When TheCarConnection.com took our first drive of the 2010 Honda Insight late last year, we predicted that despite the Insight's relatively simple mild hybrid system, "In the real world, nearly all owners are likely to see results above 40 mpg, no matter what type of driving."
After a follow-up drive, we're sticking to that; most people will meet or exceed the Insight's EPA estimates of 40 mpg city, 43 highway. Over a week and more than 200 miles—most of it in Eco Mode, but driving the Insight like any other vehicle—we averaged 45 mpg. That's even higher than the 44 mpg we saw on a smaller loop of two-laners in suburban driving near Phoenix, and it's important to note that there were plenty of cold starts and hot-weather A/C use included. Provided you're not too much of a hotfoot and you keep that green Eco Mode button on the dash engaged, you'll see 40.
The 2010 Honda Insight has a bit of a split driving personality; depending on what type of driver you are, you might call it refined or raucous, responsive or downright sluggish—and a lot of it depends on which mode you're in and whether you're willing to use the steering-wheel paddle-shifters. In Eco Mode, the throttle response is almost ridiculously muted, giving it an odd, rubber-band feel—thanks to a combination of CVT indecisiveness and hybrid-system delay. The engine gets a bit coarse when you push it, and in Eco the Insight has all the performance character of an automatic Chevette. If you plan to drive the Insight in a spirited fashion, you might actually get slightly worse mileage in Eco than in Normal, simply because you'll catch yourself overcompensating with your right foot.
There's a simple remedy here: If you're in a hilly area or need the power, use Normal mode and the car feels a lot perkier; this is a car where the paddle shifters are a surprise but actually very useful on mountain roads to avoid frustration. The Insight's steering feel stays very light, but its handling is nevertheless quite confident and almost nimble.
As for that split personality again, the Insight's powertrain feels settled and remarkably quiet and refined at a steady 70 mph.
With a little patience, Eco Mode rewards you with improved mileage, and it also affects a host of variables including air conditioning compressor operation. The latter was noticed when, in 87-degree temps outside, the A/C couldn't keep up in Eco Mode, but switching back to normal brought the cabin temp quickly back within range. We also noticed that the cruise control, when set to 60 mph on a two-laner, would let our speed drop down to the 40s on moderate grades.
Then we had to see how frugal the 2010 Insight is when you really baby it. Over a 38-mile loop that this tester has used before with many high-fuel-economy vehicles—mostly suburban stoplights-and-boulevards, but with a stretch of Interstate driving and a low-speed urban portion—TheCarConnection.com averaged more than 57 miles per gallon. That wasn't from hypermiling techniques or blocking traffic, just by turning off the A/C and accelerating very gently while observing the Eco Assist features in the gauge cluster.
Our test Insight included the optional navigation system, which integrates sound-system functions with good functionality and a high-contrast touch-screen, but we found it odd that the Insight's system lacked live-traffic info or the potential for it—seemingly a must-have for big-city-commuter hybrid drivers. Other nits included the lack of a way for the passenger to pair phones while the vehicle was moving, along with the clunky voice-driven way in which the driver must pair phones.