• Jul 2nd 2009 at 11:57AM
  • 63
2010 Honda Insight EX - Click above for high-res image gallery

First impressions can be problematic, even more so when reviewing a vehicle. When the media gets its first shot at a new offering, the automaker typically invites journalists to a location of its choosing to drive under conditions that show the car in its best light. Such was the case with the 2010 Honda Insight. After our First Drive, we came away with the impression that Honda's hot new hybrid was an engaging alternative to the Toyota Prius, but we quickly came to realize the Insight's limitations and flaws after a week behind the wheel on our home turf.

Get our real-world impressions after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

When Honda revealed its all-new dedicated hybrid model, it was careful to emphasize that the Insight wasn't meant to be a direct competitor to the Prius. (If you buy that, we've got a bridge you might be interested in...) Without a doubt, Honda saw the success that Toyota enjoyed with the Prius as an instantly recognizable alternative powertrain vehicle, so with the same engineering and aesthetic goals in mind, Honda's designers followed a similar aerodynamic path. While that drew a fair amount of criticism from the Peanut Gallery (the Insight's a Prius clone!), in reality, both hybrids simply adhere to the time-honored task of "form following function."

In spite of a very similar shape, the styling of the Insight has its own unique touches that connect it to the rest of the Honda lineup, particularly the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity. Most bystanders like the look, although there was some debate about the chosen wheel size. The 15-inch hoops look positively puny in the wheel arches, but while larger rolling stock would give the Insight a more athletic appearance, they would add weight, decrease fuel economy and degrade ride quality.

Unlike the Toyota Prius, which carries a mid-size classification, the Insight is much smaller, sharing many of its underpinnings with the Fit. Since Honda doesn't want to put the Insight side-by-side with the Prius (we'll humor them), maybe it's best to draw a comparison between the hybrid and Honda's other sub-compact runabout. Not quite. Compared to the Fit, the emphasis on optimal aerodynamics has taken a big bite out of passenger room, with the peak of the Insight's roof sitting four inches lower than the Fit's and then sloping downward into the hatch.

The rear door openings cut down sharply and make ingress and egress a pain (in one case, literally) for anyone over six-foot tall, and once fitted into the rear confines, head room is limited, with only a fraction of an inch separating one of our lanky passenger's craniums from the roof. However, we were able to fit three passengers in the back, and while the shoulder fit was snug, there was a reasonable amount of leg room. And although the Insight loses a lot of vertical space, it's still packing plenty of cargo room, with 15.9 cubic feet under the hatch – enough to easily handle eight, 40-pound bags of top-soil from our local big box store.

Up front, the Insight's interior is a mix of Civic and Fit, with an assortment of futuristic shapes and hard plastics normally found in Honda's entry-level models. Lending even more familial cohesion is the split-level instrument cluster with tachometer, power and fuel gauges mounted inside the multi-information display (MID) in the lower section and a separate pod mounted above the steering wheel to house the digital speedometer and color-changing eco-friendly display. While the MID provides a number of driver-coaching aids to maximize fuel efficiency, most will rely on the speedometer background that displays green when driving gently and blue when you give it the boot.

We were impressed with the Insight's ride during our initial drive in Arizona, where the roads were perfectly manicured and mercilessly devoid of northern Michigan's imperfections. Body roll was well-controlled, and the Insight delivered decent steering feel and reasonable grip. Back home, it was a different story, where freeze-thaw cycles conspire with 80+ ton trucks to create the state's hellaciously poor excuse for modern roadways.

Compared to the 2010 Toyota Prius, which needs more damping compliance over small road imperfections, the Insight's spring rates are too tight and the damping is too loose. The result is a ride that ends up feeling bouncy yet not floaty. Although those in southern states might not notice, citizens in the snow belt are sure to take issue with the Insight's ride.

Which brings us back to the Fit comparison.

Those looking for an affordable Honda have three main choices: the Civic, Fit and Insight. What you should choose depends on your full spectrum of needs and wants. For those who rarely have to traverse bumpy roads, that takes one element out of the equation. If you regularly need to carry four people and two of them are over six feet tall, the Fit is the clear winner. The same is true if you are looking to maximize utility in a small package.

Those purely interested in maximizing fuel efficiency or minimizing greenhouse gas emissions should go for the Insight. Over a week of driving around town and on freeways, we scored an impressive 43 mpg with the Insight compared to the 47 mpg we managed to squeeze out of the 2010 Toyota Prius. However, no matter how much you want to save fuel or protect the environment, for many of us, dollars and cents play a big part of the equation. Here's where things get a bit dicey. The Prius we drove came to over $30,000. Including delivery charge. This Insight comes to $22,010. That's a big difference, though you can get a Prius priced a lot closer to the Insight by choosing lower levels of equipment.

