The newer, more affordable hybrid from Honda.
Manuel Santos - CleanMPG
- May 26, 2009
2010 Honda Insight EX - $27,500 Canadian ($23,900 for the base model) and 4.8 L/100 km combined per Transport Canada.
Back in 2006 Honda announced that it could make a truly affordable hybrid vehicle at a lower price point than the Civic Hybrid -- one capable of great mileage yet fun to drive. At that time, the announcement went virtually unnoticed... and for good reason. Gas was cheap and large; fuel inefficient vehicles reigned supreme in prime time television advertising.
Honda's foresight proved to be uncannily prescient when in 2008 crude oil reached previously unheard-of prices on the global market. Before the year was out, Honda had already displayed their new hybrid model on the auto show circuit conveniently disguised as a “concept” car.
If you know this company’s history and its founder's DNA, you also know that fuel economy, environmental responsibility, and competitive spirit are much more than simple historic legacy for its engineers. Toyota (widely considered the most successful hybrid vehicle manufacturer) knows this and is taking Honda’s latest salvo very seriously. It is rushing to meet Honda’s new hybrid entry in what appears to be the highest stakes hybrid vehicle battle to date in an all out marketing blitz.
So, we may ask... what is so special about this vehicle? Why has it garnered so much attention from the automotive press and why has it prompted such obvious last minute, strategic adjustments from its main competitor?
Why its low price, of course!
Despite striking similarities to the second generation Toyota Prius,
the 2010 Insight is replete with unique Honda styling cues.
The 2010 Honda Insight is classed as a sub-compact car with 4 doors and a rear hatch arrangement capable of seating 5 passengers (more on this later). Similar to the latest generation Honda Civic Hybrid, it implements key components of Gen IV IMA architecture in order to achieve very respectable fuel economy numbers. To make this new vehicle more affordable than the Civic Hybrid, Honda has re-evaluated all aspects of its latest IMA architecture and selected a configuration which delivers the best efficiency at the lowest possible cost.
In the process of developing the second generation Insight powertrain, Honda's engineers have updated certain items, innovated within others, and left out elements incapable of meeting the targeted price point. Here are the highlights:
- New hybrid instrumentation (ECO Assist). The new presentation of data motivates drivers to drive more efficiently and well within the platform’s most fuel efficient operational zones.
- New PCM (Power train Control Module) programming. With this new programming the vehicle offers a regular operational mode and a more fuel efficient mode that is user selectable via the new ECON button.
- Revised CVT gearing. The new gearing specifically favors more fuel efficient operation in predominantly urban and extra urban setting. Unfortunately, this tuning comes at the expense of efficiency in other settings where the Civic Hybrid excels -- particularly on the highway.
- Updated operational temperature thresholds. These thresholds allow full hybrid functionality to be used earlier in the warm-up cycle, providing a nice boost in fuel economy.
- The third I-VTEC mode has been omitted. Introduced in the 2006 Civic Hybrid, this mode has been removed to reduce complexity and costs.
- Battery pack storage is approximately 100V, using fewer but higher capacity NiMH cells. In comparison to the 158V pack used in the Civic Hybrid, the cost is substantially less and physical dimensions are dramatically reduced. This change has allowed the redesigned power control modules to fit in a much smaller IPU (Intelligent Power Unit) cavity.
- The IPU allows a folding rear seat. With packaging optimizations it became possible to place the IPU at roughly the same level as the fuel tank, which allows the rear seat to fold and reveal a cargo carrying capacity comparable to that found in the Prius II.
- No electric AC. The hybrid AC scroll compressor which provided electric only operation in the Civic Hybrid has been omitted in favor of a more typical belt driven type. This helped lower the battery pack requirements as well as overall platform costs.
- The IMA motor is smaller. The DC brush-less electric motor/stator was downsized to better match the smaller battery pack and is now provides a maximum output of 14hp or 10kw/h. Electric only operation can be sustained in a similar fashion to what is achieved in the second generation Civic Hybrid.
