2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2010 Honda Insight

North Vancouver, British Columbia – I would certainly agree with Autos reviewer Haney Louka that a VW Golf TDI is more fun to drive than a Honda Insight hybrid is – and it can deliver equally good real-world fuel economy for about the same selling price.

On the other hand, not everybody wants a diesel, and the Insight is a perfectly good commuter car, even if it isn’t a “responsive performer”. As much as auto writers like Haney and I don’t like to admit it, the majority of Canadian drivers just want an affordable car that gets them from Point A to Point B in comfort and safety without using a lot of fuel. Most commuters just want a smooth ride, a comfortable seat, a good heater, a quiet cabin and a car that doesn’t break down. Yes, boring can be beautiful.

2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX. Click image to enlarge

Haney quite rightly points out that the Insight’s fuel consumption is not as good as its official Energuide ratings – but then neither is that of most cars. It’s possible to average as low as 5.0 L/100 km in the Insight under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, the Insight’s fuel economy seems more sensitive to “circumstances” than a VW Golf TDI – in other words, it varies more depending on driving conditions. For example, last week I drove in a variety of conditions and observed the onboard fuel consumption readout as I drove. In ‘Econ’ mode on level pavement in a mix of city and freeway driving at speeds up to 100 km/h, the Insight achieved a commendable 5.1 L/100 km. And in steady state driving at 50 km/h on flat roads around town, the Insight used only 4.0 L/100 km, and as little as 0 L/100 km when coasting downhill. Moderate acceleration from a traffic light boosts fuel consumption temporarily to over 12 L/100 km (the instant fuel consumption display doesn’t read over 12 L/100 km) which averages things out.

However, I found that average fuel economy deteriorates when driving multiple short trips in poor weather in hilly areas (like to the school, grocery store and restaurant in short hops). If the engine hasn’t warmed up properly and the battery isn’t fully charged, the engine won’t stop automatically at traffic lights – and turning on the heater, wipers, lights, radio makes it even less likely that the engine will stop. Driving in hilly areas where it’s necessary to accelerate up hills and coast downhill seems to use more fuel on average than driving around in flat country. In the cold, wet, hilly urban conditions where I live, my Insight averaged about 6.8 L/100 km. That’s still pretty good for a four-door compact car, but it may disappoint some drivers who expected better.

2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX. Click image to enlarge

The Insight does offer more throttle response with the Econ mode turned off, and the EX model features an ‘S’ (Sport) mode in the shift pattern and paddle shifters behind the steering wheel that simulates a seven-speed sequential manual transmission. This adds to the fun-to-drive quotient but doesn’t really help the handling or braking, and kind of defeats the purpose of owning a gas-sipping hybrid. Incidentally, pulling on both shift paddles creates a low gear for low-speed driving.

As Haney pointed out, the Insight’s steering is more precise than the Prius’ and the turning circle is tight for easy manoeuvring and parking. The driver’s visibility is good all around, particularly at the rear where there is an additional vertical rear window that allows the driver to see the nose of the car behind when backing into a parking space. The top rear window includes a wiper and washer, but I didn’t like the fact that it activates whenever the transmission is put into Reverse, often scraping the dry window.

2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX. Click image to enlarge

Though smaller than the Toyota Prius, the Insight has sufficient front and rear legroom for average-size adults, but rear headroom is iffy for adult rear passengers over 5’ 9”. The Insight’s rear cargo area is roomy and the rear hatch lifts up easily, supported by struts. Split folding rear seats increase the cargo area substantially.

The design of the instruments and controls is a bit bizarre – the backlighting in the upper digital speedo varies from green to blue depending on how economical your driving style is, and the digital display under the tachometer rewards you with more trees and leaves the more frugal your driving style is. This display can be toggled between different screens, including one that shows you average and instant fuel consumption, a graphic that shows when the engine and battery are powering the drive wheels, and another that indicates when your acceleration is excessive.

The automatic climate control controls are easy to reach but they are divided between an upper push-button setup for fan speed, ventilation choices, and temperature display; and a lower round dial for temperature adjustment, defroster, and recirculation.

When not being used for navigation purposes, the centre touch-screen can show a large clock, or audio settings, or system settings. Unlike Haney Louka, I didn’t find the navigation graphics rudimentary and the input instructions for destination seemed quite user-friendly to me. To save dash space, the CD player and navigation DVD slot are hidden behind the screen which flips up with the press of a button. Controls for the Bluetooth hands-free phone use are found on the steering wheel hub.

2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX
2010 Honda Insight EX. Click image to enlarge

Storage areas are numerous including an open bin under the dash with removeable dividers and a centre bin with an armrest. 12-volt and auxiliary inputs can be found under the open bin and an iPod connector in the centre storage bin. I was intrigued by the small bin with a flip-down lid under the navigation screen – it seems to be designed for a purpose but I’m not sure what it is.

If you’re looking for a four-door, four-passenger hatchback commuter car with a well-equipped cabin, a good-sized trunk, a comfortable ride, adequate but not exciting performance, and fuel economy in the 5.0 to 7.0 L/100 km range, the Insight Hybrid may just tweak your practical urges – if not your passionate ones. The Insight EX’s major drawback may be its price: its MSRP of $27,500 seems high when a Honda Fit Sport offers similar fuel economy, interior room, features and better driving dynamics for just over $20,000.

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