By on March 25, 2010


I fell in love with Chrysler back in 1991. Really. The LH sedans were the first four door cars I ever wanted to buy. Sports car looks. 214 horsepower. Of course they were just in the developmental stage back then with only a Viper or two out in the real world. I didn’t care. As I studied more of Chrysler’s other show cars of that time and reflected on the company’s restructuring measures (I was an industry wonk even then), I smelled the opportunity of an 18 year old’s lifetime. I bought 260 shares of Chrysler at just over $10 a share. Two years later I thought LH stood for, “Lordy Hallelujah!” as I spent my newfound fortune on babes and booze. Make that one babe who thankfully became my wife, and a laptop computer.

Today everyone is still singing automotive praises… about Ford. The Fiesta will truly be a celebration. The F-150, Taurus, and Fusion all seem to be on solid ground. Heck, even the MKS is a marketable vehicle if you have the right color scheme on it. But there is one unavoidable reason why the chorus of congratulations is so loud for Ford. The stock price. Within the last year Ford has gone from the near abyss to the near profit.  It’s always well and good to be a Monday morning quarterback. But I believe there’s one other company that will be even better.

Hyundai? That ship has sailed. Personally I find all of their designs to be derivative and I think the Genesis is a completely ugly piece of crap. The new Sonata? I just can’t embrace that look. A Korean car company stealing German designs with crayola quality interior accompaniments doesn’t do it for me. Hyundai found the plot about five years ago with their small cars but now, they’re trying to reach a premium look with botox inspired plastic panels. I don’t see it becoming the next spirit of the times and I don’t think the market will either.

Where do I see this going? One direction thanks to China, India and Obama (and Bush). Efficient cars that are fun to drive. I’m not talking about small cars that look like wedged pieces of cheese.  With five star safety ratings and airbags aplenty, I can see models of all shapes and sizes start to encroach on the territory of the midsized cars. Just as minivans were snubbed by ever larger SUV Sally’s and Sam’s, the under-30 new car shoppers (all three of them) will look past the Boomeresque splendor of Grandpa’s Camry and choose something that is unique. Even a bit ugly at times, but unique.

So I am throwing my first gauntlet towards something almost all of you truly hate. The Honda CR-Z. The B&B have been saying ‘Eeeewwww!!!!’ to the design for the longest time now. But let me ask you. Is it uglier than a Camry? OK, let me throw in an even bigger thought out there. Are the overwhelming majority of cars out there even remotely good looking? Or do they all look like bulbous and deformed jellybeans of varying types. If you picked B then you’re going to truly appreciate what I’m about to say.

The Honda CR-Z will be brilliant. Not perhaps for ‘looks’ but for image. It will be absolutely perfect for the times because it hits every strong societal G-spot that’s out there and then some. Frugal? Yes. Fun? For folks whose idea of fun is watching a display light up in mpg’s… yes. Is it a Prius? No, so it gets double points for that because everybody’s mother or nerdy uncle already has one of those boreathons. All kidding aside, I’ve driven it’s ancestor for nearly 6 months and 20,000 miles now and it’s a complete revelation. It makes my late model S-Class feel like an antique (albeit a quiet one) and it involves me in the daily driving experience in a way that no other car can.

55 miles per gallon. Tons of room. As flickable as a New Jersey switchblade with enough feel for the road to give it an almost 1st generation Miata like quality. The new CR-Z will not hit the same MPG’s or even the same weight class as my Insight. But compared to what else is out there… there will simply be nothing else quite like it. Except for maybe a Kia Soul, or the dreadful Nissan Cube, or that contemptible Italian piece from Chrysler that will ultimately be the last hurrah for that company. Speaking of that, I’m thinking that when the Ram brand and tooling get sold off, Honda will buy it. That and an unbreakable grip on everything Accord sized and under will make Honda the next winner.
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47 Comments on “Hammer Time: Eye of the Zeitgeist...”


