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Second-generation Honda Insight praised for fuel economy

2010 Honda Insight

ted laturnus The Globe and Mail

The first Honda Insight hybrid was introduced in 2000 and, due to falling sales and lack of consumer interest, discontinued six years later. Not taking no for an answer, the company introduced its second-generation Insight hybrid in 2009 as a 2010 model. Fittingly, it hit the market on Earth Day.

Priced below both the Civic Hybrid and popular Toyota Prius, it was aimed squarely at first-timers and buyers under 35.

The reason for the new model? The number of hybrid products on the market was now six times greater than it was when Honda introduced its original Insight. Put another way, there were 38 times as many of them on the roads, and Honda wanted to attract younger buyers.

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With technology fundamentally similar to that found in the current Civic Hybrid, the new Insight yielded fuel consumption of 4.8 L/100 km in town and a miserly 4.5 on the highway. These were slightly better numbers than the Toyota Prius and only marginally inferior to those delivered by the first-generation Insight.

Like the Civic and its predecessor, the new Insight featured a compact electric motor sandwiched between the vehicle's internal combustion engine and a gearless CVT transmisison. The engine displaced 1.3 litres and the electric motor developed 10 kilowatts. Together they generated some 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque.

The engine also featured Honda's i-VTEC variable valve technology, drive-by-wire throttle and was virtually identical to that found in the Civic Hybrid, if a smidgeon less powerful. It was purpose-built just for hybrid drivetrains and was what Honda called a "low friction" powerplant. Total output for the nickel metal hydride battery pack was 128 volts, and Honda claimed it'd last for 15 years or 240,000 kilometres – whichever came first.

Behind the wheel, instrumentation consisted of a "two-tier" instrument panel and multi-information display. An eye-shaped nacelle above the tachometer and IMA readout displays vehicle speed with a tri-colour background that shows you at a glance if you're driving sensibly and gleaning maximum mileage from the drivetrain. Optimum fuel economy gives the display a green background, while "somewhat less than efficient" shows light blue, and inefficient driving behaviour shows dark blue. Like all good hybrid vehicles, the new Insight has regenerative braking that harvests electrical power during deceleration.

But that's not all. An "Econ" switch located on the left side of the dash allows the driver to choose driving modes, and the multi-information display also has a cute little "tree" graphic that "scores" driving performance.

The economy mode harmonizes the engine, electric motor and transmission, as well as reducing the time the air conditioner operates, while controlling the idle time of the engine when the car stops. To wring the best fuel economy out of the entire system, the driver needs to be in "green" mode, with all the "leaves" of the tree in place, and the system is designed to allow drivers to closely monitor their performance. According to Honda, the whole idea was to encourage drivers to take an interest in developing fuel-efficient driving habits over the long term.

The second-generation Honda Insight came in two trim levels: LX and EX. Most of the usual modcons – power windows, etc. – were standard with the LX, and the EX featured extras such as a navigation system, steering-wheel-located paddle shifters, Bluetooth capability, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and lightweight alloy wheels.

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No safety recalls to report, either from Transport Canada or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, NHTSA has four technical service bulletins on file for the 2010 Insight. These include loose roof moldings and the all-pervasive issue of tail-light lenses fogging up.

Consumer Reports is kind of guarded in its praise of the second-generation Insight. While giving it a "better than average" used car prediction, it feels that both the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius are superior in terms of refinement. Says C.R.: "we found it far inferior to the Toyota Prius: noisy and stiff riding with so-so handling." Owners seem to disagree, however. Some comments: "Would buy another," "the torque of the electric motor is a real kick" and "I do not regret my purchase." The car's excellent fuel economy is universally praised.

A mixed bag from market research firm J.D. Power. While this organization praises the Insight's overall mechanical quality, it gives it a "fail" for features and accessories quality and average marks for performance.

From an original base price just a shade under $24,000, the Honda Insight has fared well. Prices seem to range from the mid to high teens and, for once, the Canadian Red Book and Black Book appear to be in agreement. The better-equipped EX seems to be fetching about $2,000-$,3000 more than the base LX.

Tech specs: 2010 Honda Insight

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Original Base Price: $23,900; Black Book: $16,675-$17,800; Red Book: $16,775-$19,700

Engine: 1.3-litre four-cylinder with 10-kilowatt electric motor

Horsepower/Torque: 98 hp/123 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 4.8 city/4.5 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid

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