The Insight's real internecine competitor, however, is the Fit. At just $17,820 out the door, a Fit Sport has a significant pricing advantage over its electrically assisted kin. The Fit Sport we reviewed last fall achieved 33 mpg, which nears a point where the diminishing returns of increased mileage kick in. If gas were $4/gallon, driving the Fit Sport some 12,000 miles per year would cost $1,452 versus $1,116 for the Insight. The difference of $336 per year in fuel cost would take over 12 years to cover the premium paid for the Insight. This won't matter to people who are more interested in reducing their carbon footprint than saving some greenbacks, but for the rest of us, the Insight's extra cost may not be manageable, especially in this economy.

From what we've said so far, you might get the impression that we've taken Jeremy Clarkson's recent review of the Insight to heart, or that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Consumer Reports in our assessment of the Insight. Nothing could be further from the truth. We've just gotten a somewhat clearer picture of the Insight's faults and foibles after sampling it in the real world.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

2010 Honda Insight EX
Performance Brakes/Tires/Wheels
Engine 1.3-liter inline four (w/ elec. motor) Front Brakes 10.3-inch ventilated discs (ABS)
Configuration/Valvetrain SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder, I-VTEC Rear Brakes 7.9-inch drum
Max Horsepower @ RPM 98 hp @ 5.,800 RPM Wheels (front) 15-inches
Max Torque @ RPM 123 lb-ft @ 1,000 to 1,500 RPM Wheels (rear) 15-inches
Drive Type Front-wheel drive Tires (front) 175/65 R15
Transmission CVT w/ paddle shifters Tires (rear) 175/65 R15
Fuel Injection Multi-port
Compression Ratio 10.8:1 Exterior Dimensions
Recommended Fuel 87 octane Length 172.3 inches
Fuel Capacity 10.6 gallons Width 66.7 inches
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy) 40 / 43 mpg Height 56.2 inches
0-60 mph time (MFR est.) Not Available Wheelbase 100.4 inches
Top Speed Not Available Curb Weight 2,727 pounds
Suspension/Steering Interior Dimensions
Front MacPherson, with anti-roll bar Maximum Seating 5
Rear Torsion Beam Luggage Capacity (seats up) 15.9 cu-ft
Steering Electric Power Assist Rack-and-Pinion Head Room (Front/Rear) 38.4 / 35.9 inches
Turns Lock-to-Lock 3.29 Shoulder Room (Front/Rear) 52.7 / 50.4 inches
Turning Circle (feet) 36.1 Leg Room (Front/Rear) 42.3 / 33.5 inches

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Let's see. Insight's a sham, and the new Prius's Butt Ugly. Ford Fusion Hybrid, here I come!!!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Right....then the sticker shock hits you square in the face.
        • 6 Years Ago
        ALL Prii are ugly.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Fusion is nice, but I don't see it as a competitor to this. This vehicle is for people who value economy very highly or don't have a lot of money to spend up front. The Fusion doesn't do either of those.

        Don't get me wrong, I like the Fusion, it makes the Camry hybrid look poor and it'd be great for so many families. But this just isn't the same thing.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Seems to be a disappointing car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The last paragraph was interesting because it does sort of fell like a pile-on review.

      On the review, do ABs reviews now feel sterile to anyone? They all don't really talk about driving the car. I'm not talking about skidpad figured, mind you, just how is it day to day. For example, this car has a greatly different drivetrain from a Prius (this is not a two-mode), so could AB relate some info about how the two feel when driving? Does the Insight have the drivetrain shuffle that was so noticeable in the Civic Hybrid?

      Or, if you really feel you can accede to Honda's request not to compare it to the Prius (which seems unconscionable to me), maybe you could compare driving it to driving the Fit instead?

      Anyway, as I get attacked for on here, I have only the pics to go by, and the car looks good. The dash is decent, the interior is quite a good layout for a car that has to swallow a load of batteries. Yes, outside it isn't great. But it's really sad that a car that seems to get a lot of things right turns out not to be overall a winner.
        • 6 Years Ago
        yes, just take the a6 review, no real comments about driving dynamics, or handling, or acceleration, just 'awe shucks we need to write about this car.'
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wow. I am yet to see a good review for the Insight from a reputable site. Yet, Honda is selling all they can make especially in Japan.
      • 6 Years Ago
        • 6 Years Ago
        Luis, honda would prefer you not compare the insight to the prius, because they're both hybrids and for $500 more you get a hell of a lot more car with the prius.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Patrick, +1. That's what I wanted! HA!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Hybrid arguments (for or against them) aside, this car is quite... irrelevant given the Prius' price drop. Better mileage + better interior + similar price = why would you pick up an Insight?

        Oh, and that's from a guy who openly hates the Prius and every human being who owns or drives one.
        • 6 Years Ago
        " bet if they had just given the Insight the same engine as the Fit it would perform almost as well. Aerodynamics and weight play such a key role in efficiency, that a mild solution isn't really worth the effort."

