Fifteen years ago, the hybrid vehicle movement began in earnest. First it was a whisper on the floor of the Tokyo Motor Show. Then it gathered momentum among the masses until, before we knew it, the hybrid party seized control of the automotive world. No longer would we suffer beneath the oppressive thumb of high-displacement engines and partially burned hydrocarbons. We were saved. And at the forefront of this hybrid vehicle movement stood the Toyota Prius.
Just years into the reign of the Prius in Japan came the first Honda Insight. It looked goofy and wasn't as widely accepted as the Toyota, but it showed Honda could play the hybrid game, too, and it was sold in America.
The first Insight came and went as the Prius continued to gain momentum. But for 2010 the Honda Insight returned. Honda built this Insight in the image of its greatest competitor. It now looked just as awkward, just as functional and just as eco-friendly as the Prius. But Honda had a catch. It did all of this for less money.
Why We Got It
This wasn't the first long-term Honda Insight in our garage. We leased a 2000 Honda Insight well before the long-term blog was an itch in The Mechanic's pants. By lease end, we were left with just three words: "quirky, attention magnet." That was 10 years ago. A lot has happened since then. So we were due for an Insight refresher course.
After a decade-long hiatus, the 2010 Honda Insight was also all-new. The Insight took a slightly simpler approach to the hybrid equation than the Prius to which it would always be compared. The Insight wedged a thin, flywheel-size electric motor between the engine and transmission to form its hybrid system. Honda named this mechanism IMA, or Integrated Motor Assist. IMA is a less complicated system than those seen in competitive Toyota and Ford products. The end result is a less expensive hybrid. Did a cheaper hybrid make for a less fuel-efficient hybrid? We were interested to find out. So we joined the Santa Monica chapter of Hell's Hypermilers and cleared our calendars. Gosh, it was going to be an exciting year.
Those of us with primarily street-level commutes accepted the Insight's hybrid persona and unique driving quirks. On the highway, it was less appealing. Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh noted following a long commute up Interstate 5 to Northern California, "The road noise didn't get out of control at freeway speeds as I expected. But there was wind noise at the A-pillars at freeway speeds. This Insight has a sports car ride but not sports car handling; it feels choppy thanks to a lack of wheel travel. Perhaps the most prominent thing on a long freeway trip is its directional stability and steering response around center. It's a subtle thing. Most drivers probably wouldn't notice that they're making constant corrections, but I did. This characteristic of its electric steering is a mental drain on a long trip, requiring more concentration than it should."
In the slalom this car will rotate and oversteer dramatically if provoked.
Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Pardilla found herself as passenger on that same stretch of Interstate 5. "I was uncomfortable! The front passenger seat was shaped in such a way that it felt like it was pushing into the center of my back while the headrest was angled pushing my head forward. I didn't want to tilt my seat too far back since I wanted my brother, who was sitting behind me, to have enough room. I took the chance to stretch my legs and back whenever we stopped for food, gas and bathroom breaks. Even though the car required only one fuel-up each way, the extra stops were mandatory. As for the wind noise, initially it was pretty irritating but over the long road trip I was able to block it out."
We drove the 2010 Honda Insight for more than 20,000 miles. Aside from visits to Honda of Santa Monica for routine maintenance, the Honda was impervious to wear and tear. It only cost us $150 over the 12-month test period. Interior items remained as-new for the duration of the test. There were no warranty items to speak of. And we managed not to crash, or get crashed into, for an entire year, a feat in itself.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $148.82
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
We didn't add a Honda Insight to bask in its handling prowess or white-knuckled acceleration. It was all about fuel economy. But there were some surprises at our test track.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton commented, "With ESC off, the limit of grip is easily found at terminal understeer, yet there is a sense of balance here that is unexpected. Steering is slightly springy but precise. In the slalom this car will rotate and oversteer dramatically if provoked. It's lively in a good way but likely due in part to hard Dunlop SP tires." Dynamic tests remained relatively consistent between tests. The Insight completed the slalom at 62.4 mph and generated 0.77g of lateral grip on the skid pad. Acceleration from a stop to 60 mph arrived in 10.9 seconds (10.5 with 1 foot of rollout) en route to an expectedly leisurely quarter-mile time of 17.9 seconds @ 77.8 mph.
People get an Insight for the fuel economy benefits, and so did we. Our average over 20,000 miles of mixed driving was almost 39 mpg. On one particular stretch during our Fuel Sipper Smackdown we maxed out just shy of 46 mpg. We spent a day flogging the helpless Insight at our test track in order to achieve its worst, 24 mpg, showing.
Best Fuel Economy: 45.8 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 24.0 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 38.7 mpg
At the time of this story, Edmunds' TMV® Calculator could not accurately calculate the used value of our 2010 Honda Insight. Not enough sales transactions have occurred thus far to satisfy our internal statistical standards. In short, people aren't selling their Insights. If we had to derive an estimated private-party sale value based on these limited sales figures it is $19,248. This figure equates to 19 percent depreciation from its original MSRP of $23,810.
True Market Value at service end: Not available
Depreciation: Not available
Final Odometer Reading: 20,409
The 2010 Honda Insight marks the first time we've seen the Toyota Prius flinch during its long reign over the hybrid world. When it comes to affordable hybrid technology, the Honda Insight is a worthy adversary. But not many know it. Prius remains synonymous with the word "hybrid." It's the new Kleenex. And for that reason, it maintains a dominant position in the segment.
Honda tried a unique approach with the Insight. It delivered a less expensive Prius. But the nature of its affordability also made it less fuel-efficient. Hybrid shoppers are finicky. Sales figures support that they would rather gain 3-4 mpg buying a Prius than gain a couple thousand dollars in their pocket buying an Insight. Honda still has some ground to make up here.
Early residual value calculations for the Insight are promising, and build quality is top-notch. If a year with the 2010 Honda Insight taught us anything about the popularity of hybrids within our fleet, it's that being a hatchback is still more important than being a hybrid. If we were in the market for a hybrid, we would certainly consider the Insight.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.