Honda Aims For Stylish Hybrid With CR-Z

CR-Z hatchback is Honda's attempt to bring flair to hybrid segment, whose design typically featured boxy lines and sloping roofs of four-door sedans like the Toyota Prius.

DETROIT (AP) -- Honda Motor Co. showed off the production model of the 2011 CR-Z, a sporty two-seater hybrid that will go on sale late summer in the U.S. at the Detroit auto show Monday.

The CR-Z hatchback is Honda's attempt to bring a bit of flair to the hybrid segment, whose design has long dominated by the boxy lines and sloping roofs of four-door sedans like the Toyota Prius. The two-door CR-Z, by contrast, features a compact profile and roadster look. It also comes with multiple drive modes that allow cycling between sportier or more fuel-efficient drive settings.

"CR-Z is a look into the future of sporty and personal driving," said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda.

The new CR-Z will get 36 city miles per gallon and 38 highway mpg, according to Honda's preliminary estimates. That's below the fuel economy of its flagship hybrid, the Insight. It's also less efficient the 2010 Prius, which gets 51 city/48 highway mpg, according to the EPA.

Unlike other hybrids, CR-Z drivers will be able to cycle between three drive modes: sport, normal and economy. Sport mode enhances the car's performance, while economy mode maximizes fuel economy. The 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine will be available in 6-speed manual transmission or with a continuously variable transmission and boasts 122 horsepower.

Pricing will be announced at a later date, Honda said.

Honda Chief Executive Takanobu Ito said during the unveiling in Detroit that the company plans to add hybrid models to its Acura luxury brand. And in an interview earlier in the day, he said Honda remains focused on hybrids and wants to eventually be able to exceed the Prius in fuel economy.

The CR-Z is Honda's third entry in the gas-electric hybrid market, after the Civic hybrid and the Insight. The Insight, a four-door sedan that went on sale in the U.S. last year, was designed to be a cheaper competitor to the market-leading Prius.

While the Insight has sold well in Japan -- where it is the No. 2 hybrid and the fifth-best selling vehicle overall -- sales in the U.S. have been disappointing and reviews among critics have been mixed. Honda projected it would sell more than 40,000 Insights in 2009, but sold a little more than half that number.

Mendel said the Insight faced a difficult market. The economy disproportionately affected the young buyers Honda was targeting, he said. At the same time, gas prices fell, so consumers were less interested in hybrids.

"Insight is the right car. The timing could have been better," Mendel told The Associated Press in an interview.

In December, Honda sold 1,639 Insights in the U.S. In contrast, Toyota sold nearly 12,000 Priuses.