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Honda CR-Z: Little hybrid with a large personality
Honda is resurrecting the lightweight, sporty two-seater formula

In the mid-1980s, when automakers were still sorting out their performance-oriented products after hitting rock bottom during the back half of the 1970s -- thanks to oil crises, pressure from Big Insurance, safety concerns and other assorted drama -- Honda threw into the mix an unbelievably fun, two-seat, driver-oriented hatchback called the CR-X.

Powered by a dinky, little 91-horsepower, 1.5-litre four-cylinder and weighing less than 870 kilograms soaking wet, the CR-X traded outright acceleration for nimble road holding that belied its skinny 13-inch tires and a parsimony at the gas pumps that would have Scrooge clicking his heels with glee.

I loved both generations of that cheery little car, whether it was the base version or the peppier Si.

Twenty-five or so years after the CR-X first showed up, Honda is resurrecting the lightweight, sporty but fuel efficient two-seater hatchback formula with the CR-Z. And, like the original CR-X, the Zed is also powered by a 1.5L four-cylinder. The difference is that -- following the automotive industry's current trend toward political correctness -- the i-VTEC four is working in conjunction with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system.

Yes, the CR-Z is a hybrid -- specifically, the world's first sport hybrid, says the automaker.

There's no doubt the Zed's DNA comes from the CR-X. It's a striking, wedge-shape design that is both cute and bold. Though not as diminutive as the X, the CR-Z is still tightly packaged. With a length of only 4,079 millimetres, a height of 1,394 mm and weighing in at a skeletal (these days) 1,196 kilograms for the six-speed-manual model -- a first for hybrids -- it doesn't cast a large shadow. (Add another 32 kg for the CVT version.)

It doesn't pump out big horsepower, either. The combined peak output of the 1.5L four and the IMA's 10-kilowatt DC brushless electric motor is a mild 122 hp at 6,000 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque starting at 1,000 rpm -- take off five lb-ft of torque for the CVT.

While peppier than Honda's other hybrid offerings, the Insight and Civic Hybrid, the Zed is not exactly pole position material for the Stoplight Grand Prix. As for fuel economy, the CR-Z's Transport Canada figures are 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 5.0 L/100 km on the highway for the CVT, while the manual model is rated at 6.5 city and 5.3 highway. (Both the Insight and Civic Hybrid are more fuel efficient.)

If by now you are forming a worrying thought in your head -- namely that the CR-Z doesn't appear to be especially ballsy for a sporty car or super-frugal for a hybrid, well, you wouldn't be wrong. But the Zed brings one thing to market lacking in almost all other hybrid vehicles -- a genuine personality!

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