Lou Ann Hammond, Fri, 5 Jun 2009 08:00:00 PDT
The first generation Honda Insight was the first hybrid sold by a major manufacturer in the United States. That Insight still holds the record as the vehicle with the highest rated EPA mileage at 70 miles per gallon. Under the new EPA rules that first Insight would be rated about 60 mpg now.
The second generation Insight has very little in comparison with the first Insight Honda built. The second generation Insight is heavier by over 900 pounds. The second Insight is a 5-door hatchback, the first a 3-door hatchback. It's not a comparison. I think the Insight was a good name, it held a lot of credibility in the hybrid world.
The Insight is a true gas-electric hybrid. The Insight utilizes the Honda Hybrid System with Eco Assist. The 2010 Honda Insight is offered in three models: LX at $19,800; Insight EX at $21,300; and the Insight EX with Navigation at $23,100. The transmission is a Continuously variable transmission (CVT) on all three models.
The Insight hybrid vehicle is powered by an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system and a 1.3-liter inline 4, 8-valve, single overhead cam (SOHC) i-VTEC that gets 98 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb.-ft of torque. The DC brushless motor, positioned between the engine and transmission, adds another 13 horsepower and 58 lb.-ft of torque. In California and states that have adopted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) ZEV standards the Insight receives an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) emissions rating.
Major features standard to the Insight LX include front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, an anti-lock braking system, automatic climate control, tilt and telescope steering column; manual driver's seat height adjustment, power windows, a four-speaker AM/FM audio system with CD player and auxiliary audio input for external digital music players.
Add all that to the more luxury version of the EX version, plus Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), alloy wheels, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters; an upgraded audio system with six speakers, USB audio interface3, a center console with armrest and storage compartment, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals. Exclusively available on the Insight EX, the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System4 (6.5-inch screen) with voice recognition.
EX with Navi Models also include Bluetooth HandsFreeLink for hands-free operation of compatible mobile telephones, along with related steering wheel-mounted controls for voice activation of navigation and hands-free telephone systems.
The comparisons come between the Honda Civic hybrid, and the Toyota Prius. The Insight is smaller than the Prius, but fits comfortably between the Fit and the Civic. My husband, Stretch, is 6'4" and he couldn't fit in the back of the Insight. He fits very comfortably in the back of a MINI, and the Honda Civic.
The Insight features the Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist), a button you can push that puts you in eco-assist to get more miles per gallon. We drove mainly in eco-assist because we were shooting for real world driving of the hybrid. At best, we got 42.9, but on average in real-world city/highway driving we got 40.3 mpg, which is what the vehicle is rated: 40 in the city, 43 in the highway. Forty miles per gallon is good, but I really expected more from the Insight, especially in eco-assist. If I have to drive in eco-assist the entire time to get EPA numbers then it doesn't compete fairly with the other full hybrids.
This is not the first hybrid for Honda. Honda knows how to do hybrids, and they have the best fuel cell car on the highway. In fact, the Insight's hood has a similar design to the aerodynamic hood of the fuel cell, the Honda Clarity. Any hybrid, in eco-assist, will not be as fun to drive as a hybrid in regular mode. What you give up in other areas is made up for in the extra miles per gallon. Anyone who writes about hybrids knows this. What we also know is that most people who buy a car buy it with the EPA miles, not a hypermiler in competition to see who can get the most mpg.
The ride of the Insight itself was rough. I felt like I was on run-flat tires instead of all-season tires. The turning radius, 36, is wider than any of the aforementioned vehicles, around 34 for the comparative models in this review. Of course, the Insight's wheelbase is 5.9 inches longer than the Prius.
The Insight was meant to be a competitor to the Prius. It's styling is much like the Prius. But you can't just scale down a Civic hybrid and design a car to look like its competitors. You have to give comparable miles per gallon, comparable drivability and better pricing.
The Honda Insight EX with navigation I drove had a MSRP of $23,100 with a destination charge of $670 for a total of $23,770. That price is too close to the iconic Toyota Prius that gets 50 miles per gallon, according to the EPA. The Prius gets 11 mpg better fuel economy in the city (51 versus 40), and 5 mpg better fuel economy on the highway (48 versus 43).
The price game is a tough game to get into with consumers. In today's economy each car is fighting for a sale and if the Insight is too close in price to the Prius there will be some serious negotiating going on.