        Have you driven the car? The engine isn't the issue, the unrefined transition between engine and mild-hybrid drive is the problem. Honda went the cheap route, undercut the prius by barely anything, and shot themselves in the foot in the process. It’s symptomatic of their entire lineup, base models with drum brakes? Esp only standard on the most expensive trim civic? As competition continues to increase below from Kia and Hyundai, Across from Toyota and to some extent VW, and above against the gloriously uncompetitive acura brand, Honda's going to need to really recess nickel and diming their customers for cars which aren’t any cheaper and lack what many now include as standard.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Prius continues to be in a class of it's own, with more power, more room, more tech-goodies and a ride more suited to "real world" roads. And the Prius is not comparable to sub-compact cars, try as people might to compare to the Yaris and even the Corolla.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Why would you make a 1 word comment and then reply to your own post? I think you're just trying to get the 1st post in the comments section.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Right on, Z. But frankly, given how poor the reviews on the Insight have been so far, if I were Toyota, I might kill the stripper model Prius slated to compete with this vehicle. It probably won't be needed as it appears the Insight isn't a serious competitor to the Prius (verbage courtesy Honda itself!).
        • 6 Years Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love honda's, never really had a bad experience with ANY honda.

      Kind regards,
      • 6 Years Ago
      I didn't really like the review as it didn't really mention how the car actually drove (given the freer set of conditions); it just merely hinted at or skirted around driving impressions.
      Furthermore, I'm disappointed with this car; it's obvious Honda didn't put as much engineering effort into this as they could have, given all of the negative reviews this car has gotten and all of the spin Honda is trying to put on it.
      One of my cousins is married and has 2 young (one is 4, the other is 1) kids. He and his wife are both big into environmentalism as both are consultants at energy firms and deal with matters of alternative fuels daily. They want a new car (to replace my cousin's dad's old Chevrolet Corsica which has seen an engine failure once) that is very fuel economical and can transport him, his wife, and kids along with all their other gear (child car seats, strollers, etc.) in relative ease. They initially had their hearts set on the 2010 Prius. I tried to convince them there were alternatives in the forms of the 2010 Insight and existing VW Jetta TDI. They weren't interested in the TDI as most of their miles would be city driving, so the fuel economy gain would not be that much. Now after reading all of this, I have rescinded my recommendation of the Insight and have wholeheartedly recommended the Prius.
      Bad move, Honda. I hope Honda does a whole lot better with the next-generation model. It's obvious that the price was the motivating factor behind the engineering, and even there they didn't do to well.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I wanted to buy a new car. It was time. I figured that this time I would buy an economical car because all the indicators say gas is headed to $4+ in the next couple of years. My choices: Honda Insight, Honda Fit, Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion hybrid. Looked at all of them. Honda Insight is new and interesting. Like the speedometer compared to the Prius (IMHO). Honda Fit: nice utility, reasonably good mileage, dorky looking. Didn't fit me well. Toyota Prius: HATE the dash. HATE the speedo. Love the external looks. Wallowy ride. Plenty of space. HATE the speedo. Ford Fusion: Plain looking and too expensive. Winner: Honda Insight. 45.5mpg on first tank, 46.1 on second tank. Car is tight and quiet. Not a bad ride. Noisy on hard acceleration. I will keep it for at least a year or two, then decide if there is something out there that I like better. If gas goes to $4+, I may keep it longer.
      • 6 Years Ago

        • 6 Years Ago
        Wrong, show me a decent Hyundai that is over 7 years old with over 250K miles. They are great bargains at purchase, but owner satisfaction with them seems to drop dramatically after 3 years based on survey studies. And yes, I have owned a Hyundai as recently as 2004 and it was OK, but things were starting to deteriorate on it after only 18months. Any conjecture on how good the most recent ones are is just that...conjecture. Until I see a ton of Hyundais available as 7 to 10 year old used cars with over 150K miles and they look and operate solidly, then I will buy in.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hmm...other reviews seem to love the Insight...
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm 5'8", and I hit my head pretty good getting in the back seat of a Honda Insight. I would never buy that car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I really wanted to like the Insight, after it WAS Honda that brought the Kamm-tail eco hatch to the masses: first with the Ur CRX, then later with the original Inight. The discussion of who-copied-who is so revisionist its funny. If anyone recalls the original Prius, it looked alot more like the HS250 than a CRX - it was a sedan.

      But shape is only one piece of this story, and the Insight simply doesn't drive like a Honda (or any decent small car) should.

      AB, why not more discussion of the subjective? The media is stuffed with stories of this car that revolve around economy, or skidpad... but there are precious few articles that discuss exactly WHY the Insight isn't better behind the wheel.

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