This Honda Insight lists for about $5000 more than our similarly equipped Four Seasons Fit. The extra money nets you a continuously variable transmission rather than the Fit’s 5-speed manual or automatic transmission, two inches more in length (the cars have identical width and track), nicer floor mats, and, oh yeah, Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist Technology. The hybrid scores a whopping 12 mpg better in the city and 8 mpg better on the highway. And yet, it drives very similar to the Fit, not surprising since they share many suspension components. In fact, the most noticeable difference on the road is not due to the Insight’s electric motor but rather to its transmission. The CVT eliminates the engine drone that afflicts the Fit at highway speeds. Around town though, it makes the Insight feel more sluggish, and doesn’t offer the precision of Honda’s excellent manual shifter.
Honestly, if I were in the market for a small Honda, I’d pass over both these offerings and get a Civic, even if it meant scrimping on options. The Fit offers great interior versatility, and the Insight has exceptional mileage, but the Civic is the best all-around car, especially for those who do more than occasional highway driving.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Want to know how Honda was able to undercut Toyota in the hybrid pricing war? Take a quick look inside the Insight’s cabin. Apart from some upscale fabric on the seats, much of the materials – dash panels, door trim, and all – seem as if they’re pulled directly from the Fit.
Also, the powertrain is nowhere as sophisticated as that in the Prius, but the Insight is still quite efficient. On a brief jaunt to Dexter, Michigan, I was able to keep my fuel consumption in the 40-mpg range, and the nifty three-dimensional speedometer glowed green or aqua whenever my driving was earth-friendly.
I’m a bit perplexed by the combustion engine itself. I thought a vintage Honda moped was following me for a while, until I popped the hood. That slow ‘tick-tick-tick’ was coming from the Insight’s 1.3-liter I-4, which has a surprisingly low idle speed.
Later, I managed to gain some rear-seat time in the Insight – although I wish I hadn’t. The rakish roofline eliminates virtually all headroom for a 5’10” gentleman like myself. And the simplistic rear axle, borrowed from the Fit, produces a harsh ride, sending my cranium into the headliner over every speed bump.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I logged about 200 miles during my two nights with the Insight and I just don’t get it. I understand this is pitched as the hybrid for the masses, but I don’t see the mass appeal. The combination of CVT and 1.3-liter engine means the car is usually very loud, especially if you’re trying to keep up with traffic in the city or merge on the highway. Steering is very lifeless and has the typical electric feeling, or lack thereof. I’m not an anti-hybrid guy, but I’m so blown away by the Ford Fusion Hybrid that every other hybrid on the market seems lackluster in comparison (although I have yet to drive the 2010 Toyota Prius). This Honda Insight feels crude in comparison to the admittedly more expensive Fusion Hybrid.
Is 40+ mpg fuel economy worth it? Since I do virtually all highway/rural driving, this is the wrong 40+ mpg ride for me. I’d be much happier with a Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The Insight is worth consideration for people who spend a lot of time below 60 mph and sitting in traffic, but there are several other cars that are more enjoyable in those settings.
If I were in the market for a fuel-efficient Honda product, it would have only two wheels. I’ve owned a Honda motorcycle in the past and loved it. Though I suppose it would make for some awfully cold commutes during the Michigan winters…
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Holy cow–you really have to floor this thing to get it to go anywhere! The Insight is fairly lightweight despite all its heavy hybrid parts, but that 1.3-liter four-cylinder really has its work cut out, especially since it’s required to work through a sluggish-feeling CVT.
I’m also disappointed that this car doesn’t seem to want to turn off its internal-combustion engine nearly as often as other hybrids on the market, such as the Ford Fusion, the Toyota Prius, or the, uh, Cadillac Escalade. When you just try to creep forward a few feet at a traffic light, the engine insists on firing back up, and it does so with a diesel-y shake that’s not as smooth as the startup in the other hybrids I mentioned. Still, the trip computer said that I averaged 39 mpg over about fifty miles, which is respectable considering that I frequently had gas pedal floored.
Although the Insight doesn’t have a lot of room in the back seats, the car’s overall packaging is very good (typical of Honda vehicles, and most Kamm-back/Prius-shaped cars). When you think about it, this car offers much of what the Civic offers, but with better economy. Since Honda priced the Insight right, I think it’s a pretty good buying proposition. For my money, though, I’d make some personal economic sacrifices to put the pricier Ford Fusion Hybrid under my carport.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This car has one purpose and one purpose only: to be a cheap hybrid. Not a high-tech hybrid. Not an innovative hybrid. Not a Prius-beater. Not a Ford Fusion Hybrid-beater. Not a technological showcase for Honda. Not a mileage champion, although it is certainly capable of providing decent mileage. Anyone who expects the Insight to be any of these things will be disappointed. There’s nothing special here, folks: it’s just a cheap little hatchback, well-engineered and decently packaged, priced to sell to people who have felt locked out of the hybrid game. It is not for Susan Sarandon to drive to the Oscars.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
This Insight isn’t perfect, but it’s a big step forward from the previous car especially in terms of packaging. It’s comfortable, roomy, and rides pretty well. Engine NVH is disappointing, though, and is surprisingly rough on startup which, as Rusty noted, happens pretty much whenever commencing forward motion. The distinct lack of steering feel is very un-Honda-like and a huge let down.
The interior has excellent ergonomics, good fit, and cubbies galore. The seats are a little flat but fairly comfortable. Too bad about the cheap seat fabric, though. It feels especially bargain-basement on the center console where a soft-touch plastic would have been a better choice. The lighting around the digital speedometer is really cool. Not only does it look great, it’s informative-running the spectrum between bright green to deep blue depending on how frugal your driving is. It’s a great way of keeping the mpg-obsessed hybrid driver’s eyes on the road rather than looking down at the gauges.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
Color me disappointed. As a Honda devotee (possessing two cars, one jet ski, one disassembled motorcycle by this brand) I expected a serious Prius fighter here. Size and exterior appearance are appropriate for these thin-wallet times. However, while the 40mpg or so I observed is impressive and both the acceleration and braking are acceptably smooth and strong, I tripped over countless gaffes of execution. The view through the Insight’s near-horizontal rear window is distorted and blocked by body framing, especially that annoying horizontal bar. When entering the rear seat, adults will either bang their head or scrunch their neck; tall folks get both forms of punishment. The center-rear position is worthless from a comfort standpoint except for very short trips. The ride is rocky over Michigan-grade (poorer than poor) surfaces. And the steering has no sense of straight ahead combined with heavy friction which forces you to keep applying corrections to maintain lane position on the highway. Note to Honda’s Insight design and development team: get back to work and don’t quit until you do better.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
2010 Honda Insight EX Navi
- Base price (with destination): $23,100
- Price as tested: $23,770
- Fuel economy: 40 / 43 / 41 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
- Size: 1.3L SOHC 4-cylinder
- Horsepower: 98 hp @ 5800 rpm
- Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 1000 rpm
- Electric Motor:
- Horsepower: 13 hp @ 1500 rpm
- Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 1000 rpm
- Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
- Weight: 2734 lb
- Wheels/Tires: 15 x 5.5-in aluminum wheels
- P175/65 R15 all-season tires