- Great real-world fuel economy
- Responsive powertrain
- Decent handling and maneuverability
- Design details of a more expensive vehicle
- Rear headroom is tight
- Shallow cargo space
- Stability control (VSA) not offered on base LX model
For those who want to be seen in a smart, high-mileage hybrid but prefer to pinch pennies at the dealership, the 2010 Honda Insight is the way to go.
The Insight is an entirely new vehicle for 2010 and bears no relation to the two-door coupe of the same name, which was discontinued after 2006. Like the Toyota Prius, the 2010 Honda Insight is a dedicated hybrid vehicle, meaning it has a unique look and is only offered with a hybrid powertrain, with space for five. While Toyota attracts affluent, environmentally conscious families with its Prius, which has become more luxurious and feature-laden in recent years, Honda aims the Insight primarily at younger, budget-conscious customers who want to make an environmental statement and cut their fuel consumption.
It's immediately apparent that the 2010 Honda Insight worships wind tunnels, with a shape that looks carved to cut through the air with the least resistance. Yet the silhouette allows a hatchback practicality, and Honda manages to incorporate an impressive degree of design detail for such a low-priced vehicle. The thin projector-beam headlamps are a distinctive break from the large, overwrought designs of recent years, and the front grille is complex but simpler than what we've seen in Honda's larger vehicles like the Pilot SUV. Also, distinctive LED taillamps adorn the rear, and at the back is a tinted window that plays a styling role and allows improved visibility for the driver. Smooth lift-up door handles are a nice alternative to the chunky, trucky versions expected even on small cars.
Inside, the 2010 Honda Insight also shifts from the small-car mold, with a two-tiered, two-tone instrument panel situated quite far forward to permit a spacious feel for those in front. Center-stack controls—except for the sound system and nav display—are angled toward the driver, and climate controls are similar to those in the Fit, centered in their own round area just to the right of the steering wheel. And the seats have a nice, meshy fabric that's grippy and comfortable. Unfortunately, behind the front seats, it's not quite as perfect; the backseat can fit three kids across, or two adults, but headroom is tight. Cargo space is a generous 15.9 cubic feet, but it's quite shallow, and the 60/40-split backseats don't quite fold forward flat.
Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system works with a 1.3-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine, helping it out during acceleration and recharging the battery system during coasting and braking. Altogether, the system produces 123 pound-feet of torque and 98 horsepower. A start/stop system turns off the gasoline engine to save fuel at stoplights. Unlike the system in the Toyota Prius or Ford vehicles, the hybrid powertrain in the 2010 Honda Insight can't start up from a standstill on electric power alone, but it can maintain a 30-mph cruise with solely electric power.
The 2010 Honda Insight is rated at 40 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, although based on TheCarConnection.com's driving experience, owners should have no problem surpassing the ratings in everyday driving. TheCarConnection.com editors returned about 44 mpg just keeping with the flow of traffic in a variety of roads.
The front-wheel-drive Insight is, relative to other hybrids, a joy to pilot. Thanks to the IMA system, there's plenty of torque to take off quickly from stoplights, along with good power for passing. The CVT automatic operates unobtrusively and doesn't hunt around at higher speeds as the Prius's transmission will sometimes do. For those who want to drive the Insight in more spirited fashion, there's a manual mode and steering wheel paddles on the uplevel 2010 Honda Insight EX, simulating seven speeds.
Most will be pleased with the way the 2010 Honda Insight handles. The Insight doesn't change directions as crisply as the Honda Fit, but it feels confident in all but the tightest corners, with unexpected poise in high-speed cruising. Brakes are front disc, rear drum but feel up to the task. Ride quality is good despite the short 100-inch wheelbase, and the interior is quiet and civilized except when mashing the throttle to the floor, which causes the engine to become quite raucous.
If optimal fuel economy is important—and it probably is if you're considering the 2010 Honda Insight—you should be interested in the fancy display interfaces that come standard on the Insight. Eco Assist helps you reach the best mileage by changing the background color of the speedometer from blue to green as efficiency increases, while a bar indicator displays a thinner bar when you're conserving fuel. Meanwhile, Eco Guide keeps tabs on your daily driving, adding flower petals when you're doing well and accumulating a "lifetime score," if you care to play the game. Just to the left of the steering wheel is an Econ button, which engages fuel-conserving modes for a range of vehicle systems, including how the air conditioning and cruise control operate and how often the gasoline engine is shut off.
The 2010 Insight hasn't been crash-tested yet as it's a brand-new design, but most of the items that TheCarConnection.com prefers are standard, including front, front side, and side curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes and active front head restraints. However, electronic stability control—a lifesaving feature that TheCarConnection.com strongly recommends—isn't even optional on the base model. The Insight shares some of its structure with the new 2009 Honda Fit, which has done extraordinarily well for a small car in crash-testing.
The Insight comes in two different trims, and there's a seemingly vast chasm between them in terms of equipment. The 2010 Honda Insight LX weighs in at a remarkably low price, but features like cruise control, stability control, and a nav system aren't even optional. The EX model heaps on the extra equipment, including steering-wheel paddle shifters, VSA, cruise control, a 160-watt AM/FM/CD system with MP3 compatibility, a USB interface, aux inputs, and six speakers, plus a center console with armrest, more storage compartments, fog lamps, heated side mirrors, and alloy wheels—albeit at a higher price that's no longer quite a steal. It also adds a center console with an armrest and storage, map pockets, and interior lights. Major options on the EX include a navigation system with a nice, big screen and a Bluetooth hands-free interface.