I'm afraid I'm one of those people who think the new 2010 Honda Insight resembles the Toyota Prius. You see, since I drove the new Insight in Arizona in early December, I've been telling my colleagues that Honda "copied the Prius" for the design of its new, second-generation Insight. Although I certainly defer to design editor Robert Cumberford's erudition (the man is a walking, talking encyclopedia of automotive history, especially as it pertains to car styling) and his assertion that designs for both the Prius and the Insight are in fact informed by research conducted in Germany some seven decades ago, I will still state this obvious fact: since its debut five years ago, the second-generation Prius has become the definitive shape for a hybrid car in America. It's little surprise, then, that Honda chose to ape the Prius's basic exterior design and packaging philosophy. After all, the first-generation Insight, which debuted in 1999, was an oddity: a tiny, side-skirted, skinny-tired two-seater that even fervent Honda fans could not wrap their heads around. Lesson learned, Honda wanted its new, second-generation Insight to be friendly rather than freaky, useful rather than nearly useless, and, most important, a sales winner. So, like both the existing Prius and the all-new, 2010 model seen in the following pages, the Insight is an aerodynamically optimized, four-door, five-passenger hatchback sedan.
Despite its outward similarities to the Prius, the Insight, in typical Honda fashion, blazes its own path. Whereas the Prius is a showcase for Toyota's engineering prowess, the new Insight is a hybrid for the common man. Created to be sold not only here in the United States but in markets around the world, it will, Honda promises, cost less than the $24,320 Civic Hybrid. When the Insight goes on sale here on April 22, which just happens to be Earth Day, one would assume that it will also have a lower base price than the 2009 Prius, which currently starts at $22,720. We're hoping American Honda will be able to offer it for less than $20,000.
This is not to say that the new Insight is lacking in technical sophistication. It's powered by the fifth generation of Honda's well-known IMA (Integrated Motor Assist), a parallel hybrid powertrain that debuted in the original Insight and still does duty in the Civic Hybrid. In the Insight, the IMA consists of a 1.3-liter gasoline VTEC engine that serves as the primary power source; a 13-hp, lightweight electric motor that provides additional power as well as electricity generation; a lightweight and compact battery; and a continuously variable transmission. (The Civic uses a 20-hp motor with the same 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine.) Thus configured, the Insight provides a total output of 98 hp at 5800 rpm and maximum torque of 123 lb-ft at 1000 rpm. The engine itself is rated at 88 hp and 88 lb-ft.