NEWS: 2010 Honda Insight

January 11, 2009
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0901 02 Z+2010 Honda Insight EX+front Three Quarter View
The Honda Insight? Haven't I Heard That Name Before?
Although most Americans think of the Toyota Prius when they think of hybrid cars, Honda actually was the first automaker to offer a hybrid vehicle in the American marketplace, way back in the fall of 1999. The Honda Insight that debuted then might as well have been a spaceship, it was so unlike the vehicles Americans were accustomed to driving. The tiny Honda Insight two-seater was weird looking, with wheel skirts and a pinched rear end to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. The Insight was almost toylike in the way it sat on the ground, looking tipsy and unsure of itself. The Insight's calling card was its ability to achieve 70 mpg on the freeway, but in an era of cheap gasoline, most Americans didn't care. And even those who were attracted to the Insight's economy were perplexed by its packaging, and many were fearful of the battery pack and confused by the hybrid powertrain. Do I plug it in? was a common question at Honda dealerships.
The world is a much different place from 1999, of course, and Americans are now much more accustomed to the idea of hybrids. Since that original Insight Hybrid, Honda has offered two generations of Civic Hybrid sedans as well as an Accord Hybrid. But it was the Toyota Prius, with its distinctive tapered roofline and hatchback configuration, that captured the imagination of Americans who were concerned about fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions. So, for its all-new, second-generation, 2010 Insight, Honda has created a car that, not coincidentally, is similar to the Prius in many ways. We drove the 2010 Honda Insight recently in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.
A Hybrid for the Common Man (and Woman)
0901 13 Z+2010 Honda Insight EX+rear Three Quarter View
Honda's goal with the new, 2010 Insight was not necessarily to break new technological ground in automotive hybrid powertrains, but instead to bring hybrid efficiency to customers who until now found hybrids to be too expensive and a luxury for people who wanted to make an environmental statement. To that end, American Honda Motor Corporation promises that the new 2010 Honda Insight will cost less than the $24,225 Civic Hybrid when it goes on sale here on April 22, 2009. That debut date was specifically chosen because it is Earth Day. Hey, if you're selling a so-called "green" car, there's no point in being shy about it, right? We also predict that the Insight will cost considerably less than the Toyota Prius, which currently starts at $22,720, and less than so-called "mild" hybrids like the Chevy Malibu and Saturn Aura, which have far less sophisticated powertrains.
A Cheap Hybrid? Does That Mean Worse Fuel Economy?
As you've read, the original Insight provided incredible fuel economy, but at the expense of practicality and livability, what with its tiny two-seat cabin and its lack of usable cargo space. Honda felt that the new 2010 Insight needed to strike a more reasonable balance between efficiency and usability, so it seats five and has a good-size, usable hatchback trunk. But fuel efficiency for the 2010 Honda Insight is still very impressive: Honda expects that the EPA will rate the 2010 Insight, which is classified as a compact car, at 40 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, figures that are nearly as good as the more expensive Prius's. And with careful driving, it's easily possible to extract far better fuel economy than that, as we found out in Arizona.
To read more about the 2010 Honda Insight, go to our 2009 Detroit auto show blogs coverage. All the latest blogs from the Editors of Automobile Magazine can be found HERE. We've got our whole staff wandering the floor at Cobo Hall bringing back live photos and more information about all the new debuts from Detroit.
For complete coverage of the 2009 Detroit auto show, click HERE.
0901 03 Z+2010 Honda Insight EX+front Three Quarter View
Why Does the 2010 Honda Insight Look So Much Like the Prius?
There are two principal reasons, one having to do with aerodynamics and packaging and the other having to do with marketing. First, both the Toyota Prius and the 2010 Honda Insight are designed to replicate the slipperiness of an airfoil, which is why they have low, sleek front ends, sharply angled windshields, and long, gently curved rooflines that taper off sharply at the high deck of a hatch door. If you are trying to propel a heavy glass-and-metal object through the air, this is one of the most efficient ways to do it. The Insight's front-end styling might look familiar to you, in fact, because it's derived from the look of the FCX Clarity, Honda's new hydrogen-powered car.
