We ran the Insight twice in our usual test loop. When we drove with a lead foot, we got a very modest 38.8 miles per gallon. On the second slow and steady run, we easily managed 51.2 mpg.
The new Honda Insight is being billed as the Prius-fighter. Living up to that expectation will depend on real-life numbers that drivers start to post. The 2010 Honda Insight went on sale in March with an MSRP of $19,800—so it won’t be long before new owners start reporting their first tank or two.
We recently put the Insight to the test on our usual 114-mile driving loop to measure efficiency and overall functionality. Official EPA ratings for the Honda Insight—powered by an 88-horsepower 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine combined with a 13-horsepower electric motor—are 40 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. As we reported in February, several auto journalists trying to max out on mileage broke the 60-mpg mark.
As usual, we ran our test loop—a mix of highway, city, and country roads—twice to get a top and bottom end to the vehicle’s fuel economy range. Our first run—in which we drove like the typical oblivious lead-footed late-for-everything driver—produced a very modest 38.8 miles per gallon, just under the city EPA number. Not bad when you’re accelerating hard off the line, and passing consistently on the left.
On the second run, we chilled out. The name of the game was ‘slow and steady.’ We also utilized the ‘ECON’ button that softens the throttle and modifies the CVT’s shift points. This feature also cycles down the air-conditioning compressor for further frugality, but we kept the AC turned off for good measure. The result, in this case, was a very thrifty 51.2 miles per gallon—well above EPA highway numbers.
Based on this experience, we believe that the new Insight will be able to compete on mileage quite well with the second-generation Prius—but we expect the new third-generation 2010 Toyota Prius to have the upper hand on fuel efficiency. In real world conditions, we wouldn’t be surprised if the new Prius beats the Honda Insight’s numbers by 10 to 20 percent. Let’s not forget that consumers will usually pay a few thousand dollars more for the privilege, and for the Prius’s extra size. The Prius is classified as a midsize sedan, while the Honda Insight is a compact.
Despite the small platform, the Insight feels spacious, airy, and somewhat futuristic. Like the Honda Civic, there’s plenty of forward space and a clean, multi-level dash. The seats are well positioned and covered in a soft eco-friendly cloth.
The rear seat of the Insight is adequate and offers a 60/40 split fold—not found in the Honda Civic Hybrid. Cargo room is also sufficient—maybe not for a family of four, but certainly for a couple taking a road trip. There is access to the cargo area granted by a rear hatch, featuring a dual glass panel. The problem with this design is that the glass is divided at a point that obstructs the rear-view—a common complaint for Prius drivers as well.
The Insight drives quite differently than the Prius. The Insight had a little bit of a buzziness from the engine during periods of stronger acceleration. Handling wise, the Insight leans more toward its cousin, the Honda Fit—which is to say, it is more nimble and responsive than the Prius. But its ride is not as soft and comfortable, nor does it feel as solid as the Prius. Also, with the Insight, the transition from gas to electric and back did not feel as smooth or seamless as the Prius’s.
Despite any misgivings with the new Honda Insight, hybrid fans should celebrate the introduction of a viable alternative to the Toyota Prius. Though it may fall slightly short in a few areas versus the Prius, money talks (and you-know-what walks). Again, the Insight could run about $3,000 less than the Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid. For about $20,000, you could drive away with a well-built and reliable Honda Hybrid that, if driven carefully, can go almost (or even more than) 50 miles on a single gallon of gas.
If you’re thinking about buying a hybrid, test-driving the Honda Insight is a must.