Honda savored the spotlight when it announced that it was reimagining the fondly remembered CRX hatchback as a 21st-century hybrid. Fun and frugality in one sleek, affordable package, what's not to love? Well, it turns out plenty, creating an easy target for Hyundai. We've completed our testing on the rival Veloster, so let's see how these budget sportsters stack up.
The face-off is a natural, given Hyundai's bold proclamation that the Veloster would outshine the CR-Z right from its auto show debut. The key claim: the Veloster would best the CR-Z's fuel economy without resorting to an expensive hybrid system.
The CR-Z uses a mild hybrid system that combines a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with a small electric motor, producing 122 hp total. The electric motor never solely propels the car, but it provides a boost, especially in Sport mode. As we found in our testing, you must downshift often to maintain pace, but the slick six-speed shifter and effortless clutch make that task fun. Its EPA fuel economy rating is 34 mpg overall, with 31 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
The Veloster is powered by a 138-hp, 1.6-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed manual transmission. Its acceleration times are adequate for the category and on par with the Honda. As is typical with sporty cars equipped with small displacement engines, there isn't much low-end torque, so frequent shifting is required to extract the most performance. Both cars sprint 0-60 mph in about the same time, a hint over 9 seconds.
Hyundai made good on its claim, earning an EPA highway rating of 40 mpg. However, it doesn't match the CR-Z around town, giving it a combined 32 mpg rating from the government agency.
In our fuel economy tests, the CR-Z comes out well ahead, with 35 mpg overall compared to 31 mpg for the Veloster. Further, its highway performance in the real world, rather than the EPA's simulation based on a lower speed, was an impressive 45 mpg. Turns out, the CR-Z is more efficient. However, it is neither more clever nor more pleasant to drive.
Where the CR-Z is a sporty two-seater, the Veloster has a distinct advantage in providing seating for four and a third door to aid rear access. This approach turns the Veloster into a much more practical car, especially when you pick up a third passenger once the front passenger is already seated, eliminating the need for the ungracious rear access affair.
The Veloster also has the CR-Z beat when it comes to handling. It's much more engaging to drive. Although the CR-Z is more responsive than the unimpressive Insight upon which it is based, steering feedback comes up rather short. The CR-Z can also become unsettled at its limits, while the Veloster remains rock-solid and predictable.
Both cars have a choppy ride, partly a side effect of their low-cost underpinnings and modest wheelbases, with the Veloster benefiting from an eight-inch advantage. We'd much rather spend a long highway trip piloting a Veloster than the CR-Z.
While both cars have compromises, the CR-Z lost points in a variety of categories, such as access, at-limit handling, braking distance, road noise, and visibility. By final measure, the CR-Z scored too low in our testing to meet the minimal threshold for being recommended, while the Veloster scored a respectable 71 points out of 100. Further, the Veloster is cheaper to purchase, has a longer warranty, and as stated, can seat four. And if you crave more fun in a similar package, a Veloster Turbo will be offered this summer.
In a time when shoppers are looking for affordable, frugal cars, it is good to see some small cars with personality. Having choices is good for consumers. And in this pairing, we would clearly choose the Veloster.