Second, Honda clearly recognized that the Prius shape has seeped into the consciousness of American society as THE shape for a Hybrid automobile, in the same way that a long, rectangular box reads "SUV" to most of us. So, Honda is simply trying to replicate Toyota's success with the Prius. The fact that the hatchback configuration also gives the 2010 Honda Insight even more cargo space than the Prius (15.9 cubic feet versus 14.4 cubic feet) is just a bonus.
Honda's Hybrid Powertrain Is up to Its Usual Clever Tricks
The 2010 Honda Insight is powered by the fifth generation of Honda's well-known IMA (Integrated Motor Assist), a parallel hybrid powertrain that debuted in the original, 2000 Honda Insight. In the 2010 Honda Insight, the IMA consists of a 1.3-liter gasoline i-VTEC engine that serves as the primary power source; a 10-kilowatt, lightweight electric motor that provides additional power as well as electricity generation; a lightweight and compact battery; and a continuously variable transmission. (The Civic Hybrid, by comparison, has a 15-kilowatt motor.) Thus configured, the 2010 Honda Insight provides a total output of 98 hp @ 5800 rpm and maximum torque of 123 lb-ft at 1000-1500 rpm. The gasoline engine itself is rated at 88 hp and 88 lb-ft.
0901 01 Z+2010 Honda Insight EX+cockpit
While "IMA" refers to the 2010 Honda Insight's hybrid powertrain as a whole, the various parts that comprise IMA are spread throughout the car. The gasoline engine, as you would expect, is located under the hood. What Honda calls the Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) is located under the rear cargo floor. Anyone who has ever seen the original Insight's high rear cargo floor can easily understand how much smaller the IPU is now than it was nine years ago, because the 2010 Honda Insight's cargo floor is as low and easily accessible as it is in any conventional hatchback car, including, we'd guess, the Honda Fit. Anyway, the IPU consists of the battery pack; the electric motor; and a cooling system that sucks air in from the cabin, routes it through the whole IPU and around the back of the car, and then ejects it into the left rear wheel well.
As for the nickel-metal-hydride batteries, there are seven modules of them, each containing twelve D-size batteries, for a total of 84 batteries. By comparison, the Civic Hybrid's IPU contains 11 modules of batteries, but the 2010 Insight's batteries are some 30 percent more efficient than the Civic Hybrid's. They are also 30 percent more durable, Honda claims.
It's Easy to Maximize Efficiency
Honda makes it easy for Insight owners to track their fuel economy and maximize the efficiency of the IMA powertrain through easy-to-read displays on the instrument panel. The digital speedometer, visible above the steering wheel, changes its background color from blue (you're driving inefficiently) to blue-green (you're driving somewhat efficiently) to solid green (you are driving very efficiently and using less fuel). It's easy to modulate your behavior to keep the speedo in the green zone.
Another efficiency measurement is the Eco Guide, which is in the Multi-Information Display. The number of digital "leaves" displayed indicates the level of environmentally responsible driving performance over a particular driving cycle. The more leaves you see, the less fuel you're using. There are two displays: one for the current trip, and one for the lifetime of the vehicle. There are also several bar displays that measure efficiency of acceleration, braking, and other parameters. And, of course, at a glance you can see your instantaneous mpg figure and a cumulative figure since your last start-up.
To read more about the 2010 Honda Insight, go to our 2009 Detroit auto show blogs coverage. All the latest blogs from the Editors of Automobile Magazine can be found HERE. We've got our whole staff wandering the floor at Cobo Hall bringing back live photos and more information about all the new debuts from Detroit.
For complete coverage of the 2009 Detroit auto show, click HERE.
0901 11 Z+2009 Honda Insight EX+side View
How About 60 MPG?
Honda expects that the EPA will officially rate the Insight at 40 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, or 41 mpg combined. But our drives indicated that it's relatively easy to exceed those figures. During a 52-mile drive on mostly two-lane roads in Arizona, over varying desert terrain, and with the Econ mode on, the 2010 Honda Insight achieved an indicated 56.5 mpg. At times, I saw an average as high as 61 mpg. The entire morning's drive, with two different drivers behind the wheel of our Insight, gave us 49.3 mpg over 99 miles.
Later, on a 16.1-mile loop that Honda set up to maximize mileage, I achieved 59.2 mpg, but I discovered 4 miles into the drive that I had the CVT transmission in Sport mode, which would lessen efficiency. Some of my colleagues achieved figures in the mid to high 60s over the same route.
