The wide windshield provides excellent sightlines for the driver and the front passenger, and rear visibility isn't bad through the CRX-style split hatch glass. You start the car the old-fashioned way, by inserting a key in an ignition receptable mounted on the steering column. No silly push-button start here, thankfully. Although Honda claims that the Insight is capable of driving on electricity alone at speeds up to 30 mph on flat roads, in our experience the car always uses its gasoline engine at launch. This hardly seems a detriment, though, because the sound of an internal-combustion engine starting is a reassuring and natural part of the driving experience.
And the driving, for the most part, does feel quite natural, with little of the surging and hiccuping that sometimes afflict hybrids. Driving the Insight basically feels a lot like driving any other small Honda. The electrically assisted steering has decent feel, with a small dead spot on-center that seems to improve the harder you drive the car. The brake and accelerator pedals have been tuned for conventional-feeling responses, with none of the mushiness that mars the Prius. During a brief foray onto some mildly challenging roads in the higher-elevation areas of the Tonto National Forest outside Scottsdale, the Insight was nothing like the soggy mess that the Prius is when you ask it to get sporty. Naturally, the Insight segues into understeer when you really push it, but considering its skinny, low-rolling-resistance tires, it handles quite well and is more than capable of providing a mildly entertaining drive combined with good dampening and body control.
This is not to say that the Insight is anybody's bargain sport sedan. There's no manual transmission, only the CVT, which at least has a sport setting and available paddle shifting. If you give up any pretenses of driving for efficiency, the tiny four-banger quickly becomes taxed. Accelerate hard from 65 to 75 mph, and a cacophony of underhood protests, road noise, and tire thrum serves to remind you that this is a car that has been engineered to reward deliberate, considered inputs.
And, oh, does the Insight ever reward deliberate, considered inputs to the accelerator and brake pedals. Over a fifty-two-mile stretch of mostly two-lane roads through the Sonoran Desert scrubland of the Phoenix exurbs, we achieved an indicated average of 57 mpg with the Econ mode engaged and while making a mild effort to keep the digital speedometer's background lighting bright green, which is an easy way to know that you are driving efficiently. If the lighting turns blue-green, you're driving less efficiently, and if it turns totally blue, you're an ecological naughty-pants. The Econ mode, which is engaged by hitting a dash button that's colored - what else - green, more readily kills the gas engine at idle, keeps the A/C in recirc mode longer, and changes the electronic throttle calibration to limit power and torque slightly (unless you mash the accelerator). In addition to the varied speedo lighting, several other graphic indicators in the instrument cluster help you track your efficiency, including digital flora that grow more leaves the more economically you drive.