Honda appears finally to have learned how to play in the hybrid game. Simply putting a hybrid powertrain in a regular car doesn't cut it. If a carmaker wants to be taken seriously, it had better deliver a hybrid that looks like what the market has said it wants a hybrid to look like. And that, apparently, given the sales numbers, is a Toyota Prius. Hence, the all-new, Honda Insight is virtually a carbon copy of that market leader.
Beyond that obvious surrender to a take-no-big-chances market, however, the 2010 Honda Insight does manage to march to a slightly different drummer. It's smaller than the Prius, for instance, which isn't necessarily a plus, as interior room suffers. But it's lighter, which is a plus, as less weight contributes to it's being a somewhat livelier driver.
Beyond this, it generally stays the course, with the common array of standard features plus an optional navigation system and Bluetooth capability. It also can be ordered with gimmicky paddle shifters that imposes an artificial construct of seven electronically created ratios on the continuously variable automatic transmission.
When the new Honda Insight is measured against the outgoing-generation 2009 Toyota Prius, it definitely hums a different tune. Put simply, the Insight's EPA-rated City/Highway 40/43 miles per gallon trails significantly the 48/45 mpg rating for the Prius. Honda appears to believe its faithful will willingly trade a few miles per gallon for a modestly quicker car.
Perhaps the most significant change Honda brings to the hybrid market is price competition. With the Insight, shoppers now have two similar cars from which to choose. The 2010 Honda Insight's $19,800 Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price just slightly undercuts the $21,000 MSRP of the all-new 2010 Toyota Prius. The first-generation 2009 Prius retailed for $23,375.
The 2010 Insight comes in one configuration: a four-door, five-passenger sedan. One powertrain is available: a combination of a 1.3-liter, 88-horsepower, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 10-kilowatt, 13-hp, brushless, DC motor. Power goes only to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). In the top two of the three models offered, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles manage a computer-generated seven-speed, simulated-manual gearbox. The base model uses a standard CVT that's efficient and highly competent.