Hinted at for a while, and shown in prototype form at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late November, the second-generation Honda Insight was formally introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 11. The embargo date has passed, and now it can be told: we saw and drove it in Phoenix a month ago.
As the Civic has gotten bigger and moved a bit upscale, Honda has needed to fill its old place in the lineup. The Fit does that quite well, at least for people looking for a sportier than average small gasoline-only hatchback. Those looking for a more affordable hybrid have been out of luck, especially since the Hybrid is the premium model in the Civic lineup. The Insight is meant to fill that need and will be available at the beginning of April, priced below the Civic Hybrid.
If it's smaller and simpler than the Civic Hybrid, the 2010 Insight is far larger than its namesake. When it was introduced a decade ago as the first hybrid for sale in the U.S. (yes we know that the Toyota Prius was here before the Insight, but the Priuses that were here were "experimental" and not for sale to private buyers) the original Insight was as much a proof-of-concept vehicle for the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) gasoline-electric hybrid system as it was a practical car. Its exemplary fuel economy was as much due to small size, clean aerodynamics, light weight, and fanatic attention to detail as it was to its hybrid drivetrain. It was strictly a two-seater, and while that made it a good commuter or statement vehicle, it was never going to be everyday family transportation. Generation two is a four-door sedan--five-door hatch, really--with a real backseat and plenty of cargo space, plus hatchback versatility.
Outside, if you liked the original and the FCV Clarity experimental fuel cell car, you'll love the new Insight. If anyone thinks it looks like a Prius, Honda did that shape and the two-piece rear window first with the gen-1 Insight and, long before that, the CRX.
Insight, generation two has 85 cubic feet of passenger volume, compared with 90.5 for the Civic and 90.8 for the Fit. Figure the same headroom as a Civic with a sunroof (no sunroof for the Insight), similar legroom, and a little less width, especially in the rear seat. Cargo volume, even with the rear seat in passenger mode, handily bests the Civic--such is the advantage of a hatchback--but not the 4-inch taller Fit.
Two trim levels will be offered, LX and EX, with the EX a bit fancier with an upgraded interior, heated exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals, cruise control, shift paddles, a USB interface in addition to the minijack in the LX, and an available navigation and information system with Bluetooth integration.
Power is from a similar source as the latest Civic Hybrid, a 1.3-liter single overhead cam 8-valve four-cylinder with the i-VTEC variable valve timing and lift system enhanced for full-hybrid operation matched with a thin, lightweight electric motor-generator that also functions as the starter motor, driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Like the Civic Hybrid, the Insight can operate as an electric vehicle, at which time the gasoline engine is shut off. Unlike competing systems, the engine never stops, it's merely deactivated by fuel and spark cutoff, while the valves are held open to minimize pumping losses. Although the Insight's engine has the same displacement as the Civic Hybrid's, it is a newer development, with a unique cylinder head and other differences. The Insight also has a different electric motor, and the combined IMA package is more compact and lighter than its counterpart in the Civic Hybrid, especially the battery pack, and controlled under the floor. Its position allows the rear seat to fold flat, unlike the non-folding seat in the Civic Hybrid.
Maximum power from the combined engine-motor system is 98 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm, with 123 foot-pounds of torque available between 1,000 and 1,500 rpm. 13 horsepower and 58 foot-pounds are courtesy of the electric motor, which can be the sole power source in some circumstances, such as on level ground under light throttle at speeds under about 30 mph. EPA mileage estimates are 40 mpg city, 43 highway, and 41 combined. With curb weights varying between 2,723 pounds for the LX and 2,734 for an EX with the nav system, the Insight is about 150 pounds lighter than a Civic Hybrid.