What's New for 2010
The Honda Insight hybrid is back. This time, however, it's been reincarnated as a four-door sedan that serves as Honda's answer to the iconic Toyota Prius.
For most of this decade, Toyota's 46-mpg Prius has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the extreme fuel-miser segment. Only Honda's 42-mpg Civic Hybrid comes close, and its sales have been hampered by lethargic acceleration and a not-hybrid-looking-enough sedan body design. Enter the four-door 2010 Honda Insight, which takes dead aim at Toyota's green machine by offering comparable fuel economy and a look-alike hatchback layout at a considerably lower price. Of course, those with a longer memory might recall the first-generation Honda Insight, too, but its futuristic look was too impractical for most people despite stellar fuel efficiency. Not so version 2.0.
Under the new Insight's hood is Honda's familiar Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. IMA starts with a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 88 horsepower and 88 pound-feet of torque, and it adds an electric motor that generates another 13 hp and 58 lb-ft, enough to propel the Insight up to 30 mph without the gas engine's help. A nickel-metal hydride battery pack keeps the electric motor whirring, and the electric motor returns the favor via regenerative braking, becoming a battery-charging generator when the brakes are activated. Notably, the gas engine's crankshaft never stops spinning, even when the Insight is operating solely on electric power, so there's no unseemly coughing or rumbling as the gas engine comes online.
In addition to seamless and adequately perky performance, the payoff is an EPA-estimated 40 mpg city/43 highway and 41 combined, according to Honda. That's a bit off the Toyota's pace, but the deficit shouldn't be a significant factor for most buyers. Over the course of a 15,000-mile year of driving, the Insight will run you an extra 40 gallons of gas, which accounts for a tiny fraction of the money you'll save by choosing the Insight in the first place. With a starting price in the high teens, the Insight handily undercuts its crosstown rival's $22,000 base price, not to mention the Civic Hybrid's $23,550 cost of entry. In fact, the loaded Insight EX with the navigation system won't cost too much more than a bare-bones Prius.
The Insight has two significant warts: Its backseat is considerably tighter than the Toyota's family-sedan-grade rear quarters, and there's plenty of Honda's trademark road noise at higher speeds. On the flip side, though, it has sensible gauges and a superior driving position. Given its impressive talents and attractive price, it's hard to fault the 2010 Honda Insight. Until the next Prius arrives, at least, the Insight is the new ruler of the hybrid-hatchback roost.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Honda Insight is a four-door hatchback available in base LX and uplevel EX trims. The LX comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a tilt/telescoping steering column, a height-adjustable driver seat and a four-speaker CD audio system with an auxiliary audio jack. The EX adds alloy wheels, side-mirror-mounted turn signal indicators, stability control, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a six-speaker audio system with a USB port and a fully integrated iPod connection. The lone option is a navigation system (EX only) that includes voice-activated controls and Bluetooth connectivity.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Honda Insight's hybrid system consists of a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor paired with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The gas engine is good for 88 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque, while the electric motor chips in 13 hp and 58 lb-ft. Due to varying power peaks, the maximum combined output is 98 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. At our test track, the Insight zipped from zero to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds -- a few tenths slower than the Prius, but a substantial 2.6 seconds quicker than the Civic Hybrid.
According to Honda, EPA fuel economy ratings are 40 mpg city/43 highway and 41 combined.
All Insights come standard with antilock brakes (front disc/rear drum), front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. However, the base Insight LX lacks stability control and traction control, which come standard on the EX.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the 2010 Honda Insight is a distinctive mix of familiar Honda design elements and edgy hybrid-themed flourishes. Taller drivers will appreciate the telescoping steering column, while shorter ones will enjoy the height-adjustable driver seat. Most major controls are intuitive in operation, including the standard automatic climate control system -- a nice perk at this price. Thankfully, the gauges are mounted directly forward of the steering wheel, as opposed to the Prius' wonky center-mounted readout.
Charmingly or annoyingly, depending on your disposition, the background color of the Civic-style digital speedometer switches from blue to green when you're being judicious with your right foot. An "ECON" button to the left of the steering wheel makes the powertrain even more efficient, albeit at a tangible cost in straight-line performance. Unfortunately, the rear quarters are uncomfortably tight for adults. Toyota's roomy hybrid still trumps the Insight in this regard. The convenient hatchback lifts up to reveal 15.4 cubic feet of luggage space -- 31.5 cubes with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down.
The words "hybrid" and "sporty" remain mutually exclusive at this modest price point, but the 2010 Honda Insight is by far the most enjoyable hybrid hatchback to drive. The ride is firm, the steering is relatively responsive and the crankshaft's constant rotation makes for seamless transitions between electric-only and full hybrid power. Braking, too, feels refreshingly normal relative to the wonky regenerative systems found in some other hybrids. No one would call the Insight quick, but its acceleration should prove adequate for shoppers in this segment. On the downside, there's bothersome road noise at highway speeds, and the gas engine gets buzzy under heavy acceleration.
Read our Honda Insight Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test