First Drive: 2010 Honda Insight

January 9, 2009

Hypermiling champ Wayne Gerdes (of took the new 2010 Honda Insight out on a 16-mile driving loop and checked in after a first run with more than 70 mpg on the trip computer.To those who don't know hypermiling, it's a set of driving practices that, if followed, will almost certainly provide a big boost to your fuel economy. Some of these practices—like drafting semis—are downright dangerous to you and to other drivers, but others like conserving momentum, avoiding prolonged idling, and turning accessories off unless you need them are smart for all of us.

Even using the sometimes-counterintuitive, gas-saving hybrid driving techniques that hybrid fans have introduced me to—including, ahem, pulse and glide but avoiding the extreme techniques that might clog traffic and incite road rage—I returned 64.5 mpg in that same loop. A couple of others on the media event we attended were into the high 60s, and just about everyone got more than 60 mpg.

In the real world, nearly all owners are likely to see results above 40 mpg, no matter what type of driving. On a longer driving loop earlier in the day that included rural two-lanes, plenty of suburban stoplights, and some 70-mph cruising, in a style of driving aimed at staying with the flow of traffic (along with a couple of full-throttle runs)—and not always using the new ECON button, which we'll explain later—we still averaged 44 mpg.

Not bad, eh, for a car that bears EPA fuel economy figures of just 40 city, 43 highway?!

That's right, the new 2010 Honda Insight actually has a lower overall mpg rating than the Civic Hybrid's 40 mpg city, 45 highway, and the EPA rating might prove a slight hurdle. To shoppers who look at those big numbers on the window sticker, the Insight's 40-mpg city rating is also much less impressive than the 48 mpg the Toyota Prius gets. But beware, in real world driving, the new Honda Insight will likely get better mileage than the Prius; in our last spin in a Prius Touring, we saw around 42 mpg overall in similar driving.

The new Insight does away with the impractical two-door coupe design (and vulnerable feeling) of its forebear and instead has four doors, space for five (in theory), and a shape that's...well...very Prius-like. At first glance, the Insight's profile looks a lot like that of the Prius. But that's not necessarily the intent. According to company officials, the shape was chosen for optimal aerodynamics while also considering functionality. The Insight also does better with the details than the Prius; the snout bears hints of the new corporate look, with slim, well-detailed projector-beam headlamps and distinctive LED lamps in back. Smooth lift-up door handles are a nice break from the chunky, trucky ones that have become expected even on small cars. And the CRX-style window in back serves a real role in aiding visibility.

While the profiles are similar, much of the rest is different. The 2010 Honda Insight has a shorter wheelbase while the Prius has its wheels places more outward. The Prius (and the Civic Hybrid) has a wheelbase of more than 106 inches—nearly six inches longer than the Insight's 100.4-inch wheelbase. The Prius is about three inches longer than the Insight, and just an inch wider, but it's 2.5 inches higher—mainly the product of a lower roofline.

If you do happen to be cross shopping the insight and the Prius, headroom and legroom are good in front, with the instrument panel quite far forward and a nice driving position, with the low front beltline much appreciated as it is in the Fit. But the roofline slopes down just enough in back to severely limit back-seat headroom for average-height American men. Trust us here, the extra couple of inches in the Prius could save some neck cramps for taller back-seat passengers.

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