2010 Honda Insight EX Navigation Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Honda Insight Hybrid
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2010 Honda Insight EX Navigation

Honda Insight? Didn't they stop making that a few years back? Well, yes... but the name is back, and in the original slot in the Honda product lineup as its only purely hybrid vehicle. If the original Insight had any shortcoming, that was size. A small, ultra-lightweight two-seater with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor for extra power when needed can sip fuel with utmost frugality -- the Insight was the most fuel-efficient vehicle sold during its tenure -- but it would never sell in the mass quantities necessary for commercial success. While it was eminently successful as a proof-of-concept vehicle for the IMA system, its diminutive size worked against Insight version 1.0's long-term production.

Its place wasn't exactly taken over by the Civic Hybrid, as that car is considerably larger and is placed at the premium end of the Civic lineup. Was there a market for a smaller, less-expensive five-seat hybrid? Something equivalent to the Honda Fit but offered in hybrid form only?

Absolutely, and so the Insight, version 2.0, came to be. While it's larger than the original (most cars today are...) it's still smaller than the Civic, and it's offered at a lower price point than the Civic Hybrid, starting at under $20,000. Only the name and the basic workings of the IMA hybrid system are the same as the original, though. And the IMA system has advanced significantly since the days of the original Insight. The 2010 Insight is meant to be more than merely a commute car or statement vehicle. It's a fully-functional small family car that just happens to be a fuel-efficient hybrid.

Light in weight for efficiency but designed and constructed with passenger safety in mind, the new Insight is efficient both aerodynamically and in space utilization. If it seems to resemble a Toyota Prius, take another look at the original Insight -- and the Honda CRX that preceded it. Or Honda's recent Clarity fuel cell electric car. Power is from a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine, a development of the one in the Civic Hybrid. It's augmented by the IMA motor-generator to make 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque, with the torque coming at a low 1000 to 1500 rpm for instant acceleration. The front wheels are driven through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

Inside is space for four adults, or two adults and three kids. The battery pack and associated control equipment is under the rear cargo area, so luggage space is not negatively impacted, and the Insight's hatchback and folding rear seat allow plenty of cargo versatility. Two trim levels are offered, functional and affordable LX and more fully-equipped EX, which offers a variety of interior and exterior upgrades and an available navigation system.

After driving both LX and EX models during the Insight's press introduction near Phoenix, AZ a few months ago, I've just had an EX with the navigation system for the past week. It's an interesting car, and, unusually for a hybrid but unsurprisingly for a Honda, the new Insight is actually fun to drive, in addition to being as functional as only a five-door hatchback can be and fuel-efficient to the tune of 40+ mpg without even trying. Try, and it's possible to do considerably better. Honda's aim with the new Insight is to move hybrids toward the automotive mainstream, and in that they have succeeded. But it's still a Honda, so you know it won't be a boring transportation appliance.

APPEARANCE: Aerodynamic efficiency was a key element of the first Insight's design, and that's just as true with Version 2.0. With its hood only slightly less-raked than its windshield, it's about as close to a teardrop shape as possible, with the tail truncated in the manner proposed long ago by Dr. Kamm for increased efficiency and greater practicality. If the new Insight copies any other vehicle, it's Honda's own Clarity FCV hydrogen fuel cell car, and the front styling of the two is almost identical. The horizontally-split rear window, for improved rearward visibility, has been a Honda styling feature since the CRX of the 1980s. Extra"wind wing" windows behind the A-pillars improve forward quarter visibility.