  • avatar

    Unfortunately, the CR-Z is only projected at 36/38 with the CVT and 31/37 with the six-speed manual. That’s a far cry from 55 mpg and makes the Fit a more attractive purchase in my mind.

    http://hondanews.com/categories/1385/releases/5355

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Why should we hate the CR-Z ? It’s hardly the best looking Honda we’ve seen , but it is said to drive very well , and there aren’t exactly a lot of small coupes to choose from , unless you want a 20th Century one. But who in God’s name care’s about its image ? Image is for folk who lack self-confidence.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    I owned the CRX which was a cheap fun car. The CRZ could have been heir to the CRX IF Honda had the gumption to make a fun car with good gas mileage. Instead we get a Fit on top of a fun looking design and lots of marketing BS. I pass and my bet is most of America will as well. The concept is sound, but the execution was not. Honda was been in the habit lately of just not doing enough to get the job done.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      In my part of the world, the CRX wasn’t what you’d call cheap. At that time (and just about ever since) Honda’s have commanded either MSRP or higher here. Back when I bought my Colt Turbo the CRX was probably about 50% more. (Probably 50% better car too, but I liked my Colt and it worked well enough for me for 10 years).

      I’ll be surprised if the CR-Z is any more expensive in inflated dollars that the CRX was.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    You may need some help if your CVT Transmission goes south or has to be replaced they are not cheap and talking to Transmission Guys around here, they don’t fix them but have to replace them, I would say that Asian makers have had better luck than North American makers using this type of Transmission!

  • avatar

    I agree that Honda fell short with the CRZ. I’m disappointed, and between that and the lack of interesting products from Acura, I am wondering whether to sell my Honda stock soon.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Mr. Lang, everything you write, the more I like you. Whether I agree or disagree, I like you.

    BTW, other than the LH cars with the tiny little craptastic sludge o matic 2+ ltr V6, how are the LH cars holding up? I occasionally see one of Grampa’s 300Ms for sale at what seems like a decent price and I wonder.

    • 0 avatar
      littlehulkster

      Even if the motor is fine, the transmission won’t be.

      The LH is really a microcosm of American cars. They were loved so much upon release, even Jeremy Clarkson showered the LHS with praise, and said it was a genuine world class car.

      Then, it turned out to be a swoopy turd that exploded every third time you turned the key.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    i’m sick of the “cat in heat” rear end. Also, give us a damn DIESEL engine!!! I’m talking to you too Ford Fiesta!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    My 13-year-old daughter wants one. Personally, I think it’s cool too.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Back in the early 90’s I read every magazine I could get my hands on about cars, including Automotive News which I got from my father-in-law who sold stationary and custom printing and had several auto dealerships as clients. I knew what was coming at Chrysler. During my annual eye exam I told my Dr. if he wanted to make some easy money to buy Chrysler when it sank to $15 a share and sell it when it went to $45. It actuality it sank as low as 9 something a share and went to 60 something or higher before it split. Still good advice at the time since no one knows the actual low and high in advance. My advice was good enough for tripling his money. I never did find out if he took my advice.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The problem with the CR-Z is that, nice and sporty as it is, it’s just not practical.

    I know that’s a tough word, but in this case it makes sense. A Porsche 911 isn’t practical, but it doesn’t really matter because it will sell. Ditto a Miata, PT Cruiser or Prius: they nail their demographics perfectly. Your example of the Chrysler LH cars are another: they looked good, but they also sold well because they fit a need and can be rationalized, for a given value of “rational”.

    The CR-Z is sort of like the Chevy SSR or Plymouth Prowler**: it’s interesting, well designed and sells to a buyer that, quite frankly, does not exist. It’s a show car in search of a market that should never have made production, and a testament to how Honda, not Toyota, is the Japanese General Motors: building cars that it wants out of a sense of arrogance, not what people actually buy.

    ** side note: I actually like the Prowler, but I’ll admit it wasn’t remotely viable.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Pretty good assessment here. You know, I liked the LS2 based SSR. First one didn’t have enough power. I also like the Prowler, that was one sweet looking car. The SSR was too heavy, based of the Trail Blazer, didn’t really hit a sports car demographic and was priced too closely to the Corvette. It did have a hard to power convertible.

