Pros: Distinctive design; unique driving experience

Cons: Tiny interior space; neither sporty nor exceptionally fuel efficient

What's New: Styling updates including revised headlights and grille; improved horsepower and torque; more powerful battery; slightly better fuel economy

The Honda CR-Z is a 3-door hatchback subcompact hybrid that arrived in 2010 as a 2011 model. The CR-Z was designed in homage to one of Honda's most iconic designs, the CR-X. With the CR-Z, Honda wanted to build a fuel efficient, affordable and sporty hybrid.

The 2013 Honda CR-Z arrives fresh from a mid-cycle update that includes revised styling and mechanicals. Honda continues to offer the CR-Z in two trim levels--base and EX. But for the latest model, a more powerful lithium-ion battery yields more horsepower and torque, and fuel economy is up slightly from the outgoing 2012 model.

Comfort & Utility

Utility isn't the CR-Z's strong suit. With only two seats, the CR-Z has more of an urban cruiser feel. In the place where a back seat might be, Honda has installed a plastic storage tray. Behind it is another small storage space accessed by the rear hatch. This space isn't large either, but it will easily hold a couple of bags of groceries.

The front passenger compartment is classic small Honda. Space is limited but well designed. The seats are slim but comfortable, and despite its diminutive size, larger drivers will have little problem fitting into the CR-Z.

Technology

All 2013 CR-Zs include automatic climate control, a 6-speaker audio system with compact disc player, USB input for iPod, power windows and locks and keyless entry.

When customers step up to the EX, Honda includes many more technical features. The EX includes a 360-watt high-power audio system with subwoofer, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and alloy pedals. Honda's satellite navigation system with voice activation and a 6.5-inch touchscreen is an option on the EX.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The CR-Z has a 1.5-liter inline-4 gasoline engine cleverly fitted with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system. Together, the system now generates 130 hp--8 more than the 2012 CR-Z. Torque is improved, too. Manual-transmission models now produce 140 lb-ft while automatic-equipped models produce 127 lb-ft.

The CR-Z's electric motor/generator uses electricity stored in recently updated lithium-ion battery packs to assist with acceleration. During cruising the IMA system remains at rest. During braking or decelerating, the IMA system helps slow the CR-Z through regenerative braking, which generates electricity that is sent back to the on-board batteries.

The CR-Z is the only hybrid sold in the U.S. with a 6-speed manual transmission. It's the standard gearbox; a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an option on all CR-Zs. The CR-Z is rated at 31 mpg city and 38 mpg highway with the manual, and slightly better at 36/39 mpg with the CVT. These numbers are enhanced by idle-stop technology that shuts down the gasoline engine at stops and re-engages when the driver takes his or her foot off the brake.

The CR-Z features a 3-mode hybrid drive system that allows drivers to switch vehicle performance using Sport, Normal and Econ modes. Sport mode increases the IMA power delivery curve at lower rpm and electronically increases steering effort for an enhanced performance feel. When Econ mode is activated, it will shut off the gasoline engine sooner when coming to a stop, especially useful during stop-and-go city driving. Normal mode, the default setting, is a balance between Sport mode and the fuel-saving features of Econ mode. For 2013, the CR-Z also includes Honda's Plus Sport system. Using the steering wheel-mounted "S+" button, drivers can send an extra electric boost to the IMA system for a quick burst of power.

Safety

The CR-Z has dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, front and side airbags with Honda's Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) on the passenger's side and side curtain airbags. Active head restraints and ABS complete the safety package. The front of the small CR-Z's chassis also has a pedestrian injury mitigation design and what Honda calls its Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, which helps absorb and disperse energy in the event of a front-end crash.

Driving Impressions

Honda has touted the CR-Z as a sport hybrid. In spite of its sport-inspired features, the CR-Z isn't actually very sporty. It is quite agile, however. On the open road, the CR-Z grips the corners confidently, and the engine sounds energetic at higher rpm. The most fun part--when drivers really notice the power boost from the hybrid system--is right off the line. Acceleration in Sport mode is peppy, but above 20 mph, there's not much sporting feel to the CR-Z.

Drivers looking to achieve both a sporting driving experience and fuel efficiency will be disappointed with the CR-Z. Making most of the CR-Z's limited sporting attributes in the city, drivers will achieve a miles-per-gallon rating closer to the mid-20s than the mid-30s that is claimed by Honda. If customers come at it from another mentality, however, they will find the CR-Z much more enjoyable. We figure the word to best describe the CR-Z is "quirky."

The CR-Z is small, light, nimble and really can't be directly compared to any other vehicle on the market. Yes, there are other subcompacts out there, but the CR-Z provides a completely different motoring experience than anything else on the road. Drivers should settle in and enjoy the CR-Z for what it actually is: one part go-kart, one part spaceship and one part hybrid.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Prius C - With only 99 hp from its gasoline-electric powertrain, the Prius C, a 5-door subcompact, is far from sporty. But at 53 mpg city and 46 mpg highway, the littlest Prius model is super thrifty on fuel. The Prius C starts under $19,000 and, unlike the CR-Z, it has a back seat.

Mazda2 - The Mazda2 is not a hybrid, but it is a sporty little hatchback that's a real kick in the pants to drive. With five doors, a manual transmission and an optional neon green paint color, the $14,720 Mazda2 gives the CR-Z a run for its money.

Kia Rio - The Rio starts at $13,800 for the LX five-door and features one of the nicest interiors in its class. Not only does the Rio look good and drive even better, it also comes with a 100,000-mile warranty that's hard to beat at any price point.

AutoTrader Recommends

For customers enamored with the 2013 Honda CR-Z's distinctive looks and driving feel, we recommend they step up to the EX with navigation, priced starting at $23,155. Featuring a 6-speed manual transmission and Honda's satellite navigation system with voice recognition, the CR-Z features all the sporting and technological features an eco-conscious urban driver could want.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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