If you drive the Insight like any other car, though, not worrying about keeping the speedometer "green," our experience indicates that you'll get much lower numbers, closer to the EPA ratings.
It Drives Like a Honda
It's nice that the Insight is so efficient, but it's even better that it doesn't suffer from some of the dynamic drawbacks that plague many hybrids. Both the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal have natural feel and feedback, with none of the weird surging and artificialness that we've seen in some hybrids. The powertrain itself provides linear, predictable power. Unlike the Prius, which moves away from a stop with eerie quietness on solely electric power, the Insight is drawing on its gasoline engine from the beginning, so it sounds and feels quite conventional. The electric steering is a bit dead on-center, but then it tightens up nicely. Body control and ride quality are impressive, especially given the fact that the Insight rides on skinny, low-rolling-resistance tires to maximize fuel economy.
I drove the Insight at 60 to 80 mph on a mildly challenging, two-lane road in the Tonto National Forest outside Scottsdale, and its chassis, brakes, and steering were up to the exercise. Although it's certainly no sports car, it did not feel like a soggy mess. Essentially, the Insight feels like any other small Honda, except when you're really hammering it, its tiny four-cylinder engine is really working hard.
There's some wind and road noise at freeway speeds. The sightlines are not quite as good as the Honda Fit's, but forward and side visibility is still excellent. The cabin itself is typical of Honda: great ergonomics, a superb radio interface. The iPod interface in the center console works well.
Where Does It Fit in the Hybrid World?
The new 2010 Honda Insight is a bargain hybrid. Its cabin is not as roomy or sumptuous as those in the Civic Hybrid, the Toyota Prius, or the new Ford Fusion Hybrid, but it should cost a lot less than those cars. With its hatchback configuration, it's a good car for a single person, a couple, or a small family who have been intrigued by the Hybrid revolution but found Hybrids to be too expensive. This is a Hybrid for anyone, not just tree-huggers and Hollywood actors.
0901 14 Z+2009 Honda Insight EX+front Three Quarter View
0901 04 Z+2009 Honda Insight EX+side View
To read more about the 2010 Honda Insight, go to our 2009 Detroit auto show blogs coverage. All the latest blogs from the Editors of Automobile Magazine can be found HERE. We've got our whole staff wandering the floor at Cobo Hall bringing back live photos and more information about all the new debuts from Detroit.
For complete coverage of the 2009 Detroit auto show, click HERE.
0901 14 Z+2010 Honda Insight EX+front Three Quarter View
2010 Honda Insight
Drive: Front-wheel
BASE PRICE: $19,995 (est.)
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE: SOHC 8-valve I-4
DISPLACEMENT: 1.3 liters (82 cu in)
HORSEPOWER: 88 @ 5800 rpm
ELECTRIC MOTOR: Permanent magnet DC
OUTPUT: 13 hp, 58 lb-ft
BATTERIES: Nickel-Metal Hydride, 101 V
TOTAL HORSEPOWER: 98 hp
TRANSMISSION TYPE: Continuously variable automatic
DRIVE: Front-wheel
CHASSIS
STEERING: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
SUSPENSION, FRONT: Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR: Torsion beam, coil springs
BRAKES F/R: Vented discs/drums, ABS
TIRES Dunlop sp3 a/s sp31A
TIRE SIZE: 175/65SR-15
MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H: 172.3 x 66.7 x 56.2 in
WHEELBASE: 100.4 in
TRACK F/R: 58.7/58.1 in
WEIGHT: 2723-2734 lb (per manufacturer)
Legroom F/R: 42.3/33.5 in
Headroom F/R: 38.4/35.9 in
Cargo capacity (seats up/down): 15.9/31.5 cu ft
FUEL MILEAGE: 40/43 mpg (est.)
To read more about the 2010 Honda Insight, go to our 2009 Detroit auto show blogs coverage. All the latest blogs from the Editors of Automobile Magazine can be found HERE. We've got our whole staff wandering the floor at Cobo Hall bringing back live photos and more information about all the new debuts from Detroit.
For complete coverage of the 2009 Detroit auto show, click HERE.

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