The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2010 Honda Insight 5-Door EX Hybrid

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Honda Insight

A Nice Hybrid for the Green Crowd
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

It was a busy week here in Michigan, as is always the case in early August. We cover the most prestigious collector auto show east of the left coast, the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, then head immediately to Traverse City, over 200 miles north, to cover one of the most important auto industry conferences in the country, then to Michigan’s southwest coast at St. Joseph for a lovely, intimate Concours event upon whose committee I sit. This all in the course of about 9 days.

That also means about 1,300 miles of driving in those few days.

I must say I was glad to have the economical new (second generation) little Honda Insight hybrid as my flavor of the week with so many miles to cover. Rated at 40-mpg in the city and 43 on the highway, we managed 43.8 on our jaunts that I estimate constituted about 70% highway driving and the rest city or suburban environments. The fuel tank only holds 10.6 gallons, of which probably a gallon and a half are reserve, leaving us close to a 400-mile range - all this, of course, on regular fuel.

How does it do that, you ask? Well, it does it in a variety of ways.

First it is a small, light car. This new Insight shares much of its structure with the tiny Honda Fit, though it doesn’t feel particularly tiny. (More on that later.) Weighing only 2734 pounds dripping wet it takes less power to get it down the road adequately.

Our friends at Edmunds managed to get 51.5-mpg when they tested the car and others have reported higher mileage than the EPA estimates as well. All Insights come equipped with a couple of systems to enhance the already efficient powertrain. ECO Assist provides some colorful graphic interfaces that indicate when we are managing the car to its max and indicates how well we’re doing with a series of symbols - not unlike your second grade teacher’s gold stars. It also has an ECON button on the dash that when activated changes the throttle sensitivity, CVT calibration and engine management algorithms for maximum efficiency - and of course, minimum thrust. I couldn’t feel the difference with it on or off, so I left it on most of the time.

Insight has a tiny engine displacing about 1.3 liters and making 88 horsepower with 88 pound-feet of torque supplemented by a small electric motor positioned between the engine and the CVT transmission to boost acceleration when you want it to. The electric motor adds about 13 horsepower and 58 pound-feet of torque. Together, with maximum power coming from both sources we have just about 100-horsepower at our disposal with decent enough torque numbers.

The folks at Honda have decided to keep it simple in terms of power management. The engine only shuts off on full stop with your foot on the brake. The instant you lift your foot off the brake the engine starts up. The electric motor is fed by a 108-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack that is recharged by the engine and by regenerative braking. We understand that the car can run primarily on electric power up to about 30 mph with the engine is idling the whole time, though we didn’t notice that on the road.

Driving dynamics are not an area in which the Insight shines. The steering, particularly, I found a bit squirrelly. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering system with speed-proportional variation in effort had little on-center feel and a pervasive sense of imprecision. Most drivers would not notice, I suppose, but would probably be struck by the difference when they get into a car with a better system.

Suspension is a conventional small car layout with struts up front and a torsion beam, or “twist beam,” in the rear. Cornering seemed typical for a small, economy car as did the ride. Two of my rear seat passengers this week complained about a bouncy, jumpy ride on rough roads. Without extra weight back there I didn’t’ feel anything unusual. Charging into our cloverleaf freeway entrance, though, was a challenge both because of the small car’s modest body lean and because of the truly anemic acceleration.

So, let’s talk about the performance. Remember, even with both the electric and gas engine’s systems at full thrust we have only100 horsepower going for us. And, with the CVT allowing the engine to rev at close to red line with the pedal floored it wheezed its way barely to the speed of traffic by the time I was forced to merge. Zero-to 60-mph time is about 10.9 seconds. Let’s just describe the acceleration as leisurely. We can make it feel sportier with the little paddle shifters on each side of the steering wheel that define 7 faux gears within the CVT’s range, but that’s mostly just a gimmick in my view.

Insight’s interior is decent but not particularly attractive. Materials, fit and finish are about what we would expect with an economy car, that is, nothing special. I found the instrument clusters, combined with a Civic-like separate speedometer pod and the center stack to be a chaotic design with too many shapes, angles, lines and forms. I was, however, quite taken with the lovely dash lighting featuring red, blue and green themes. At night the dash was even more attractive, in fact, I encountered a young women (a bluegrass musician, as it turned out) and her two young boys along the bluff in St. Joe, MI who just couldn’t enough of all those pretty lights as I answered their many questions about the car.

Interior volume matches the competition and it feels even roomier inside because of a nice open greenhouse. Low sills and a steeply raked windshield along with a large hatch window let in lots of light. The rear hatch window is made up of two pieces with a bar across the middle. My pretty blonde found the bar a bit disconcerting but it seemed natural to me.

We can haul lots of cargo if we like. The 60/40 rear seats fold easily to a nearly flat position making room for about 31.5 cubic-feet of stuff. With the seat backs up we still have about 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space. The panel that constitutes the cargo floor lifts to reveal the spare tire and small slots in which to hide stuff as well. Seems like it would be a convenient car to live with in that regard.

The redesigned Honda Insight has not sold particularly well in its initial six months even though it costs less than the much better selling Toyota Prius. Since gas prices remain low neither car is selling as well as we would have predicted a year ago when they couldn’t build them fast enough. Base price on our Insight 5-Door EX is listed at $21,300. (The lesser LX model is listed for $19,800.) Our EX has no options and with the $710 destination charge adds up to $22,010. Basic features include power windows, locks and mirrors, automatic climate control system with air filter, cruise control, AM/FM/CD audio system with USB and MP3 interfaces, six airbags, daytime running lights, LED brake lights, 15-inch alloy wheels, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and all the stuff mentioned above. I found it to be quite well equipped for an entry-level car.

The new car warranty covers the Insight for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the power train for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Corrosion is covered for 5 years and unlimited mileage.

The 2010 Honda Insight really was an easy car to live with for these 9 days and many miles. I just had to adjust my attitude to accommodate a more leisurely driving style. I certainly appreciated the admirable fuel mileage and its friendly, green ambiance and demeanor.

I think my only real complaint is regarding the automatic engine stop system. The last couple of days I had the car were the hottest, most humid days of the year here in the verdant north. At something over 90-degrees and 90% humidity while driving through town in fairly heavy traffic the engine shut down during all my full stops (many of them) and each time, of course, the AC went off for those moments. It became instantly steamy inside each time. The solution was to just bump it into neutral so the engine would still idle but even that method could not keep up with the heat.

Hybrid technology continues to advance and expand with many variations in the way various power trains perform and interact. Honda has chosen to keep it simple and conventional for at least this generation. Only time will tell if they made the right choice.

I found the Insight to be a fine little car for most purposes.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved