Along for a drive in the Honda 2010 Insight

Along for the drive in Kirkland…

At the turn of the century when Honda introduced the first generation Insight, I found the hybrid to be an odd-shaped vehicle with seating for two and very limited cargo space.

I’m happy to report that it’s out with the old weird hybrid and in with a brandy-dandy new version when Honda appropriately selected Earth Day on April 22 to introduce the all-new 2010 Insight to customers in their showrooms. The 2010 Insight allows the consumer to hold on to some green while driving a green machine because Honda’s aim is to make the vehicle the lowest-priced hybrid in America while teaching the driver energy saving techniques.

The new Insight is an entirely new vehicle bearing no resemblance to the two-door coupe with the same name that was first sold as a 2000 model and was offered through 2006. The 2010 Insight is a four-door dedicated hybrid, which means it is only offered with a hybrid power train. It looks very Toyota Prius-like with a shape designed to cut through the air with least resistance – thus saving gasoline.

The 2010 Honda Insight is available in two trims – the LX and EX. The LX is the entry-level model featuring cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, a multi-information display, and a 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers. The EX has a lot of extra equipment including steering-wheel paddle shifter, cruise control, heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, alloy wheels, a stereo system with two additional speakers and MP3 compatibility, and fog lamps. Options on the EX include a navigation system and Bluetooth hand-free interface.

Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system is the heart of the Insight power train, coupling the gasoline engine with an electric motor. Although the engine alone provides sufficient driving performance, when additional power is required, a permanent-magnet electric motor mounted between the engine and transmission provides power assist. The 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. Combined output with the electric motor is 98 horsepower and 123 lb-feet of torque.

The 2010 Insight is rated at 40 mpg city and 43 mpg highway, but drivers are can get better mileage using the Ecological Drive Assist system, which encourages and teaches efficient driving techniques. By activating the ECON button on the dash, the vehicle’s overall energy use is minimized for increased fuel efficiency. A guidance function actually shows a green color on the background of the speedometer when ideal fuel economy is being attained. An energy flow screen shows when the motor is assisting the engine or powering the car, when gasoline is used, and when the engine is charging the battery. Another screen provides feedback on braking and acceleration techniques.

The EcoAssist system also has a scoring function that shows fuel economy estimates on a bar graph for the current trip and your last three trips. Another screen grows leaves that become flowers as you drive more efficiently. It’s like playing a video game while you drive! While the EcoAssist system is excellent at teaching efficient driving techniques, it can be a distraction. I would recommend that you read up on it first and begin using it in lighter traffic — always keeping your eyes on the road.

Inside, the 2010 Honda Insight a two-tiered, two-tone instrument panel is located far forward to give a spacious feel for the front seat passengers. After I got the steering wheel adjusted so I could see the speedometer, all the controls were easy to read. The seating up front is comfortable. The backseat can fit three small people or two adults. The headroom is limited. The 60/40 split backseats don’t quite fold flat.

I was very impressed with the Insight EX that I tested. Priced at $21,970, Honda has made the hybrid technology affordable and a fun drive.