Our Ã¢â‚¬Å“DrivenÃ¢â‚¬Â series highlights the several cars I was able to sample at IMPAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Spring Brake 2009 event. These short takes are summaries of my driving impressions of the cars on the roads surrounding Bear Mountain State Park in Rockland County, New York.
The calling card for Honda’s new Insight is that this is a hybrid car for everyone. Taken at face value, that’s a vague statement, so let’s distill what Honda is really telling buyers.
Let’s start with the looks. The body is aerodynamic to maximize fuel efficiency, yet the Insight doesn’t look like it has landed here from another dimension. Simply put, the styling is Ã‚Â quite user-friendly. I’ve seen a few Insights in person, but I thought the car I drove in a metallic grey (to match the grill, which is grey regardless of color) looked smart.
Inside, the Insight is easy to get used to, and is a car you can just hop in and drive away-no real surprise, coming from Honda. This is a departure from Toyota’s Prius, which has a futuristic appearance. As comfortable and simple as the cabin was, I thought the interior was a little drab and uninteresting.
In price, the Honda Insight has the distinction of costing less than a Prius, which is a major plus. While the Toyota does get better mileage, it could take a little time with your calculator to determine how long it would take for the Prius’ better fuel economy to compensate the higher purchase price.
But how is the Insight to drive? In a word…nice. I had to remind myself of Honda’s mission-a hybrid for everyone. The Insight handles and drives like a normal car. In normal mode, you don’t sense at all that you are driving a hybrid. The Insight is not quick, but not so slow that it can’t get you out of harm’s way. At higher revs I found the 1.3 liter four not as smooth as I’ve come to expect from Honda. The Insight’s only available transmission is a CVT, the best choice for fuel economy. Even so, this is a transmission I cannot warm up to. On the EX model I drove, you do have shift paddles to recreate ‘stepped’ gears, in a sense, but to me this seemed to run counter to the Insight’s mission.
Handling, steering and braking were all adequate, but again, the Insight is meant for a broad group of buyers. If you were hoping for the handling of a sports sedan, look elsewhere. The car is by no means sloppy, and in most normal driving situations the Insight should do great.
Putting the Insight into Econ mode alters the car’s personality slightly. The climate control’s effectiveness is reduced (something I noticed at it was nearly 90 degrees in NY that day). Throttle response is not as sharp. But Econ mode is as it suggests-the car adjusts itself to maximize fuel economy. In normal cruising you would be pressed to spot the difference, but in the twisting, undulating roads I was driving on, the changes were more pronounced.
If it sounds like the Insight is a bore to drive, it actually isn’t. For the car guy, or gamer in you, the Insight is engaging on a different level. You have the ability to scroll through different screens to track, and even score how economically you drive the Insight. The reward is not in how fast you go or carve a corner, it is seeing a difference in your economy, or how “well” you are driving the Insight.
With the Insight, Honda has created a hybrid that should appeal to a large group of buyers who may have been turned off the by how different the Prius is. Still, I came away from the Insight wishing it had a little more verve and style like the smaller, more inexpensive Fit.