      The Prowler was one sweet looking ride but was also under powered (I am seeing a theme). This was one of the best looking cars designed in my lifetime. But, it was only good looking. Too under powered and there isn’t really a market for something like that. 40k in 1999. Too many better options available for that price.

      The only difference is that the CRZ is less expensive, which is a big plus for Honda. But in a time of practical cars, a coupe hybrid sports car isn’t probably what people are going to buy. Especially when you can get a Miata, V6 Mustang, or V6 Camaro for about 22-23k. To me, the CRZ is working off of the past of the CRX, and this car doesn’t live up to that. It might sell decently in the beginning, but as people drive it, it will fall off the side of a cliff.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, no, no, and no. Miata? Wake me up when it has a roof. Mustang? Do you even know how big it is nowadays? And Camaro, that’s just laughable. Not the best car Government Motors built. I’d rather buy a Corvette.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Miata PRHT. Only a bit heavier than the soft-top and tons of fun.

    • 0 avatar
      gimmeamanual

      I’d agree with the PRHT, except you can’t see jack squat out the back, it has a teeny trunk, and the top squeaks and rattles.

    • 0 avatar
      ghillie

      “Honda, not Toyota, is the Japanese General Motors: building cars that it wants out of a sense of arrogance, not what people actually buy.”

      You must be kidding. Who makes the Civic? the Accord? the CRV? the Fit/Jazz?

      My guess is that like some other models, with the CRZ Honda is trying to create a new market – perhaps one that no-one knows if it really exists, although I would be surprised if they haven’t done a lot of market research. Will they succeed with the CRZ? Probably not. For every Miata/Mx5 there is a heap of unsucessful or marginally successful models.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I would dig the CRZ if it didn’t have the lame hybrid aspect to it and a decent engine. The hybrid sports car idea doesn’t work for me. An EV sports car would. But not a hybrid sports car that is too weak.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Steven +1

      Straight EV or an SI engine, I’d pay 30k+ for. This POS, no thanks.

      As I mentioned in another thread; previous two cars ’96 Accord currently approaching 215k, and a ’95 Civic that I traded in way way too early for that Accord.

      Loved the Hondas. T’was my ethos.

      Would kill for a CR-X in good shape. Would kill for a re-release of the 1st Gen Insight.

      This POS, aptly named the Zero, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      ConejoZing

      “This POS, no thanks.”

      Well, isn’t this thing already a sales champion? Wasn’t there some article about Honda selling loads of these already? Isn’t it already kind of a winner?

      It will be very interesting to see the long term sales for the CR-Z in America. We shall see.

      Now, what I REALLY want to see is a Ranma 1/2 live action movie. I swear if you’re going to do a remake do a RANMA remake. I’m sure Sony (or maybe Disney) could convince Takahashi to do a movie or to oversee / manage another live action director. Sorry, off topic lol.

    • 0 avatar
      pnnyj

      If Honda had put the 200hp K20 engine from the Civic Si into it then the CRZ would have been revealed as the dressy 2 seat body grafted onto a cheap economy car platform that it is. The MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension would be severely outclassed by the engine.

      If the CRZ had been a pure electric it would probably have been way more expensive and suffered from range-anxiety.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Sales champion? Isn’t this thing a couple quarters out from a NA launch? From what I’ve read, there are a lot of pre-orders in Japan, but that is a buying public that prefers small cars (admittedly I do, too) but more importantly, has a buying public that is eager to lap up the next ‘new’ techno-gizmo. Or am I confusing Japan with another country with a penchant for space-age toilets?

      My point is: I love(d) Hondas. I don’t have kids and I have a 20 mile commute. I would love for my next car to be a two-seater that is fun to drive. The first photos of the concept and the first paragraph I read about this vehicle, my heart literally skipped a beat. I caught myself wondering if my Accord could hold out another couple years till it’s North American release. The more I read, the more depressing this vehicle seems. If they’re losing me, a loyal fan, who are they going to replace me with?

