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The 2011 Honda Insight has a silhouette looking a lot like that of the Toyota Prius. That's no mistake; it's the shape carved to cut through the air with the least resistance.
Yet the design allows hatchback practicality, and Honda manages to incorporate an impressive degree of design detail for such a low-priced vehicle. A Civic-influenced, two-tier, two-tone instrument panel greets you inside, and is 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, rather than in the center.
The underpinnings of the 2011 Honda Insight are all familiar: It essentially takes the front end of the Honda Fit hatchback and mates it with the Honda Civic Hybrid's version of Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), a mild-hybrid system that features a 1.3-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine, supplemented with an electric motor system and together making 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The hybrid system captures energy during deceleration and braking and helps it out when accelerating.
Altogether, the powertrain feels more eager than that of the Prius, but not quite on the level of the 'normal' powertrain in the Honda Civic. Thanks to the IMA system, there's plenty of torque to take off quickly from stoplights, along with good power for passing. The Insight isn't a truly sporty car, but eco-minded drivers encountering a curvy road will be pleased with the way the 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.
The 2011 Honda Insight might be a little lower and more rakish than other small cars, but aside from tight rear headroom it offers good comfort. The Insight's front seats are a little short and flat, but they're covered with a nice, meshy fabric that's grippy and comfortable and there's plenty of headroom. Unfortunately, behind the front seats, it's not quite as perfect; the backseat can fit three kids across, or two adults, but headroom is very tight due to the sloping roofline.
Interior appointments in the Insight are about on par with those in Honda's other small cars—which is to say, there aren't a lot of soft-touch surfaces, but it feels tightly assembled and the dash and doors have nicely grained plastics. 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.
Slotting below the Insight LX, the base Insight is new this year, at $18,950, and includes remote entry, automatic climate control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows and locks, and a two-speaker CD sound system. LX and EX models add more conveniences, and on the top EX model you can upgrade to a 6.5-inch navigation system with voice recognition, bundled with Bluetooth hands-free calling.
- Decent handling and maneuverability
- Smooth, refined ride
- Nice design details
- Great fuel economy
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- Tight rear headroom
- Shallow cargo space
- Bluetooth only offered on top EX, with nav