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)
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.