      And pnnyj, point taken about the suspension. That said, with a two-seater like this, one could argue that Honda could have dropped some Li-po cells and created a superb commuter on this chasis. Alternatively, they could have put an ICE and gotten some solid mileage here. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to weigh down a modestly sized vehicle with two propulsion systems, the words dimminishing returns come to mind.

  • avatar
    BlueEr03

    You started off talking about stock price, with Chrysler and Ford, and transition to Honda being the big winner, but you are only speaking to it from a car perspective. Now Honda may have a hit on their hands with the CR-Z, but I wouldn’t rush out and buy their stock. Ford was hovering around a dollar (I believe) before it shot up, Chrysler you mentioned was $10, but Honda is at $35. They are approaching their 52 week high, not exactly the best time to buy.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      By your logic, BRK.A is probably the worst stock on NYSE.

      You seriously should not buy stocks, for your own good.

    • 0 avatar
      BlueEr03

      Actually no, you are wrong. Of course there are other things to look at besides price, such as P/E ratio, market cap, many many things. But to draw a comparison to Ford, when it was hovering between $1-2, it’s 52 week high was around 8. Not really comparable. Also, to use your own example, BRK.A is at 122.6K while its 52 week high is $140.7K. Not to mention the completely different industries.

      Thanks for playing, try again later.

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s compare sales of HondaJet and Cessna Mustang. That thing is going to hang on Honda’s neck and depress its stock for a while yet, until either they close it down or make it a success.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    the CR-Z is a waste of time. If Honda had made it look more like the show car and maybe dropped in the Civic’s 1.8 instead of the Hybrid powertrain, it would have been decent. Hell, isn’t the Civic rated at 36 mpg? I bet the lighter CR-Z with a Civic 1.8 would almost match the hybrid ratings.

    • 0 avatar
      majo8

      I agree. I have an ’06 Civic coupe 5-spd and I average 39 mpg with more city driving than highway. I looked long and hard for a decent CR-X, couldn’t find one, and bought a used ’06 instead.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I agree. When I worked at the old chrysler I was stuffing my 401k with Honda stock, that chrysler was helping me buy.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    Steven L:

    Not to detract from your overall point, but I believe that’s the wrong picture of the CR-Z (though everyone keeps using it). Isn’t that the pre-production version, back when the design was coherent? People like “different” but they don’t like Aztec ugly. The pre-production CR-Z is nice and different. The US-bound CR-Z is Aztec ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      BobJava, that photo shows the right one. The red car is the production version; the concept was white and had LED headlamps. But the concept was better looking. By the way, the worst angle on the CR-Z is its profile, because the front overhang is gigantic in proportion to the car’s small size.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I believe BobJava was correct. Looks like TTAC has updated the photo, yesterday this post had a white CR-Z in the photo. Definitely a better looking car.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    The CR-Z won’t even sell as well as the original Insight, which itself was not considered to be a success. It’s basically the same thing except that the CR-Z gets significantly worse fuel economy and weighs a lot more and costs more than the Insight did.

  • avatar
    Darrencardinal1

    Hey Steven Lang,

    I had a similar experience. As a 21 yr old young man, I saw the LH cars that were going to shortly be coming out, and I could see that they were good looking cars that would probably sell well.

    I too remember Chrysler trading at $10, and I scooped up a nice chunk of it.
    I ultimately made about $50,000 in it when it doubled. Good times.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Speaking of that, I’m thinking that when the Ram brand and tooling get sold off, Honda will buy it. That and an unbreakable grip on everything Accord sized and under will make Honda the next winner.

    I like the idea, but there may be political problems. But time and elections can solve them…

    The ’09 Ram is a good truck – but could benefit from a little Honda TLC. However, Honda fanboys’ heads might exploded when they finally realize they’re getting a V8 – with pushrods…

  • avatar
    michal1980

    whats the difference between this piece and the edmunds piece?