COMFORT: "Space efficiency" is not a euphemism for "cramped. Not inside a new Insight, anyway. It's simple and functional but stylish in the modern Honda manner. No trees or animals were sacrificed for the interior materials, everything is made from high-grade synthetics, much like a Fit. Dark, textured material on the top of the wide instrument panel eliminates glare. In both the LX and EX, seat comfort is very good, and the steering wheel is adjustable, manually, for both tilt and reach. In the EX, the driver's seat is adjustable for height. The rear seat is a bit narrow for three adults, but kids should fit fine, and the floor is nearly flat, improving center comfort. A 60/40 split aids cargo ability when needed, and the large hatch opening means that things that wouldn't fit through a sedan trunk opening fit easily. Compared to the LX, the EX gains an upgraded audio system with a USB interface, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a center console, and other interior enhancements. Like the Civic, the Insight's instrument panel is futuristic in style. With added hybrid touches. A digital speedometer is at the top, with a colored background that changes according to driving style. Blue is bad, you're guzzling gas. Blue-green is better, and green is, well, green... This is reinforced by the number of leaves shown in the "Multi Information Display" (MID) in the center of the tachometer, part of the Eco Assist(tm) system as is the speedo background. Keep it as green as possible, get the best mileage... operant conditioning by positive reinforcement. It works well, and is actually entertaining.

SAFETY: Honda's "Advanced Compatibility Engineering"(tm) (ACE) front unibody structure helps protect passengers in the event of a frontal collision. That, and the deformable front bodywork, also can lessen pedestrian impact. A full complement of airbags, antilock brakes (plus regenerative braking), and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard in all Insights. The EX gets the Vehicle Stability Assist(tm) system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Unsurprisingly, the Insight doesn't feel much different from a Fit over the road. Its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension is similar, and tuned with a moderate firmness. The 175/65R15 tires are not ultra-low profile high-performance items, but the Insight is still more than merely competent when the road is challenging -- or when a quick avoidance maneuver needs to be taken.

PERFORMANCE: In the hybrid context, "performance" means fuel efficiency as much as acceleration. And the Insight scores well in both parameters. Keeping up with traffic is not an issue, with a 0-60 time around 11 seconds and good low-speed acceleration thanks to the IMA system. Which has come a long way from its original "electric turbo" purpose. The Insight, like the current Civic Hybrid, is a full hybrid, as it will run under electric power only in low-load, steady-throttle conditions at speeds up to about 35 mph. The 1.3-liter sohc VTEC four-cylinder engine and brushless DC electric motor produce a combined 98 horsepower at 5800 rpm, and a very useful 123 lb-ft of torque between 1000 and 1500 rpm -- meaning that low-speed acceleration, like from a metering light to a busy highway, is not a terrifying proposition. Automatic idle stop improves mileage. Unlike some competitive hybrids, the Insight's engine never stops spinning when the car is running. Instead, when it's deactivated, fuel and spark are cut off and the valves are held open to stop pumping losses. The result is commendable smoothness, and no surges in power as power mode changes. In the EX, sift paddles allow the CVT transmission to be "shifted" into seven software-programmed virtual gears. This can be entertaining, but is hardly a necessity. EPA mileage is 40 city, 43 highway, and in a week of mixed driving with more highway than usual I got 42 overall. During the introduction, on lightly-traveled and mostly flat surface streets, I got 50 mpg without trying hard.

CONCLUSIONS: Honda brings hybrids to more people with its new Insight.

SPECIFICATIONS 2010 Honda Insight EX Navi

Base Price			$ 23,100 (19.8 LX, 21.3 EX)
Price As Tested			$ 23,770
Engine Type			sohc 8-valve aluminum alloy inline
				 4-cylinder with VTEC
				 variable cam phasing
Engine Size			1.3 liters / 82 cu. in.
Electric motor type		permanent magnet brushless DC
Electric motor power		13 hp, 58 lb-ft
Combined Horsepower		98 @ 5800 rpm (88 hp @ 5800 engine)
Combined Torque (lb-ft)	123 @ 1000-1500 rpm (88 lb-ft @ 4500 engine)
Transmission			CVT
Wheelbase / Length		100.4 in. / 172.3 in.
Curb Weight			2785 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		28.4
Fuel Capacity			10.6 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P175/65R15 84S Dunlop SP31
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum,
				 plus regenerative braking.
				ABS, EBD, VSA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine/motor,
				  front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		40 / 43 / 42
0 to 60 mph				est 11  sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$670

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