We conducted our in-depth test of a new 2010 Honda Insight EX (with navigation) during the months of April and May and as you may suspect, Spring temperatures here in Canada were not ideal. The vehicle was subjected to 3 distinct types of driving profiles that are generally representative of what most of us do on a regular basis:
- Urban (consisting of frequent stop-n-go driving over short distances)
- Suburban (consisting of low speed urban commuting with some stops)
- Highway (consisting of higher and lower speed, steady state driving with minimal stops)
2010 Honda Insight-II - Testing Methodology
We applied a very basic set of hypermiling principles during testing of the 2010 Honda Insight and with the exception of a few techniques that are part of the advanced toolkit (such as FAS with a cold engine at a stop light). As we wanted to demonstrate what this car is able to achieve in the hands of a good and safe driver, our driving was mainly governed by the posted speed limits and what the built-in instrumentation indicated would produce the best results. To be more specific we followed these very simple but critical rules:
- We never exceeded the posted speed limits.
- Soft glides (throttle pedal induced fuel cut-off, with no electric assist or regeneration) were used often and whenever possible.
- Eco-assist was observed and engine was consistently kept well below 2000 RPM.
- The MID instrumentation was used, often displaying the instantaneous fuel consumption and the power flow diagram.
- Electric assist was actively managed and reduced to the lowest possible levels.
- Regenerative sessions were extended often and as conditions allowed, leading to reduced regenerative rates and prolonged coasting sessions with minimal hydraulic brake use.
2010 Honda Insight-II - Specifications
The Insight-II’s full specifications can be viewed in the 2010 Honda Insight-II (Canadian metric specifications)
2010 Honda Insight-II - Safety Equipment and Crash Test Ratings
- 3-point seat belts with front pretensioners
- 4-wheel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist
- Active front seat head restraints
- Advanced Compatibility EngineeringTM (ACETM) body structure
- Childproof rear door locks
- Dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags (SRS)
- Front side airbags with passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS)
- Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH )
- Side curtain airbags
- Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA®) with Traction Control (on EX model only)
NHTSA Crash test ratings: 5 - 4 - 5 - 4 - 4 Stars.
2010 Honda Insight-II - Driving Impressions
At lower urban speeds the 2010 Insight provides a reasonably comfortable and quiet ride... especially on smoother street surfaces and if driven with an ecologically minded demeanor. Engine noise will increase with more spirited driving -- as is the case in any Honda. However, cultivating good driving habits means you’ll keep the RPM low and as a result rarely find yourself subjected to the engine's high revving noises.
Interior surfaces and styling are well implemented throughout the passenger cabin. The front and rear seating should be adequate for most, though taller passengers should avoid riding in the back for extended periods of time. The driver’s instrumentation is helpful and equally easy on the 3 senses – especially if the driver is already accustomed to the double tiered instrument layout Honda has been using in recent years.
Some will feel the driver’s interface is overly busy, particularly when compared to the more generous flowing dash of the second generation Civic Hybrid. While this is bothersome at first, it quickly becomes a non-issue.
Front passenger room should accommodate just about anyone. Note the rear foot/leg room difference with the driver's seat pulled all the way back while the passenger's front seat is pulled all the way forward.
While on the road, I could not help but notice several attributes which make the 2010 Insight more of an urban vehicle than the Civic Hybrid. Particularly noticeable is the vehicle's perceived eagerness to accelerate -- due in no small part to its lower weight, revised CVT ratios, and an updated PCM (Power Train Control Module) programming.
Honda clearly targeted the Insight II for a specific audience that is more likely to operate this vehicle in an urban/lower speed setting. Our test results indicate it delivers admirable mileage when driven in this setting.
The brake pedal has a very traditional feel -- especially when compared to the Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius. This means that the typical regenerative to hydraulic braking transitions are far less evident and pedal feel is relatively linear throughout its travel.
Steering and maneuvering this vehicle in urban settings is quite easy because of smaller size, and it behaves in a similar fashion to the Civic Hybrid. Steering response is good at highway speeds but it requires a bit of focus from the driver to remain on a straight line. Susceptibility to cross-winds at highway speeds is somewhat higher in the 2010 Insight than we commonly experience on the HCH. In fact, the feeling is strongly reminiscent of the Toyota Prius II in such winds.
Overall outward visibility is quite good for all passengers, and most drivers should not have any complaints in this area once they find a comfortable seating position. The Insight allows for steering wheel (tilt & telescopic) and seat adjustments (vertical & horizontal) that should accommodate nearly anyone, regardless of size or shape.
As is typical of hatchbacks such as the original Honda CRX, the 2000-2006 Insight, and the second generation Prius, rear visibility is somewhat compromised due to a rear split window. In the 2010 Insight however, I find this arrangement to be much less of an issue than it is for drivers of the Prius II; I suspect very few Insight owners will be asking for a rear view camera.
The side mirrors are large enough and when adjusted properly will do a good job of covering the usual blind spots. Front visibility, especially around the thick “A” pillars is similar to what we experience in the Civic Hybrid and the Prius -- they are not overly obtrusive once the driver has become accustomed them.
2010 Honda Insight-II - Good fuel economy is now as simple as pushing a button
In the new Insight almost anyone can achieve good mileage, though there is still a slight learning curve and the driver must be willing to accept a change in his/her driving habits.
However... this learning curve is nowhere as steep or as abstract as what Honda offered in their previous hybrids. The Eco Assist gauge which changes color according to one’s driving inputs and the MID (Multi-Information Display) are really all that you need to begin making the most of this car. You'll need to press the ECON button to make sure all available driver aids are active and actually working for you. Not doing so results in a driving experience almost identical to a current generation Civic Hybrid.
This absolutely does not mean you cannot get good fuel economy with the ECON button turned off! In fact, as long as you do the all the right things at the right times, you will achieve efficiency nearly on par with what is available with the ECON button turned on. Doing so successfully the first time will require the experience of a seasoned IMA hybrid driver, however.
2010 Honda Insight-II - So, what does this ECON button do?
I will not go into technical details in this review but if you wish to learn more I recommend reading Wayne’s preview of the 2010 Insight
. Below you'll find a hybrid owner's perspective on this car’s behavior when driven with a focus on good fuel economy and compared to the Honda Civic hybrid... which by the way, also shares a showroom floor with the Insight at your local dealer.
The first thing you’ll notice is that a green “plant” light is lit up on the driver’s main instrument cluster when the ECON button is depressed. This mode will do several important things:
- When the engine is cold a blue light will appear on the dash and remain there for as long as the vehicle is warming up. However, with the ECON button on, the fuel efficient modes will be activated at lower temperatures to enable greater efficiency during the warm-up process. In comparison to the Honda Civic Hybrid, the full set of hybrid goodies will become available 20-30C earlier when driven in near freezing temperatures.
- Regenerative braking is active until a lower speed. This enables the capture of more energy (10km/h instead of 12km/h on the HCH).
- The engine’s RPM will climb less eagerly in part due to a more conservative PCM programming profile. This makes it quite easy for most drivers to stay in the most efficient RPM ranges.
- Air conditioning is actively suppressed during an auto-stop and its absence is mitigated by "cycling" of the climate control system.
2010 Honda Insight-II - Fuel Economy Results
Observed fuel economy in the city
Unlike previous Honda hybrids, the 2010 Honda Insight incurs a lower penalty when driven in moderate stop and go traffic. There is no question that revised CVT ratios along with specially tuned PCM programming are responsible for enhanced fuel economy performance. With less effort and concentration, I was able to attain results in this type of traffic that would not have been as easy to achieve with the HCH-II. Simply put: in the hands of a new owner, the Insight will be a better performer than its big brother.
However, not everything is good news for the new Insight in this environment -- especially when the stops are longer than the crawls. The Insight’s Auto-stop is much shorter lived than that of the HCH-II and rarely remains active for more than 40 seconds. Perhaps we can blame it on the smaller capacity battery pack but then again, this happened even when the Insight’s SoC was sitting at a healthy 5 out of 6 bars. In contrast to this performance, an HCH-II can rest in auto-stop for as long as the SoC allows -- a period which can span many minutes at a time. All an HCH-II driver must do is ensure that every second time the vehicle moves forward it must reach at least 12km/h (7MPH) for the Auto-stop to remain in effect. While this last rule also applies to the Insight, that nice ability to stay in Auto-stop does not.
Aside from the above observations, FE performance was very good and produced an overall 4.2L/100km (56 mpgUS) at the pump. The temperatures were not very bad and as a result neither heat nor AC was used during this test sequence. I suspect the Insight would have returned substantially worse FE numbers if AC had been used on a hotter summer day.
In essence, all a driver needs to do is follow the Eco-Assist and stay out of the "blue" and in the "green" as much as possible to achieve similar numbers. This inevitably means that accelerations will not match that of surrounding traffic but then again, nobody said it was easy being green.
Observed fuel economy in the suburbs
The Insight really likes this type of driving and its fuel economy numbers do not disappoint. Once again, the Eco-Assist green color is a primary indicator of efficient driving, but further improvements can be had if the MDI is set to its instantaneous fuel consumption screen and the throttle is modulated with tiny "fake" shifts. This will enable the vehicle's fuel economy to hover in the mid 3 L/100km (70 mpgUS) range with even better efficiency available if speed fluctuations are kept under control.
Because the 2010 Insight lacks the third I-VTEC stage found in the HCH-II (low cam mode), it will rarely achieve better than 3 L/100km (78 mpgUS) in this type of driving. The HCH-II will top out at much better fuel economy -- sometimes reaching the 2.6 L/100km (90 mpgUS) level.
In this type of driving, the Insight delivered a reasonable 3.2L/100km (73 mpgUS) calculated at the pump.
Observed fuel economy on the highway
Many of you are probably wondering how well the Insight can do on the highway and whether it has the same SAHM mode as the HCH-II. Click here for more information on the SAHM mode
. In order to better assess this capability, we relied on a dual ScanGauge setup so that we could monitor as many parameters as possible. Additionally, we decided to further divide our highway testing into a low speed and a high speed test cycle. The results demonstrate that the 2010 Insight produces very different results depending on which segment type is executed.
The slower the speed the better the 2010 Insight will do... Sadly, the indicated MPG is not SAHM.
When driven at a steady speed of 60-75 km/h (35-45 MPH) the Insight will easily reach 3.1 L/100km (75 mpgUS). The closer to the lower limit of this speed range the better things get. Unfortunately, increasing the speed above this upper limit will quickly erode these great fuel economy numbers.
As the speed increases towards 100km/h (62 MPH), the Insight’s fuel economy approaches its NR-CAN (EPA) rating and will continue to worsen for higher speeds. In fact, at this point the Eco Assist will transition from green to blue and will remain this color for higher speeds. It is clear that for best fuel economy results drivers will need to avoid exceeding that 100km/h threshold.
So... where is SAHM?
The mode that made the HCH-II look so good on the highway is nowhere to be found on the 2010 Insight. It is in the 80-100km/h (50-60 MPH) speed range that the HCH-II’s third I-VTEC stage and special ignition timing allow 2.8-3.1 L/100km (70-90 mpgUS) with only a ScanGauge as the basic requirement to lock it in using pedal control. Sadly, the Insight has no such mode available and the mileage results reflect the detrimental effect this has.
2010 Honda Insight-II - Fuel Economy Results Summary
|Driving regimen||Avg Speeds||Distance||Ambient Temp||Fuel used||Calculated FE || Displayed FE|
|City (stop-and-go)||0-50km/h (0-30 MPH)||56Km (35 M)||15C (59F)||2.32L||4.2 L/100 km (56 mpgUS)||4.1 L/100 km (57 mpgUS)|
|Suburban (low Speed)|| 40-60km/h (25-38 MPH)||92km (60 M)||12C (53 F)||2.98L||3.2 L/100 km (73 mpgUS)||3.0 L/100 km (78 mpgUS)|
|Highway (low speed) || 60-75km/h (35-45 MPH)||105km (49 M)||10C (50 F)||3.33L||3.3 L/100 km (71 mpgUS)||3.2 L/100 km (73 mpgUS)|
|Highway (high speed) || 80-100km/h (50-60 MPH)||75km (47 M)||14C (57 F)||3.42L||4.3 L/100 km (55 mpgUS)||4.2 L/100 km (56 mpgUS)|
|2010 Canadian Honda Insight – EX||City||Highway||Combined||CleanMPG Observed Fuel Economy|
|Canada||5.0L/100 Km||4.6 L/100 Km||4.8 L/100 Km||3.7 L/100 Km|
|US||47 mpgUS||51.0 mpgUS||49 mpgUS||63.5 mpgUS|
|British Imperial||56.0 mpgIMP||61.4 mpgIMP||58.8 mpgIMP||74.3 mpgIMP|
Overall average fuel efficiency was observed at 3.7 L/100km (63.57 MPG US)
Some interesting observations can be made regarding to the fuel economy displayed by the car's MID and the fuel economy calculated at the pump. As you may have noticed in the table above, the 2010 Honda Insight has a tendency to over-estimate its fuel economy and as with most other hybrids on the road today, actual fuel consumption may be a bit higher when calculated at the pump. It seems the HCH-II will remain the only hybrid vehicle that normally underestimates its fuel efficiency.
