2011 Honda Insight Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
New Car Test Drive
All-new hybrid gets good fuel economy.
Honda appears finally to have learned how to play in the hybrid game. Simply putting a hybrid powertrain in a regular car doesn't cut it. If a carmaker wants to be taken seriously, it had better deliver a hybrid that looks like what the market has said it wants a hybrid to look like. And that, apparently, given the sales numbers, is a Toyota Prius. Hence, the all-new, Honda Insight is virtually a carbon copy of that market leader.
Beyond that obvious surrender to a take-no-big-chances market, however, the 2010 Honda Insight does manage to march to a slightly different drummer. It's smaller than the Prius, for instance, which isn't necessarily a plus, as interior room suffers. But it's lighter, which is a plus, as less weight contributes to it's being a somewhat livelier driver.
Beyond this, it generally stays the course, with the common array of standard features plus an optional navigation system and Bluetooth capability. It also can be ordered with gimmicky paddle shifters that imposes an artificial construct of seven electronically created ratios on the continuously variable automatic transmission.
When the new Honda Insight is measured against the outgoing-generation 2009 Toyota Prius, it definitely hums a different tune. Put simply, the Insight's EPA-rated City/Highway 40/43 miles per gallon trails significantly the 48/45 mpg rating for the Prius. Honda appears to believe its faithful will willingly trade a few miles per gallon for a modestly quicker car.
Perhaps the most significant change Honda brings to the hybrid market is price competition. With the Insight, shoppers now have two similar cars from which to choose. The 2010 Honda Insight's $19,800 Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price just slightly undercuts the $21,000 MSRP of the all-new 2010 Toyota Prius. The first-generation 2009 Prius retailed for $23,375.
The 2010 Insight comes in one configuration: a four-door, five-passenger sedan. One powertrain is available: a combination of a 1.3-liter, 88-horsepower, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 10-kilowatt, 13-hp, brushless, DC motor. Power goes only to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). In the top two of the three models offered, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles manage a computer-generated seven-speed, simulated-manual gearbox. The base model uses a standard CVT that's efficient and highly competent.
The 2010 Honda Insight comes in three models: The LX ($19,800) is well-equipped with automatic climate control; powered windows, outside mirrors and central locking; a four-speaker, 150-watt, multi-media-capable sound system including speed-sensitive volume control; a multi-information display showing, among other data bits, fuel economy, average speed, exterior temperature and a real-time map of the hybrid system's energy flows; tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; manual driver's seat height adjustment; and 60/40-split, fold-down rear seatback.
The EX ($21,300) adds cruise control; the paddle shifters; front center console with armrest and storage bin, which, however, drops the drink holder count from eight to six; driver and passenger seatback map pockets; map lights; and two speakers and a USB connector to the sound system. The EX with Navi ($23,100) includes a navigation system with 6.5-inch screen; voice recognition; routing and guidance; and Bluetooth hands-free capability.
Safety features include front, side-impact and curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; tire pressure monitoring system; and rear seat child safety seat anchors (LATCH). Only the EX gets electronic vehicle stability assist, which includes traction control.
Putting a bit of a spin on the old saw that imitation is the best form of flattery, Honda apparently has concluded that imitation is the best form of cashing in on somebody else's success, as in, Toyota's with the Prius. Although in every dimension the 2010 Insight is an inch or three smaller than the Prius, only with the two parked door to door does this become visible to the eye. Otherwise, they could be twins separated at birth and only reacquainted in their mid-20s.
Squinting headlights peer out from the front corners, bracketing a grille that, save for the H logo, eerily reminds of a Ford Fusion, or a Gillette Fusion, for that matter. An open-mouth smile below the grille seems the more functional of the two openings as far as breathing cooling air for the radiator and engine compartment. Slit-shaped vents to each side break up the expanse of the front bumper and accent chin-link splitters at the corners that help keep the front end planted while it cleaves the air.
Side view shows a deeply wedged hood leading to a very fast, or raked, windshield. Roofline continues the arc over the passenger compartment and equally fast backlight, ending abruptly at a sharply chopped, relatively high, hind quarter. The beltline runs straight back beneath black-framed side glass, rising gently, from just aft of the centerline of the front wheelwell to just forward of the centerline of the rear wheelwell, emphasizing the Insight's short wheelbase (distance between the centers of the wheels, front to back). Flip-up door handles sit flush with the body panels, making for good drag numbers but not for easy gripping; gloves are helpful for preserving long fingernails. Tires don't quite fill the wheelwells, implying light weight and compactness. A close look reveals glimpses through the gaps of suspension hardware, again hinting at a hyper-consciousness about shaving weight. A shallow, sculpted character line across the bottoms of the doors links matching indents creasing the lower portions of the front and rear bumpers.
The rear aspects hews the closest to the original Insight's super-aero styling, showing lines that, if extended, would taper to a pointed terminus some 10 feet or 12 feet behind the mostly vertical rear fascia. The Prius flattery continues here, with an understated rear spoiler splitting two parts of the backlight, the one above steeply raked, the one below upright and easing rearward visibility, especially when backing into a parking slot. The rear license plate sits in a recess in the liftgate, itself resting in a cutout cupped by the rear bumper. A single, almost demure exhaust tip peeks out from beneath the right side. Smallish, triangular taillight housings tuck into the upper corners of the rear fenders.
