Scientists have this clever knack for sucking the fun out of things. A fellow named Will once went on about roses and how, by any other name, they would smell as sweet. It's possible. But would we even bother with the act of stimulating olfactory receptors with organic floral hydrocarbons originating from Rosa Berberifolia if it was called such?
Yes, we're talking about the 2010 Honda Insight.
You see, this side effect of scientific emotional sterilization has plagued the hybrid car market from the day the first Toyota Prius rolled off the assembly line. Honda tried to counter in 2000 with the first-generation Honda Insight hybrid. In contrast to the first- and second-generation Prius, the Insight was brash and uncompromising in its fuel-efficient intentions and a beacon for the green set. The little coupe with the three-cylinder gasoline engine and battery-assisted speed was quirky and light and got stellar mpg. It was fun. It had a real manual transmission. It was also a sales disaster that faded away as the third-generation Toyota Prius took the road to total world domination.
Since then, Honda has tried (with some lack of success) to make hybrid technology seem simple and mainstream with its Civic and Accord hybrids, but now after four years it's returning to the market for dedicated hybrids with a Prius fighter. A more grown-up, practical Insight promises to bring the emotional life back to the hybrid car set at a price point nearly everyone can agree with. And we here at Inside Line have wrangled a 2010 Honda Insight EX with Navigation for a 12-month long-term road test.
What We Got
Like all Hondas, the 2010 Insight has options bunched together and then sold as different trim levels. This is the Honda Way, perhaps the result of a study done by some statistician who found that people are willing to pay more for a higher trim level than they would for an option package. All we know for certain is that EX with Navigation is the highest level you can get on a 2010 Honda Insight, and that's what we have. This also means that our Insight is the most expensive version of the model, with a sticker price (including destination and delivery) of $23,810. This is a big step from the $19,800 MSRP ($20,510 with destination and delivery) of the entry-level Insight that helps Honda lay claim to the title of "Cheapest Hybrid in America." We chose it because it matches up well with the similarly equipped 2010 Toyota Prius with its $25,550 price tag, making a direct comparison of the merits of the two cars easier to make.
The EX carries a six-speaker audio system with USB (iPod-friendly) input, traction and stability control, shift paddles on the steering wheel, cruise control, and 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels wearing 175/65R15 low-rolling-resistance Dunlop SP37 all-season tires. But that only brings us to the $21,300 EX model, and as soon as you add the "with Navigation" to the description, another $1,800 buys you a voice-activated navi system, Bluetooth, and audio and cruise-control buttons integrated into the steering wheel. Navigation and iPod have become gotta-have-its for road trip cars in our fleet; once you've had them, it's hard to go without.
Regardless of style, every 2010 Honda Insight is propelled by the 88 horsepower and 88 pound-feet of torque from a Civic Hybrid-derived i-VTEC 1.3-liter inline-4. Thankfully, this little engine doesn't have to go it alone. Nuzzled up to it is an electric motor capable of generating 13 hp and a whopping 58 lb-ft of torque. Together these two propulsion sources complement each other with separate power peaks, creating an inventive contraption that Honda tags IMA (integrated motor assist). The combination is rated at 98 hp at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque from 1,000-1,500 rpm. All of this power is pushed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and then on to the front wheels.
These power numbers won't impress anyone down at your local AutoZone, but the combination of everything here results in an impressive EPA fuel-economy rating of 40 mpg city/43 mpg highway with an EPA combined average of 41 mpg. We've already shown in our Full Test of a 2010 Honda Insight that these numbers are not only attainable but also easily exceeded, as we averaged 51 mpg during our test. We'll see if this is repeatable throughout the next year and 20,000 miles.
Why We Got It
As the OG readers will recall, this isn't IL's first trip around the Insight block. We leased one in 2000, before the beloved blogs went live, for a two-year span. When the test concluded, reactions were mixed. "Low-rolling-resistance tires, a three-cylinder engine and no useful space," argued one side, while the other shouted, "Fuel-efficiency, quirkiness, attention magnet!" From the logbook, impassioned Edmunds.com associate editor Brent Romans wrote, "A few select cars in this world, such as a Corvette or a Mercedes S500, make me feel like a champion when I drive them. The Insight is the only car I know of that makes me feel like a hero."
The 2010 Honda Insight looks to bridge the gap between the first-generation Hero Edition Insight and the Prius, King of Hybrids. Really, just look at the Insight and Prius together. Side by side, the differences stand out, because the Insight looks sculpted and crisp, while the Prius is soft and sort of droopy. Different, yes, but clearly cut from the same cloth. It's a practical and efficient layout that affords ample interior room and visibility. It's also the shape we've grown to associate with hybrids. If you want to sell MP3 players, play off the iPod; you want to sell honey, make it look like a bear; and if you want to sell hybrids to the greenies, evoke the Prius.
Shaping the Hybrid Future
Does the 2010 Honda Insight effectively benchmark the Toyota Prius while maintaining the character expected of Honda? After a year and 20,000 miles, will we still feel heroic driving an Insight with four doors and room for stuff? Will the Insight's driving character make us enjoy hybrid motoring on the American highway? Or will we discover some limit in practicality that will undercut the reputation of this Honda hybrid?
Thankfully, we don't have to decide today. We've got 12 months and a 20,000-mile goal for our new Insight. Follow along on our long-term blogs for real-world impressions of Honda's shot at the hybrid big time.
Current Odometer: 656 miles
Best Fuel Economy: 37.9 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 29.2 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 33.1 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.