Gas prices are up again, but I've got to defend a hybrid?
I have no patience for the automotive purists who trashed our decision to include a hybrid in our list of favorite sports cars.
With $4- and $5-a-gallon gas in our future, we've got to rethink what we're driving.
And anyone who wants to argue that a hybrid sports car is an oxymoron, let me introduce you to the latest million-dollar supercars from Ferrari and McLaren.
But first, let's recall the source of all this ire, the Honda CR-Z.
Readers called it a "heavy, pricey lawnmower" and groaned, a "130-hp Honda? I'm surprised a minivan didn't make this list."
It's true that the CR-Z hasn't been a hit in the showroom.
It has just two seats, always a sales crusher, and buyers are struggling to get their heads around the compromises involved in making what Honda calls a "sport hybrid coupe."
Performance geeks pooh-pooh the powertrain — a 1.5-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine and electric motor that together generate a modest 130 horsepower.
Plus, it's front-wheel drive and has to haul around a lithium battery pack, so they presume its cornering isn't going to be as sharp as with a lighter, rear-wheel-drive car.
More practical, environmentally sensitive drivers look at the EPA estimates of 36 mpg city/39 highway and can't understand how Honda engineers could build such an impractical, gas-guzzling hybrid.
They obviously did much better with the 2013 Civic Hybrid, which gets 44 mpg city/44 mpg highway, and it has a back seat.
So why is the CR-Z one of our favorite sports cars?
I insisted on it.
Sport cars are all about style and performance, and I think the CR-Z is an eye-catching blend of fun and fuel-efficiency particularly suited for city driving.
Carmakers like to tout highway mileage in their ads. Conventionally powered midsize models routinely boast that they get 30 mpg, while many compact cars claim they'll go 40 miles on a gallon of gas.
But most of my time behind the wheel is on congested urban streets and freeways where stop-and-go traffic is the norm.
So, while the Chevrolet Cruz with a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission gets a respectable 38 mpg on the highway, that falls to 26 in the city.
Looking at where gas prices are headed over the next several years, I don't think that's going to be good enough.
Although the boom in U.S. petroleum production will mean bigger profits for the oil companies, it isn't going to mean lower gas prices for us.
As economist Jill Beccaris-Pescatore wrote a few weeks ago, we've got to be prepared to pay $4 a gallon on a routine basis and $5 a gallon when prices spike.
To keep that from blowing a hole in my budget, I think my next ride needs to get at least 35 mpg in city driving.
The only way to do that that is with a hybrid — and I've not been a big fan.
Most models are pokey transportation appliances that sacrifice all sense of style and personality on the altar of fuel efficiency.
I will never own a Toyota Prius, Honda Insight or even a Civic Hybrid. Just not going to happen.
But the CR-Z?
Here's a hybrid that's willing to compromise a few mpg in an effort to make driving a little more fun.
Tree huggers may cringe. Performance geeks may scoff.
I think the middle ground the CR-Z seeks is the future — even if car buyers can't quite see that today.
Which brings me to Ferrari and McLaren — two legendary names in Formula 1 racing and high-end sports cars.
At last winter's Geneva Auto Show, they unveiled new million-dollar super cars — the Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1 — that use a hybrid powertrain much like the CR-Z's.
Of course, the engines are bigger — a 6.3-liter V-12 in the LaFerrari and 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 in the P1 — and the electric motors are absolute monsters compared to the little Honda.
Let's be clear, though. Ferrari and McLaren don't give a rat's ass about fuel efficiency. They're adding electric motors to these cars to improve performance.
Kind of drives a stake through the argument that no sports car worth its salt would have hybrid technology under the hood, eh?
One final thought.
Sports cars aren't muscle cars. Unlike Mustangs and Camaros and Chargers, they've never been about big engines.
One of my all-time favorites is the Triumph TR6, a British roadster built from 1969 to 1976 that practically defines the genre.
The carbureted version of the inline six-cylinder engine sold in the United States generated all of 104 horsepower.
So don't tell me 130 won't do the job.