The flattery game ends inside the new Insight. There, Honda looks to its most recent hybrid, the Civic version, for inspiration. Save for the shapes of the functions embedded in the dash, which go to oval from squarish, and the resurrection of a traditional placement for the shift lever and hand brake, the Insight's interior shows all the telltales of a direct descendent from that predecessor.
Not the least of these is the cyclopean pod perched on top of the dash, like a single eye glaring at the driver over the top of the steering wheel, projecting a digit rendition of the car's speed. In the Insight, however, it serves another purpose, indicating by gradual changes between otherworldly bluish and greenish tints the efficiency a driver is achieving with the hybrid powertrain. To see this, it's necessary to have pressed the ECON button at the left end of the dash to activate a collection of efficiency-enhancing alternative algorithms in the engine control computer that optimize throttle control; CVT operation; idle-stop activation and duration; air conditioning; and cruise control for best-possible fuel economy. Otherwise, the instrument cluster comprises the usual gauges that occupy the usual locations and report the usual information for a hybrid.
Audio controls are ergonomically positioned and proportioned, except for the on/off button, that is, which is seriously undersized and placed way up in the left corner of the control panel, about as far away as possible from the volume knob, which is the logical location. The air conditioning controls are uniquely consolidated in a circular array below and to the left of the audio panel (which the Navi system displaces on the top-of-the-line EX and with which the text EX was not outfitted). That takes some acclimation, but once that's achieved, the layout feels less illogical. Radar detector users should order the longer cord, as the power point is tucked away back up under the dash beneath the A/C control pod.
Front seats are comfortable, if not especially assertive in terms of side bolsters on the bottom cushion. Front seatbacks, however, do a decent job of keeping the driver's and passenger's torso in place through relatively hurried changes in direction, provided occupants' backs are comfortable with the mildly aggressive lumbar support. The rear seat is contoured more for two passengers than for three, with an elevated center section relegating that position to use only on short runs around town. All three head restraints adjust, however, and each position has the requisite three-point seatbelt.
Where the Insight should have stuck with imitation is in interior roominess. Although it ekes out a win over the 2009 Toyota Prius in two measurements, front seat legroom and front seat hip room, both are by less than an inch. And against the 2010 Prius, in not one interior measurement does the Insight come out on top. The rear seat trails especially, by more than two inches in every dimension. In no small part this is a credit to the six-inch longer wheelbase of the Prius and almost two inches more of overall length. These, plus a roof that's two-and-one-half inches higher, also mean the cargo area of the new Prius will hold about five more foot-square boxes than the Insight.
The 2010 Insight is a hybrid, so expectations for ride and handling rightly ought to be on the conservative side. And that's about where they belong. Straight-line acceleration is not a strong point for hybrids. Neither is heart-pumping response to quick, right-left-right steering inputs, or even impressive stickiness around long sweeping curves. Where hybrids by right ought to shine is on the daily commute. And the Insight does.
Transitions between power sources are markedly smoother in the new Insight than in the Civic Hybrid and easily on a par with the '09 Prius. The paddle-shifted, simulated manual seven-speed seems to us an unnecessary, even wasteful, gewgaw, more a gratuitous tipping of a braggart's hat to Honda's high-tech heritage than a functional addition to an already very competent, and fuel-efficient, powertrain.
The aforementioned ECON button is more in keeping with the Insight's mission. Although equally unnecessary, it at least fulfills a purpose, giving the driver real-time indications on how frugally the powertrain is functioning while still leaving the driver free to tap the powertrain's full potential when and if desired or necessary. Driven normally, the powertrain operates at optimum fuel efficiency. Pressed, it dutifully pumps out everything it has, shifting back and forth between the two effortlessly, with the only indicator being the changing colors backlighting the digital speedometer.
With ECON engaged or not, lifting off the gas eases the needle metering the power flows into the regenerative Charge range; applying the brake pushes the needle even deeper. The new Insight's regenerative brake system is slicker than the Civic's, too, masking more fully the system's disengagement as the car nears a full stop. Speaking of brakes, the Insight's did their job without any drama, with the only limitation on their stopping power resulting from the small foot print of the tires.
Road and tire noise is more intrusive than in either the current Prius or the most recent Civic hybrid. Wind noise, though, is minimal; props to that wind-cheating, Prius-like body. Ride is firm, but not stiff; it is a hybrid, after all, not one of those traditional family sedans with all that road-hugging weight to suppress pavement heaves and bumps. Likewise, fit and finish is Honda-spec, for the most part quality plastics with consistent gaps between panels. The dash-mounted, 360-degree rotating a/c registers are a nice, much-appreciated touch.
Honda has done almost everything right with the new, 2010 Insight, with that almost relating exclusively to the hybrid's fuel economy. Believing its faithful prefer a more responsive gas pedal over fewer visits to the local gas station, Honda geared the Insight accordingly. And while the jury's out on whether Honda guessed right, the result is a clear choice in the hybrid segment. Finally.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from the northern regions of California's Central Valley.
Honda Insight LX ($19,800); EX ($21,300); EX with Navi ($23,100).
Options As Tested
Honda Insight EX ($21,300).
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