Green Test Drive: Honda Insight delivers hybrid technology with a lower price tag | KEYE Austin - Green Right Now Austin News, Weather, Traffic KEYE-TV Austin - HOME
Aug 032009

By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

Gee-whiz technology always starts out expensive. Graying boomers can remember paying $400 for a VCR. That first DVD player probably set you back $600. Now you can buy one at a grocery store for less than $40.

The 2010 Honda Insight is no $40 DVD player, but it proves the point: costly technology eventually becomes affordable. The starting sticker price of the Insight LX, the most basic of the three trim levels available, is $19,800. The MSRP for the top-of-the-line Insight EX with navigation system is $23,100 plus $670 destination and handling fees.

That makes the Honda Insight a couple grand cheaper than its look-alike competitor, the Toyota Prius, and the cheapest gasoline-hybrid now on the market.

Add that lower sticker price to 40-plus miles per gallon and you have a pretty economical economy car. The car tested got 41.8 mpg during a week of mixed driving, including a few episodes of harsh acceleration.

This edition of the Honda Insight has little in common with the car originally bearing the name, introduced as America’s first mass-produced hybrid car in December 1999 and later discontinued. This edition maintains fuel efficiency while adding comfort and practicality.

The car’s cabin contains the typical Honda ergonomic genius. Everything is laid out just so with the only minor gripe that the driver has to reach around the gearshift to get to the cup holder. The set up could make bringing a Venti Americano from holder to lips a bit tricky.

It’s easy to find a comfortable driver position thanks to a height-adjustable seat and telescoping steering column. The driver and front passenger will find plenty of legroom. Legroom for two rear seat riders is decent. The back seat is too narrow for three average size adults, however.

The cargo area accessible through the hatchback is surprisingly roomy and the fold-down rear seats add hauling flexibility.

The Insight is powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor AssistTM system that pairs an 88-horsepower 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 10-kilowatt electric motor that adds 13 horsepower. In this case 88 and 13 adds up to 98 horsepower for the combination.

That sounds slower than it is. Acceleration is good enough to merge into heavy freeway traffic if you’re at all paying attention. But don’t try to pass any tractor-trailer rigs when going up hill. And, as you might expect, the tiny engine complains loudly when forced to work hard.

The continuously variable automatic transmission is smooth and efficient.

But the people who drive this car are the sort of people who avoid jackrabbit starts anyway. And the Insight’s behavior modification will alter that habit if you have it. The Insight has a digital speedometer display that changes background color according to the fuel efficiency of your driving style. On this dash, green equals good. Blue is bad. Punch the pedal, the light goes dark blue. Use a feather touch, the light stays green.

As is the industry standard these days, even the base trim of the Insight comes with a long list of features: automatic climate control, power windows, a four-speaker AM/FM audio system with CD player and iPod jack and an array of airbags. The Insight EX adds electronic stability control, cruise control and an upgraded audio system with six speakers.

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