2011 Insight New Car Test Drive
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.