    The edmunds guy actually drove the car

    • 0 avatar
      CV

      True. Usually, people praise or trash a car after actually driving it…not just guessing about how it drives. Also, the original CR-X started out with very little horsepower. During its lifetime, different models offered 62hp, 92hp, 108hp, 130hp and and later 160hp, from what I looked up.

      FYI, Edmunds Inside Line reports Honda is working on a CR-Z Type R that would have 160-170 horsepower.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I too loved the LH cars. Those were very nice designs that really breathed life back into Chrysler. The 300 knocked me over. The RAM trucks of the time were so damn good looking, I even wanted one of those, blue with white skunk stripes…and I typically don’t “get” pick-ups.

    I lusted after the original CR-X. But I was young and dumb, no kids, no wife. No money either. This car, the CR-Z, I predict will not do as well, nor be anywhere near as memorable as the original. Sorry Honda, I just don’t “get” it.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    CR-Z? Lord have mercy on us poor sinners.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    It’s pretty cool looking. Sounds fun to drive. Frugal, too. Honda quality I assume.

    So why are people shitting themselves about it? Who cares?

    Let it be.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Steven,
    Can you tell me why Honda would be interested in the Ram? Their sales have slid even further with the new model. I think the current redesign is great, minus the peanut butter and plastic drivetrain. I would love to see the current Ram with a Honda V8!

  • avatar
    Dorian666

    Why all this TTAC luv for the the CR-Z? Two rambling pieces about a
    vehicle that is niche marketing and little proven substance. One year real life daily usage test please. TIA

  • avatar
    Joel

    Looks? Whatever. MPGs not up to par with other small cars? Whatever. Interior fit and finish better than base basic plus a Manual transmission? Sold!

  • avatar
    ghillie

    Stephen

    Like you, I enjoy the uncommon pleasure of driving a 1st gen Insight (2001 in MT). In my opinion it really is a sports car for the beginning of the 21st century. Like the Porsche 356 of 50 years earlier, only better. But it didn’t (and will never) meet the wants of most people looking for a sports coupe. Will the CRZ be able to do that?

    I can’t really comment on the CRZ. I mostly like the look of it, but a real assessment must await viewing in the metal – and a drive or few. I’d like to think that Honda will capture or create a new market with an efficient, not high powered, sweet handling and good looking sports coupe, but………. with a hybrid and CVT, I think it’s going to struggle. With that drive train it’s not likely to appeal to many people looking for a sports car. And with the indicated fuel economy, unlikely to appeal to many of those who love the 1st gen Insight.

    And its not a roadster – even the Miata was just re-entering a market segment that already existed but somehow forgotten for a few years. The CRZ has a tougher job.

    But I’d be happy to be wrong.

  • avatar
    lawmonkey

    If anyone hears anything about the throttle hang on this thing, let me know. Honda’s current trend (in civic, then fit) is to have some kind of weird emissions-based half second between clutch pedal being pushed and revs dropping. I had an 02 RSX-s and now have an 09 civic-si – same-ish engine, but now the dreaded rev hang. It really makes the experience worse (if your are going up an on ramp onto a freeway at around 8000 rpm, and need to drop to a highway-friendly 3000 for 6th gear, it takes that much longer). If honda holds onto that for even their sporty models, I can’t see it ending well for slowing the brand’s toyotafication. I can only imagine it will be weirder in a hybrid.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Methinks some of you are missing Mr. Lang’s point about why this will sell.

    For a lot of people in every generation, cars sell for emotional and irrational reasons (mid to late ’70’s Oldsmobile Cutlass coupes and 90’s Ford Explorers as good examples). This car may just hit the sweet spot of being a little odd looking and something your parents and grandparents would not want to drive. It will be the backlash vehicle for all the Camrys, Prius’, Highlanders and Pilots that the adults are all driving.

    I don’t like it, nor do I think it’s cool, ergo my son loves it, and says it’s cool in an ironic sense. If he had the means at his disposal right now, he would be pre-ordering one, in a bright colour such as orange or yellow, because all the old people all drive gray cars.

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