2010 Honda Insight - front three-quarter
The 2010 Honda Insight was eagerly awaited before its launch, but reviews have been mixed. Some laud it for overachieving on the fuel economy front, while others (most notably the influential Consumer Reports) have slammed it.
Our half-hour drive in a new Insight left us with mixed impressions. But one thing we're clear on: The 2010 Honda Insight may look somewhat like a 2010 Toyota Prius, but they're two very different cars.
Our electric-blue 2010 Insight looked good, and much less "otherworldly" than either the outgoing or the new Prius. It has elements of Honda's FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle, which is a much larger car but gets good marks for its styling.
Our only quibble with the lines is that the standard 15-inch wheels and tires just look too small on this fairly tall subcompact. To be fair, though, the Prius suffers from the same small-wheel spec.
Inside the car, the Insight feels larger than it actually is, helped by the steeply raked windshield.
We were curious to see what kind of economy we could get from the Insight if we babied it a bit. That didn't endear us to surrounding traffic, but even on our hilly course north of New York City, we got a very respectable 42.2 miles per gallon.
Early anecdotal evidence says it's almost impossible to get less than 35 mpg in the Insight. The EPA rates it at 40 miles per gallon city / 43 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 41 mpg.
We found Honda's driver information to be simple and self-explanatory, despite being mostly monochrome. More expensive hybrids, including the 2010 Toyota Prius and the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, have full color displays--so the leaves are green, not white.
Behind the speedometer is a color band that lets drivers know when they're driving more or less efficiently for the conditions. The green end is most efficient (logical), but the blue end is thirtiest--which is confusing since so many cars from other makers use the prefix "blue-" to indicate efficient models.
The "i" button on the steering wheels lets drivers cycle through three dashboard information displays: instant and historical gas mileage, operating history from three previous driving cycles, and an EcoGuide that awards leaves (from 1 to 5) to reward thrifty driving.
2010 Honda Insight - side
The Insight isn't particularly fast, but its small 1.3-liter engine isn't very large either. While the electric motor adds some oomph in certainly situations, the entire powertrain puts out only 98 horsepower at its peak. That's low, these days.
Using the big green button to put the car into Eco mode knocks 4 percent off the performance, says Honda, by shutting down the air conditioning more often and modifying the engine software to accelerate more gently.
Eco mode feels slower, for sure, but in any mode, when you floor it, the engine howls. And, presumably to save weight, the Insight doesn't seem to have much sound insulation.
The result is a inbuilt incentive to drive smoothly and economically; it hurts your ears less to do so. On the other hand, we were impressed with the regenerative braking. Downhill roads quickly and noticeably recharged the small 0.6-kilowatt-hour battery pack.
The ride is hard and jiggly, not helped by tires with low rolling resistance to wring every last drop of mileage out of its gasoline. They're pretty noisy too.
And when thrown through corners, the Insight isn't much fun: Its body leans a lot, and the front tires start to lose their grip on corners, understeering at speeds that other Honda products don't break a sweat over.
2010 Honda Insight - instruments
Although the Insight sits tall, the seats are set surprisingly close to the floor. And the tilting-and-telescoping steering wheel is a must, to make the two-level instrumentation buried deep in the scalloped dashboard visible to drivers of different heights and sizes.
The dashboard has several compartments for storing the usual array of stuff drivers bring with them. Several of them are cleverly sited, once you get accustomed to the busy interior layout.
But to keep the all-important starting price at $20,400, Honda seems to have cut more corners than usual. The interior has lots and lots of grey plastic, in a few different textures. Honda knows how to do plastic, but this feels cheaper than we expected.
And that's one of the Insight's Achilles Heels: It was clearly built to a cost, and it's much more apparent than in other Honda models, like the Civic sedan, even the subcompact Fit hatchback.
The Insight may end up competing with the 2010 Honda Fit on the showroom floor, in fact. And that will likely hurt it, since the Fit starts out at just a hair over $15,000--meaning the Insight costs a third more than a Fit.
COMPARE: 2010 Honda Insight vs 2009 Honda Fit
Worse, with a battery pack under the rear load deck and a more sloping roofline, the Insight has considerably less space inside it than the Fit. And it forgoes the remarkably clever and versatile array seats, which move, fold, or remove so that owners can treat the 2009 Honda Fit like nothing less than a mini-moving van.
We tested an Insight EX, which adds several features to the base LX model. All Insights include air conditioning and the de rigeur electric windows and locks. But in a nod to its presumably younger buyers, a decent stereo is also fitted--complete with iPod jack.
The $21,940 EX adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, which simulate shift intervals. This defeats the smooth operation of the electronic continuously variable transmission, but some Insight drivers may enjoy the impression they're actually controlling the powertrain in some fashion.
The EX also provides cruise control, which to our mind is one of the better tools for fuel-saving in any car, since it adjusts power in finer increments than your right foot can. We assume it's not included on the LX to keep down that base price.
Options on the EX include a satellite navigation system (which we spent very little time with), nicer wheels, and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
While many buyers feel they look the same, we suspect many people won't cross-shop the 2010 Honda Insight and the 2010 Toyota Prius. They're different in many ways, big and small:
- Size: The Insight is clearly a subcompact, with less interior room than the 2010 Honda Fit, while the 2010 Prius is rated as a midsize car, with more room inside than the 2010 Toyota Camry four-door sedan.
- Hybrid Type: The Prius is a "full" hybrid, meaning it can run on electricity only for up to a mile or so at low speeds, whereas the Insight's electric motor mostly restarts the engine when it switches off at rest.
- Cost: The Insight sits in the $20,000-to-$24,000 band. And while a base-level Prius stickers at $22,000, the average 2010 Prius is likely going out the door between $25,000 and $30,000, with ultra-luxe editions topping out at $35,000. Very different markets.
- Buyers: Honda makes an effort to keep its range appealing to younger buyers, whereas Toyota's average customer is slowly getting older. The Insight is much more likely to be a first car for younger buyers, and it also lacks the geeky image firmly fixed to the Prius.
2010 Honda Insight - rear hatch open
Kyle and "the cool factor"
And that brings us to the subjective question of image. Over at our sister site AllAboutPrius.com, we ran a five-day series comparing the 2010 Honda Insight to the outgoing model of the Toyota Prius.
Kyle, our 16-year-old correspondent in the San Francisco Bay Area, has never driven anything but hybrids, so he's a pretty informed road tester. His complete reports can be found here:
For what it's worth, Kyle preferred the Insight to his family's Prius. Granted it wasn't the new, redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius (we're hoping to get him into one of those soon), but to him, the 2010 Honda Insight definitely had the cool factor going on. The Prius didn't.
And that's not a bad thing all by itself.
2010 Honda Insight - rear three-quarter
High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided vehicle to produce this hands-on road test.