Describing the 2013 Honda CR-Z isn't straightforward. Honda describes it as a sport-hybrid, but it's really not very sporty, nor does it offer the same levels of fuel economy that most hybrids have. "Quirky," we think, is the word that best describes this little gas-electric runabout.

Comfortable Cabin

Despite its small size, the interior layout of the CR-Z can accommodate a tall driver and a passenger, with comfortable seats made from quality materials. You read it right -- one driver, one passenger, no back seat. The CR-Z is a 2-seater with a rear compartment that can hold, at most, a couple bags of groceries.

There are two trim levels: base and EX. Our preference is the EX, which will give you a powerful 360-watt audio system and the option of Honda's satellite navigation system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen. All CR-Zs are equipped with steering-wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB input for your iPod.

Hybrid Motion

For propulsion, the front-wheel-drive CR-Z has a sophisticated drivetrain comprising a 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine connected to Honda's Integrated Motor Assist Hybrid System. In a nutshell, the 130-horsepower system, with its recently upgraded lithium-ion batteries, gives the CR-Z added thrust when accelerating. When the brakes are applied, the system directs juice back into the battery pack via regenerative braking. And for an extra dose of efficiency, an idle-stop feature shuts the engine off at rest and reengages it when the brake pedal is released.

The CR-Z has three driving modes -- Sport, Normal and ECON. There's also Honda's Plus-Sport feature that gives the CR-Z an extra kick when needed. Furthermore, the CR-Z is the only hybrid in the U.S. market with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional.

Fuel economy is good but not astounding for a hybrid. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the manual transmission CR-Z at 31 miles per gallon city/38 mpg hwy. The CVT comes in at 36 mpg city/39 mpg hwy.

Competitive

A base CR-Z costs $19,975. The EX begins at $21,655. Other cars to look at include the Toyota Prius C, a real mileage champion with a back seat; the Mazda2, which isn't a hybrid but is an economical fun machine; and the Kia Rio with a low, low price and big 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

The Final Say

The 2013 Honda CR-Z fits somewhere between a spirited hatchback and an around-town commuter while delivering some of the latest in-car technology. Well configured on the inside and eye-catching enough to stand out from other subcompacts, the CR-Z is aimed at the urban driver who cares about the environment but still wants to experience the joys of motoring.

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Jessica Shea Choksey is an automotive journalist and former writer/reporter for the PBS/Discovery Channel television series "MotorWeek." She began her career in journalism as an editor for numerous magazines and publications mainly outside of the automotive field. Jessica currently resides with her family, in Southern California.

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