2010 Honda Insight EX: The Hamster Factor
August 13, 2009
The Honda Insight is a terrific car. Few companies are dedicated to transportation in the way that Honda is. It believes in the liberation of personal mobility, which is a lot more important thing than just snappy styling, lap times at the Nurburgring, or corporate profits. That's why Honda really does cheap cars better than it does expensive ones.
The Honda Insight could easily become one of my favorite cheap cars. It strips the whole hybrid concept down to its bare essentials. It passes by gas stations, it goes down the freeway, it carries a family (whining about headroom for six-footers in the back seat is ridiculous, really), and it looks dramatic. In every way, the Honda Insight seems to represent what Honda does best.
So why doesn't the Insight go down the road better? It's as if hamsters had tuned the ride and handling. Actually that's probably not true, as the Kia Soul goes down the road better than the Insight.
It's not an easy task to tune a car's suspension to cope with a load of batteries and then build in the extra capacity for occasionally dealing with a full load of passengers. But the combination of stiff, low-rolling-resistance tires with a suspension that feels oversprung and underdamped is not a happy one here. Over the overused concrete byways of Los Angeles, the Insight bounds over the bumps and wriggles uncertainly down the straights. Only the latest-generation Toyota Corolla goes down the road so badly.
Somehow Honda has lost the plot when it comes to small-car handling. While large cars like the Acura TL seem nicely developed, little cars like the Insight seem to have been set up with a few fast keystrokes on a pocket calculator and a quick spin around the executive parking lot at the proving ground in Tochigi, Japan. Maybe Honda has got the idea that people who like hybrid cars expect them to go down the road in a distinctive way -- that is to say, badly. Maybe Honda isn't doing as much testing in the U.S. with its Japanese-built cars. Maybe the testing protocols have changed.
I think the Honda Insight deserves a little more respect from Honda. This is not a cheap car. It represents Honda at its best, and the science in this car should be expressed in the way the car drives as well as in the way it produces power.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 3,276 miles