Sunday, July 5, 2009

Keen on Green: The Honda Insight hybrid

Honda, the defending champion of the fuel economy league, has rolled out its 2010 Insight hybrid.

It is an entirely new vehicle, sharing only the name of Honda's previous Insight hybrid, which was discontinued after 2006.

Like the hybrid-category leading Toyota Prius, the Insight is a dedicated hyrbid vehicle, meaning it has its own styling and comes only as a hybrid.

Toyota has had success drawing affluent, environmentally conscious buyers.

With the Insight, Honda aims for younger, budget-conscious buyers who want to make an environmental statement and reduce fuel consumption.
Honda has built a vehicle that might accomplish this, yet the Insight's buyers will not have to sacrifice good looks - on the inside or out.

The Insight's interior shifts from the small-car mold, with a two-tiered, two-tone instrument panel situated quite far forward to permit a spacious feel for those in front.

Center-stack controls—except for the sound system and nav display—are angled toward the driver, and climate controls are similar to those in the Fit, centered in their own round area just to the right of the steering wheel. And the seats have a nice, meshy fabric that's grippy and comfortable.

In the rear seating area, headroom and legroom are a little snug.

There is an adequate amount of cargo space, but not an abundance, at 15.9 cubic feet.

The Insight has a 1.3-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine, helping it out during acceleration and recharging the battery system during coasting and braking. Altogether, the system produces 123 pounds-feet of torque and 98 horsepower. A start/stop system turns off the gasoline engine to save fuel at stoplights.

Unlike the system in the Prius, the powertrain in the Insight can't start up from a standstill on electric power alone, but it can maintain a 30-mph cruise with solely electric power.
The Insight is rated at 40 mpg city, 43 mpg highway.
The front-wheel-drive Insight is, relative to other hybrids, a joy to drive. There's plenty of torque to take off quickly from stoplights, along with good power for passing. The CVT automatic operates unobtrusively and doesn't hunt around at higher speeds as the Prius's transmission will sometimes do. For those who want to drive the Insight in more spirited fashion, there's a manual mode and steering wheel paddles on the uplevel Insight EX, simulating seven speeds.
Most will be pleased with the way the Insight handles. The Insight doesn't change directions as crisply as the Honda Fit subcompact, but it feels confident in all but the tightest corners, with unexpected poise in high-speed cruising. Brakes are front disc, rear drum but feel up to the task. Ride quality is good despite the short 100-inch wheelbase, and the interior is quiet and civilized except when mashing the throttle to the floor, which causes the engine to become quite raucous.
If optimal fuel economy is important—and it probably is if you're considering the Insight—you should be interested in the fancy display interfaces that come standard on the Insight. Eco Assist helps you reach the best mileage by changing the background color of the speedometer from blue to green as efficiency increases, while a bar indicator displays a thinner bar when you're conserving fuel. Meanwhile, Eco Guide keeps tabs on your daily driving, adding flower petals when you're doing well and accumulating a "lifetime score," if you care to play the game. Just to the left of the steering wheel is an Econ button, which engages fuel-conserving modes for a range of vehicle systems, including how the air conditioning and cruise control operate and how often the gasoline engine is shut off.
The Insight comes in two different trims, and there's a seemingly vast chasm between them in terms of equipment. The Insight LX weighs in at a remarkably low price, but features like cruise control, stability control, and a nav system aren't even optional. The EX model heaps on the extra equipment, including steering-wheel paddle shifters, VSA, cruise control, a 160-watt AM/FM/CD system with MP3 compatibility, a USB interface, aux inputs, and six speakers, plus a center console with armrest, more storage compartments, fog lamps, heated side mirrors, and alloy wheels—albeit at a higher price that's no longer quite a steal. It also adds a center console with an armrest and storage, map pockets, and interior lights. Major options on the EX include a navigation system with a nice, big screen and a Bluetooth hands-free interface.
Our tester, an EX, carried a sticker price of $23,770.

The Insight is an excellent choice for those who are high on hybrid technology but want a low sticker price.

No comments: