The new Honda Insight hybrid promises to revolutionize the hybrid market by making gas-electric cars affordable. But the five-door hatchback with a rock-bottom price isn't the Prius killer Honda might have hoped for. It's widely expected to cost no more than $20,000, and Honda almost certainly will sell every one of the 100,000 Insights destined for North America this year.Looks pretty cool, especially the Eco Assist. Available on Earth Day (April 22).
Honda's system isn't quite as fuel efficient as Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, but with an estimated 40 mpg in the city and 43 on the highway, it's pretty close to the EPA's figures for the 2009 Prius. The compact size and lower cost of Honda's technology offers other advantages though. While smaller than the Prius, the Insight offers almost as much interior room and actually has more cargo room, thanks to a smaller electronic control unit and more efficient 5.75-amphere-hour, 100-volt, nickel-metal hydride battery under the rear seat.
But the coolest gadget comes standard in every model -- the interactive Ecological Drive Assist System. Eco Assist uses a dashboard display and speedometer backlighting that effectively turn hypermiling -- the fine art of maximizing fuel efficiency -- into a videogame that coaches you on your driving style. There's also an Econ Mode that decreases throttle sensitivity, reduces air-conditioning demand and pulls a few other under-hood tricks to maximize fuel efficiency.
During a day behind the wheel last month, we managed an impressive 42.4 mpg without even trying. When we pushed the Econ Mode button and used Eco Assist to mind our hypermiling P's and Q's, the Insight returned an amazing 65.6 mpg. That's on par with the best figures we've seen from the Prius.
While we didn't drag race a Prius, our seat-of-the-pants impression is the Insight has snappier acceleration, not to mention more responsive steering, better brakes and superior handling.