And now it's here, the eagerly awaited 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid sports coupe. With just two seats and a sporty look, the CR-Z is after new territory for the hybrid realm: excitement.

Sure, there's the Fisker Karma, but that's a limited-production hybrid special. Honda's 2011 CR-Z promises to deliver the goods, and soon--it will be on sale by summer.

Honda IMA Hybrid Powertrain
Powered by a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), the new CR-Z shares a lot with the recently-released Honda Insight hybrid. A 10 kW electric motor helps assist with acceleration, and recaptures energy under deceleration and coasting, storing the electricity in a 100-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack.

Packaging it into the small and sporty CR-Z body should help it extract more fun, though like the Insight, fuel economy isn't quite what you'd expect from a small hybrid. Power is sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual (standard) or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Rated at 36/38 mpg for the CVT-equipped version, the CR-Z barely edges out conventional-engined cars like the new Ford Fiesta. The manual fares worse, with just 31/37 mpg.

Despite the middling hybrid fuel economy, the CR-Z rates as a Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) under the California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards, and as an EPA Tier 2, Bin 2 car for all states.

The maximum of 122 horsepower is attained at 6,000 rpm, while torque is generated down low, the full 128 pound-feet available from 1,000-1,500 rpm.

Sports car or sporty hybrid?
The 2011 Honda CR-Z does make efforts to maintain rigidity and low weight, both good attributes in a sporty car, through use of Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure. Its suspension is also tuned with enthusiasm in mind, despite the torsion beam rear axle/front strut layout. The batteries are even mounted low to keep the weight where it needs to be.

A three-mode drive system lets the driver choose from Sport, Econ and Normal driving modes, showing further that Honda intends the CR-Z as a hybrid that's to be enjoyed, not just at the pump or among green-minded friends, but at the wheel. Still, it's clear that Honda is riding a fine line, erring perhaps on the side of efficiency over sport.

Trim levels, on sale this summer
Two different trims are available on the 2011 CR-Z: base and EX. The base comes with a fair host of standard equipment, including stability control, ABS, automatic climate control, keyless entry, cruise control and a six-speaker sound system with USB connectivity. The EX adds HID headlamps, Bluetooth, fog lamps, leather trim and an upgraded 360-watt stereo. Navigation with voice recognition can be had as an upgrade.

Production of the 2011 Honda CR-Z is due to start soon with first retail availability this summer.