Base Price: $19,800
Price as Tested: $24,000
Capsule Review of the 2010 Honda Insight
Honda has put the Prius on notice, but the resemblance to it's crosstown rival might be too uncanny. The Insight has good road manners though the gasoline engine is noisy and detracts a bit from the driving experience. Inside, hey Honda, it's nice to know when I'm driving in a manner that my car thinks is good for the planet, but the Insight's throbbing eco display is other worldly.
Highs:• Cheap base price
• More fun to drive than the original
• Smooth electric-to-gas switching
Lows:• 42 mpg (observed)
• Yep, it's-a-hybrid styling
• Starship dash displays
2010 Honda Insight Review
Honda's original Insight hybrid was like a purpose-built race car built to win some fictitious Greenie Grand Prix. Minimal seating, a slippery lightweight body, and packed with an array of electronic-drive trickery, it was a technological tour de force.
But while Honda was showing off its technical prowess, apparently dreaming of biodegradable trophies and kisses from environmentally conscious trophy girls, Toyota was busy building a practical hybrid. One with four doors, a rear seat and an addictive video-game-like display that quickly turned driving economically into more fun for 40 somethings than a round of Space Invaders.
If the first Honda Insight was too radical a concept (and too impractical) for hybrid hopefuls to buy into, the Honda Civic hybrid wasn't quite radical enough. It cost a premium over the regular Civic but didn't offer mileage high enough to justify the cost for most folks. And besides, the Civic Hybrid really didn't look like something special… it just looked like a Civic with smooth wheel covers and small Hybrid emblems. Meanwhile, the Prius picked up speed becoming a larger-than-life eco fashion statement, like a hemp headband or a pair of Birkenstocks.
Hmmm. It isn't often that the big H winds up a distant second. But in the Hybrid 500, Toyota's Prius has been the repeat champion since 2000.
But being the champion isn't easy. It means having to constantly watch your mirrors for what's coming up from behind and this year Honda has finally challenged Toyota for the lead with the all-new-for 2010 Insight.
Appearance and Price
At first glance the Insight looks like what people have come to expect a hybrid car to look like -- a point made about my test car by more than one observer. "It looks like a hybrid," said the wife, for instance. In fact, from many angles the Insight looks like a Prius, which isn't necessarily a bad thing aesthetically and probably a necessity in order to keep the drag coefficient low and the interior-usefulness coefficient high.
The Insight has all of the Prius' attributes: five doors, a back seat, storage for luggage or groceries, penny-pinching fuel mileage and ultra-low emissions. But there's one important difference between the two cars that Honda is betting will be a deal breaker… price. My loaded-up tester stickered for just shy of $24,000. An equivalent Prius would cost nearly $26,000. The Insight's base MSRP is an attractive $19,800 compared to $23,150 for the Prius.
Powertrain and Performance
The Insight is powered by Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system, which also powers the Civic Hybrid. A 1.3-liter SOHC four-cylinder engine does the heavy lifting while a 13hp (20hp in the Civic), 10 kilowatt electric motor provides extra oomph under acceleration and serves as a power generator. The IMA system also includes a continuously variable transmission and a lightweight battery. Under the floor of the car in the rear, lives the Insight's Intelligent Power Unit. The IPU consists of a power control unit, a cooling system that circulates cabin air around the IPU and a nickel-metal-hydride battery array with seven modules containing 12 cells each.
The part-conventional, part-electric drivetrain conspires to give Insight owners an estimated 40 mpg city/43mpg highway. My tester, in 250 miles of mixed city and highway driving, turned in 42 mpg. Not the astounding 61 city/70 highway mileage of the original Insight, but then, this Insight feels like a real car, not a science experiment.
On the road, we noticed little of the herky-jerky electric-to-gasoline switching that was evident in hybrids of yore, but it was occasionally present. The gasoline engine seems to have little in common with, say the 1.8-liter, i-VTEC four cylinder in the base Civic or 2.4-liter iVtec in the Accord. While those engines produce power beyond what you'd expect in a very quiet sing-song fashion, the engine in the Insight seems almost like a small industrial engine. It's occasionally loud and makes about enough grunt to get the job done. The CVT went about its business smoothly and the driver even has the option of changing "gears" if he or she likes. A nice parlor trick that will make most people think the car has a conventional automatic transmission.
Compared to the softly sprung Prius, the Insight is a hoot to drive, though it's no Civic Si. It's definitely tuned to understeer (the front end pushes in a corner) but some of that can be attributed to the high-rolling-resistance tires. In fact the Insight's road manners might be one of its best attributes, something not altogether unexpected from a Honda.