The tail lights of the Tesla Roadster were a green flag to my inner Andretti, and before my brain had finished processing the scene in front of me, my fingers had already engaged the sport mode button to the left of the instrument cluster, while my right foot tipped the suddenly-awakened gas pedal floorward.

Not full throttle, of course. I had just picked up the bright red 2013 Honda CR-Z several minutes before from a lot near the San Francisco airport and it was my first introduction to this particular stretch of diving, twisting pavement that I had serendipitously chosen in an attempt to go coastward. The orange electric sports car stayed in my sights just long enough to impress me with its cornering, then acceleration abilities. Clearly, the Tesla was in a completely different class than this sporty Honda hybrid – a point that became even more clear minutes later as I realized it was almost out of gas. Still, I was impressed, my admittedly-low expectations being vigorously exceeded.

There had been a lot of excitement around the CR-Z when it was launched in the US in 2010, but as the first reviews came in, it seemed those who had expected the rebirth of the Honda CRX were disappointed and many saw it as a flawed compromise: not enough performance for the enthusiast, too gas-thirsty for the green-car crowd. Alas, what's an automaker to do? Well, how about a makeover.

Driving Notes
  • The 2013 model gets a minor bit of cosmetic surgery, but more importantly, it also gets a lithium battery – in place of the old nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) chemistry – and a more powerful electric motor. Its prime mover – a 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder – also gets a power bump. The resulting 130 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque (the CVT option only offers 127 lb-ft) may not seem especially impressive, but in the 2,663-lb vehicle, lack of power was never a problem.
  • I think the nine-second 0-to-62 mile-per-hour figured offered by Honda is a lie. At least, it certainly seemed quicker and, in the 6-speed manual version at least, torque is waiting for you right off the line. Also, tromping on the accelerator doesn't produce any noticeable torque-steer. Nice!
  • Upon first entering the feature-rich CR-Z, I was bedazzled by the number of buttons and gauges, but adjusted rather quickly to almost all of them. Navigation worked well and was pretty intuitive. Stereo sound quality seemed less than mediocre at first, but a little tweaking of the EQ helped immensely and the sub woofer in this package helped the tuba stand out clearly in the corridos I was listening to, without mushing the mids.
  • The one button I didn't get a handle on was the new-for-2013 Plus Sport (S+) boost on the lower right portion of the steering wheel. (Note to self: read the bleeping manual) This gives the car more thrust, regardless of whether it's in eco, regular or sport mode, for up to 10 seconds. It's probably more useful with the CVT than the manual, as using it forces you to return your right hand to the wheel immediately after shifting – as one should, but most drivers don't. It's an interesting touch, but I never really felt the need for more acceleration than what was already available with a quick upshift and a whack of the pedal in sport mode.
  • Handling seemed relatively neutral, making city-speed manoeuvring rather enjoyable. On the highway however, the half inch of marshmallow in the suspension that keeps the ride from being harsh allows for too much body roll and a slightly unsettled feel when making quick steering inputs.
  • The CR-Z has great side-view mirrors. This is important since it's really the only useful way to see what's going on behind you. Rearward visibility is woeful through the mid-mounted mirror and the massively massive c-pillars make over-the-shoulder glances pointless. The back up camera also proved quite handy for parking situations and made me wish there was a way to use it when moving forward.
  • The hybrid portion of the drivetrain really shone through when I filled the tank before turning it in. Despite only using eco-mode sparingly and a (very) spirited 120-mile dash back to the airport, I estimate it returned better than 35 miles per gallon. This figure may not impress Prius drivers but I thought it excellent, considering the superior performance. The stop-start function worked flawlessly as well and the silence at a standstill was much appreciated.
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