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Honda Insight Hybrid Review

Written by Sophia Schmidt
August 2009

Honda Insight ReviewHonda's Market Acumen Loses Sight with the Insight

When you are test driving the Honda Insight, Honda's first major foray into the electric and gas powered hybrid marketplace, baseline expectations can't help but come with the Honda brand. Decades of groundwork have gone into the engineering and design of Honda's car lineup, resulting in remarkable reliability and appeal across the American consumer market.

The Honda Insight carries this heritage forward. Honda's newest and truly first generation hybrid car appeals to consumers who want the efficiency and mpg output that comes from hybrid gas/electric cars. The car's dashboard resonates with the eco-conscious consumer, showcasing its Eco Assist feedback system that helps drivers optimize mpg and, supposedly, driving performance overall. This 5-seater compact sedan includes many of the features that consumers expect today, including navigation (an upgrade), remote entry and the definitive thoughtfulness to the six beverage holders strategically placed around the interior. However, the overall dashboard design seems to overpower the senses or the notion that this is a hybrid car.


Taken together, the design and features instill car confusion for Honda's Insight. It is supposed to be marketed as a fuel-efficient hybrid car, a mainstream car for everyone or a sporty compact sedan intended for the twenty-something consumer?


Quality parts

Because it is a Honda, several features usually not available on the typical electric car, available today, are standard, including its Eco Assist feedback system, ABS brakes, six airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, power windows and mirrors, remote entry, climate control and projector-beam halogen headlights.

Performance and Speed

Honda Insight Road TestThe biggest disappointment from the Honda Insight hybrid test drive is the acceleration experience. The Honda Insight actualizes the feeling of running slowly in place in one's dreams. This is an uncomfortable position to be in if driving on the highway with an 18-wheeler barreling down on your car. Unlike gas-powered cars or electric cars, the hybrid Insight had slow-to-limited acceleration off of a standstill position. Then engine felts labored tackling even the smallest of hills and seems to continuously drive with the tachometer in the 4- to 5000 rpm range. The sales personnel at the Honda dealership indicated that the engines continuously variable transmission is engineered to find the most efficient of gears for the driving experience, but I doubt even the greenest eco-consumer would find this appealing. The small 1.3L, 4-cylinder engine may need some upward sizing to better manage the experience.

The 2010 Insight's hybrid powertrain cannot start-up from a standstill on electric power alone. This is a big detraction for the Insight when compared to the Toyota Prius or Ford hybrid vehicles which can start on electric alone. Stepping on the pedal at a standstill creates an akward gas golfcart feeling and the engine seems to sputter, but it's actually getting started.

The car did have a comfortable turning radius and well-designed telescoping steering wheel. As well, the hybrid car's suspension was very satisfactory. Similar to the technology used in electric cars, the braking system regenerates the battery as the car decelerates. This feature does make fast stops seem particularly sharp and requires the driver to anticipate slowing down for the best mpg performance. Also comparable to electric cars, the vehicle either feels like it is in a accelerating or deceleration mode so that it is always recycling energy from the engine (in the case of gas to electric battery) or braking system.

Body style

Honda Insight Hybrid ReviewBorrowing a bit from the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight has taken and improved upon the prevailing ugly duckling feel of current popular hybrids on the market. Honda Motor seems to have approached the auto styling and design with the intent to keep this model among the pack, instead of becoming a standout. It looks like a Honda Accord from the front, but a bit smaller and carrying a little edge. Any mainstream American consumer would be proud to own the Insight and few neighbors may even know it is an electric gas hybrid vehicle unless viewing the car from the rear view, which showcases a tinted window that adds a bit of styling to the overall feel of the hybrid car.

The side appearance is all Honda with better door handles and nice-looking wheels at either model standard. This is a vast departure and entirely different vehicle from Honda's former model named the Insight.

Interior styling

One of the most appealing features of the Honda Insight is that the hybrid car's rear exterior styling benefits the rear-view vision of the driver. Looking through the rearview mirror makes the interior of the car feel like there is a large sunroof inside the cabin.

Honda Insight InteriorThe driver's seat is very comfortable with lots of legroom, despite the sedan's overall size. The dashboard does find a way to confuse the driver with a feeling that at any moment one could be catapulted into a NASA space pioneer program. There seems to be too many bells and whistles. The Eco Assist feature is positioned in the middle of the driver's direct vantage point, with the speedometer playing second fiddle. It is absent among the glitz of the glowing dash and appears on top of the dashboard above the Eco Assist system. Depending on driver seating position, the speedometer may feel hidden behind the telescoping steering wheel. The rest of the dash is also a blur of bright lights, big city- this from someone who lives in one of the US' biggest cities.

The seating arrangement in the Honda Insight was very comfortable. Even the rear seating area provided sufficient legroom for the average passenger. There was ample trunk room space for most daily errands and the rear seats conveniently fold forward should there be a need for hauling larger items. One oddity is that the battery cooling fan is located at the top of the rear seating area, next to passengers.

In terms of upgrade features from the LX, or base model, to the EX, the center console armrest and 15-inch alloy wheels (versus standard) and traction control does not seem to win one over. However, ifa leather interior is required, the only model available is the EX.

Car-seat Testing

Subcompact sedans and car seats are definitively in an ongoing wrestling match. The Insight allowed us to install each of the two car seats in under four minutes per seat. However, it is clear that a third passenger in the rear would be very uncomfortable in the space remaining next to two car seats. If the car seats were placed behind each of the front seats, it's doubtful that a third passenger could fit at all in the middle.

Safety

The Honda Insight stands apart from other hybrids and most autos in general in its class in terms of safety. The Honda Insight has garnered a 5 rating in the NHTSA front driver crash test and compares equally to the Toyota Prius with its 4 rating earned front passenger crash test.

Batteries

The Honda Insight's 2010 flat nickel-metal-hydride battery pack sits under batteries located below the trunk space area. The battery holds 0.58 kilowatt-hour of energy—just slightly less than half the 1.3 kilowatt-hours of the current Toyota Prius. The Insight battery is recharged with both spare engine power and regenerative braking, and its accelerator connects to an electronic sensor rather than a cable, also known as “drive-by-wire." Batteries carry and eight-year warranty, with replacement costs are currently estimated at $3,000, down from $5,000 from a few years ago.

Overall Driving Impressions

Honda Insight's 2010 hybrid leaves me scratching my head. A good deal of hard work and energy went into this car, but the continuously variable transmission seems to disappoint just when the gas and electric features of the hybrid should wow. As well, the driving experience seems distracting with the Eco Assist dashboard that keeps the driver looking down to find out how efficiently the hybrid is motoring along the road.

Honda Insight Test Drive

The Honda Insight is a great option for consumers interested in improving gas efficiency and like the idea of a hybrid car. However, if consumers can wait a year or two for other hybrid and electric compact sedans hitting the marketplace, there will likely be better alternatives to the Insight.

Availability

The 2010 Honda Insights are available at local dealerships nationwide.

Price, Fill-Up Costs and the Lot

The Insight retails for under $19,700, nearly $2,000 less than the Toyota Prius, but with a smaller engine to consider. Most test driving experiences are markedly above the 40/43 city/highway mpg reflected on the window sticker, with annual electric charging costs at about three cents per mile. There is an attractive 3-year /36k mile basic warranty and a 5-year/ 60k mile powertrain warranty. Honda does offer a 8-year/100k warranty on the battery, providing consumers with additional replacement peace of mind.

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