymouth Superbird. The rear fenders bulge as if bigger tires were under there, fattening the fleet stance somewhat, but it's still cool.
Honda calls the CR-Z a sports car, so one shouldn't expect oodles of comfort and convenience. The instrument cluster is dominated by the tachometer, with a digital speed readout in the center that sort of floats in 3D. It's surrounded by an illumination ring that changes color with your foot: light foot green, heavier foot blue, leadfoot in Sport mode red. The tachometer has blue lines at every 100 rpm, amounting to blue-line overkill.
One gauge shows battery charge, and another displays the electric motor's power flow: It shows power flowing in from regenerative braking, or outward to help the engine. Manual-transmission models have arrows that suggest shift points for higher-mileage driving; we've never been fans of shift lights, but some drivers welcome them. There's a multi-information display, including ECO guide and ECO scoring, with leaves. It's similar to the one in the Insight hybrid, and most people we've talked to think it's goofy, even though these days nearly all carmakers use similar interfaces for their hybrid and electric models.
The optional Honda navigation system, for all its 7 million points of interest, was unclear, and we struggled with it. The 6.5-inch-wide screen had distracting visuals: for example, a starry sky we couldn't shut off.
There's no center console, or armrest, as the parking brake lever hogs all the space between the seats. The cup holders are hard to reach, tucked ahead of the shift lever and squeezed under the dash so a 16-ounce cup is hard to fit. The armrest in the left door is low and unpadded, not of much use. There's a small glovebox, and door pockets in the driver's door, but a grab handle gets in their way and chops them up. The glovebox has a vent that will cool a 16-ounce bottle of water, but try finding a place to put it.
Behind the seats, two benches with flip-down backs look like seats without padding. There's even legroom. (There's a 2+2 model in Japan, but not in the U.S.) As is, the seat-like benches are good for storage, especially for laptops, which can be hidden when the non-seatbacks fold down. The CR-Z offers a spacious 25 cubic feet of cargo volume, easily reachable through the hatchback.
Visibility out the rear window is restricted. Prius and other hybrids have the same problem, because its aerodynamic slope makes the glass nearly horizontal. On the CR-Z, there's a structural bar in the glass that wipes out the view in the mirror; sometimes at night, it totally blocks the headlights of the car behind you, and by day it obscures most of the following car. Furthermore, looking over your shoulder to pull onto a highway, it can be scary blind, because of the roofline. Forward visibility is better, with strong HID headlamps that come standard on the EX.
Mesh fabric sport seats (silver on most models) have a lot of work and thought put into them. The bolstering is designed to fit all sizes. They slide forward and back easily, and ratchet up and down two inches. The EX's leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, and leather-wrapped aluminum shift knob are nice. There's good legroom for the driver, including a dead pedal.