First Drive 2010 Honda Insight

Scottsdale, Arizona — Honda has recommissioned its Insight name for an entirely new hybrid, one intended for a group thus far shunning this mode of environmentally fashionable mobility. Gen Y folks, the mid-20s crowd, are mostly single, entry-professionals who spend $18,000–$22,000 for their new cars. They’re environmentally with it, but hitherto seemingly priced out of the hybrid market.

The production Insight officially broke cover at the Detroit Auto Show and goes on sale come Earth Day, April 22. Thus, when we drove it around ever-burgeoning Scottsdale, Arizona, in mid-December, it was too early for Honda to price it precisely. However, to make sense within the Honda lineup, this hybrid would have to cost less than the $23,650 Civic Hybrid. And I’d bet Honda’s citation of that $18–$22 range isn’t just coincidence.

Similar to the Civic Hybrid’s system, the Insight’s Integrated Motor Assist teams a 1.3-liter 88-bhp 4-cylinder engine with a 13-hp electric motor, the latter residing where you’d expect to find a conventional flywheel. These operate interactively with a Continuously Variable Transmission to propel the front-wheel-drive hatchback. Like the latest Civic, the Insight’s IMA makes it a full hybrid, in that its i-VTEC variable-valve hardware shuts down the gasoline engine through Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management. During VCM, all the valves are closed and the engine cycles in sort of a balloon mode, each piston compressing its air, the air returning the favor on the piston’s downstroke. (Contrary to my initial thoughts on the matter, this is more efficient than it sounds. In fact, for instance, the game of incorporating a separate clutch for true engine-shutdown apparently isn’t worth the candle.)

For optimizing IMA attributes, the Insight’s driver gets a really neat tripart Ecological Drive Assist: an ECON button, a real-time Guidance Function and, for the gamer in all of us, a Scoring Function.

The ECON button optimizes engine, CVT, IMA assist and regenerative braking, air conditioning and even cruise control. For instance, in ECON mode those little fuel-wasting dithers of your accelerator foot are smoothed out. IMA‘s Start/Stop feature is employed somewhat more actively. By contrast, cruise control reaches its ECON set speed somewhat less aggressively.

The real-time Guidance Function is simple but effective: an illuminated arc backing up the speedometer’s digital readout. It changes color from deep blue (fuel-guzzling) to light blue (better) to a fuel-efficient green. There’s also a somewhat less prominent but equally real-time Multi-information Display of bar graphs showing the degree of IMA boost and regen.

The Scoring Function is good fun. It tracks current driving practice, updating approximately every 2000 meters, as well as giving feedback of cumulative patterns. An Eco Guide accumulates little leaf symbols as you drive more environmentally responsibly. When you turn off the ignition, it rates your Eco Score and Lifetime results.

I asked about dual settings for driving partners, but Honda felt this might make for more marital discord than it’s worth.

Do these gizmos work? The Insight’s EPA City/Hwy numbers are 40/43 mpg, respectively. I posted 54.9 mpg on my driving stint. And, later, on a specially devised suburban tour, fully half of our journalist contingent saw results better than 60 mpg, with the best of them in the 70s. Impressive indeed.

All this, in an attractive and tidy 5-port hatchback. The Insight’s styling is a blend of Honda FCX Clarity (the front end especially), Toyota’s current Prius (its side profile shares these aero attributes) and Honda’s signature dual-glass rear. With an overall length of 172.3 in. and wheelbase of 100.4 in., it nestles neatly between the company’s Fit (161.6 in. and 98.4 in., respectively) and Civic (176.7/106.3). However, the Fit’s 60.0-in. height and boxier shape give it an edge in rear seating, where tallish sorts will find head room better and bigger sorts will find ingress/egress more graceful. The Insight’s front seating is fine, with more than ample room for head, legs and squirming.

Its target customers may be Gen Y and, secondarily, active empty nesters. But I’d say this new Insight is a rational approach for anyone desiring hybrid motoring. And certainly at its expected annual sales — 100,000 in North America, another 100,000 around the world — the Insight will make a significant contribution to sustainable mobility.

Article Information

  • Source: Road and Track
  • Author: Dennis Simanaitis
  • Date Posted: January 9, 2009