For the sake of disclosure, this particular test unit was topped-off each time using the exact same pump (#3) at my preferred Shell station.
2010 Honda Insight-II vs. 2009 HCH-II Comparison
For an in-depth point by point comparison, read the Insight-II vs. HCH-II Comparison
2010 Honda Insight-II - Personal Verdict
I am actually very fond of the Honda Insight-II not only because it offers good fuel economy at the hands of a careful driver, but also because it represents a significant milestone for hybrid affordability. In our financially troubled market this is a great option for anyone considering the purchase of a new vehicle.
If I had to buy a new car, the 2010 Insight would be certainly making my short list by virtue of all the good attributes it offers over the Civic Hybrid. With this said, there is still much that Honda left out of the Insight that I miss... However necessary it was to cut costs, these omissions make the Insight less competitive than the HCH-II on either the highway or suburban circuit.
If I had to judge the Insight on its technological strengths, I would have to focus primarily on the human interface elements that make this car so good for a much broader segment of the buying public. This specifically includes the instrumentation and the empowerment it offers to drivers not only in achieving good fuel economy, but also making life with this car fun as well as more user friendly and versatile.
In terms of power-train and "under the sheet-metal" sophistication however, I cannot help but think of the 2010 Insight as more of a step backward than an advancement when compared to the current Civic Hybrid. If the IMA version in the Civic Hybrid is 4.0 then perhaps in academic terms, the 2010 Insight should appropriately be designated as IMA 3.5.
The lack of a third I-VTEC stage, lack of electrically powered AC, lower overall battery capacity (100V vs. 158V in the HCH), lower regenerative capacity, shorter lived auto-stops, smaller and less powerful motor/stator, as well as several other features, were in fact calculated losses. They were designed not only to make the car more affordable but also to avoid upstaging the HCH-II, at least until its replacement arrives within the next 2 years.
Still, while all this may not be relevant to anyone already inclined to purchase a small hybrid hatchback, the EPA ratings for both cars confirm undeniable differences in fuel economy potential. In the end, the HCH-II remains Honda’s technological hybrid flagship vehicle for a while longer.
Whether or not today’s car buyer will prefer the HCH-II to the Insight is another story altogether. The Insight offers so much more in several areas that it may actually be seen as the better Honda hybrid. For the lower price being asked for a base level Insight, why shouldn't it be so?
(Click on the video twice to view the details in High Definition)
And as a last parting thought, I will attempt to address that very subtle question concerning that "other" new hybrid: How does the new Insight compare to Toyota's new 2010 Prius?
Obviously, the new 2010 Toyota Prius is not yet available for sale in the Canadian market and at first it would appear that a comparison between the two is hardly justified, not only because of their respective size classes but also because in Canada, the pricing for the upcoming 2010 Prius is expected to be measurably higher than that of the 2010 Insight EX.
However, if Toyota decides to price the entry level 2010 Prius close to the price of a package A 2009 Prius II, then we suspect a direct comparison with the 2010 Insight is not only justified but is also inevitable. In the not too distant future we will be reviewing the new 2010 Prius and at that time we'll be able to make a more accurate comparison between these two very significant hybrid vehicles. Very exciting times, indeed.
I would like to thank the kind folks at Birchwood Honda (Pointe West and Regent) and particularly Mike Dobush (General Manager at Birchwood Honda Pointe West) for the opportunity to review this 2010 Honda Insight EX. As a dedicated and demanding hybrid owner, I have been impressed by the knowledge, patience, and friendly nature of their staff and I am quite sure you will not go wrong for depending on their sales and post-sales service.
Please drop by any of the Birchwood Honda locations and let them know you want to test drive a new Insight or HCH-II. You will not regret it.
Finally, I would also like to thank Sean Welch and Wayne Gerdes for their many hours in formatting and editing this review.