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February 25, 2009 > Auto Review: 2010 Honda Insight

Auto Review: 2010 Honda Insight

Do you remember the original Honda Insight? Produced from 1999 to 2006, it was the first hybrid vehicle sold in North America with a very unique shape that I thought was pretty ugly. The brand new [2010] Insight was revealed to the world on January 11, 2009 at the Detroit Auto Show and was sold in Japan in February but will not be in our dealer showrooms until April.

The new Insight's power train utilizes Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid technology and is very unique. It starts with an advanced 1.3-liter engine that develops 88 HP and is hooked up to a constant velocity automatic transmission. Sandwiched between the engine and transmission is a 13 HP electric motor that can also serve as an electric generator.

Honda's focus for the Insight is to give customers a low-priced hybrid that is fun to drive... and they hit their mark. The Insight is the most cost effective, "fun to drive" hybrid that I have encountered. It has a sporty ride and handles well. When it is time for fun, you can slip the transmission lever into S (sport) and paddle shift up and down using 7 different ratios. In this mode you can make the engine rev higher and squeeze out extra performance compared to the ECON mode of driving. It is really nice to be able to choose.

And how much gas does it use? It posted 40 mpg in its city EPA test and 43 mpg for the highway cycle. In my travels, the onboard computer showed 39.7 mpg for my best trip to work. Using regular unleaded gas, I averaged about 37 mpg during the week I used the Insight. I am sure 40+ would have been possible if I didn't push the right pedal so hard.

The IMA system uses regenerative braking and other processes to generate electricity and store it in the nickel metal hydride batteries under the rear seat. Another fuel saving measure is that Insight's engine shuts off when you stop the car. So when you are sitting at a red light, fuel is not consumed. Many hybrids do this, and it can be a little unnerving until you get used to it.

It is easy to keep track of how fast you are using fuel. A display on the dash shows how the fuel and electrical energy is flowing around the car; the speedometer changes from green to blue if power use moves from economical to more "fuelish." Honda's Eco Assist system (in the dash display) gives you continuous feedback on how to use even less gas. These fuel saving measures earns Insight a very good emissions rating of AT-PZEV.

The Insight has a good-sized interior. I was able to put a number of large items in the car by folding down the rear seat backs. However, there isn't an awful lot of leg room in the back seat if the front seats are very far back. The driving position is very comfortable and support for your body is good. There is plenty of adjustment in the front seats so almost anyone can find the perfect driving position.

All Insights get a substantial dose of safety equipment led by a full range of airbags. Then the front seats get active head restraints to reduce injuries from rear end impacts. Anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, vehicle stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system are also standard equipment.

Honda has not yet set the USA price for the two Insight models. The LX is the base model, and it will be priced below Honda's Civic hybrid ($23,650 MSRP). The EX version adds the paddle shifters, alloy wheels, heated mirrors, and 2 more speakers for the audio system.

If you are in the market for a small hybrid, wait a short time and go see the new Honda Insight when it arrives at your nearest Honda showroom.

By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists

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