DETROIT – American Honda Motor Co. Inc. takes the wraps off the all-new Honda CR-Z, a hybrid-electric vehicle focused more on fun than fuel efficiency.

Achieving a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 37 mpg (6 L/100 km), the CR-Z is no gas guzzler. However, it pales in comparison with other HEV offerings, including Honda’s own Insight that boasts a 41 mpg (6 L/100 km) combined rating.

The auto maker expects the CR-Z and Insight to appeal to a completely different set of customers, says John Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda.

“They’re two very different cars,” Mendel tells Ward’s on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show here. “This is a 2-seat, personal sporty hybrid, and the Insight is 4-passenger and very affordable.

“Most of the people I talk to indicate that hybrids in some way are not fun. They’re very practical and good for the environment, but you don’t hear a lot about sporty and hybrid,” he adds. “This challenges that convention.”

Mendel is mum on pricing for the CR-Z, which debuts this summer, but says it will sticker above the Insight, which begins at $19,800.

Annual volume predictions are in the 10,000-unit range, he says, noting the CR-Z should appeal to drivers of all ages but probably skew toward younger buyers.

But older buyers may be attracted to the vehicle, given the similarity of its exterior styling to the sporty Honda CR-X, first produced in 1984. “People my age that remember the CR-X are probably good targets as well,” Mendel quips.

The ’11 CR-Z is powered by a 1.5L i-VTEC 4-cyl. engine and Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid-electric system. Mated to either a continuously variable transmission or a 6-speed manual, the powertrain produces an estimated 122 hp and 128 lb.-ft. (174 Nm) of torque.

The IMA system, Honda’s sixth generation, boasts a 10-kW electric motor that assists during acceleration and acts as a generator during braking or coasting to capture otherwise lost kinetic energy that is used to recharge the 100-volt nickel-metal hybrid battery.

Additionally, the gas engine automatically turns off during vehicle stops to improve efficiency.

The CR-Z offers a 3-mode drive system that allows drivers to select between Sport, Economy and Normal modes, which offer varying degrees of performance and fuel economy.

“This is a lot of fun to drive, especially with the three modes,” Mendel says. “You get the best of both worlds.”

The car will come in two trim levels – the CR-Z and CRZ EX. Standard features on the CR-Z include vehicle-stability assist, an AM/FM/CD/USB audio system, automatic climate control, power windows and locks, remote entry and cruise control. The EX trim level adds a premium sound system, high-intensity discharge headlamps and Bluetooth compatibility.

Meanwhile, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. President and CEO Takanobu Ito says the auto maker’s luxury Acura brand soon will be receiving HEV models.

“Last year, due to the business conditions and to the focus on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, we refocused some of our product-development resources,” he says.

“Now, I’m pleased to say we will be adding hybrids to the Acura brand. And based on my history in developing Acura products, I have strong confidence in our ability to advance the Acura brand.”

Both Ito and Mendel decline to comment on when the Acura HEVs are expected to hit the market.

bpope@wardsauto.com