>> They put the first hybrid in show rooms, then got their clock cleaned by the Prius. Well, Honda's back with a completely new Insight. Let's see if they can turn the tide as we check the tech on the new Insight EX.
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The new Insight is a hybrid-only model. It's 1.3-liter, inline 4 gets help from an electric motor to total 111 horsepower, but 181 foot-pounds of torque. What matters is MPG. The Insight promises a combined 41 miles per gallon, but I actually saw closer to 44 in a mix of real world driving. Nice. Performance, well, there's nothing really sporty here, but nimble is fair. It's a bit of a buzzy powertrain, especially when you drop the continuously variable transmission into sport mode, and really lean on it. The paddle shifters work in either drive or sport, but make no mistake; this car's not about cut and thrust motoring. This big green button puts you in the econ mode, where the car's systems will demand the least from the powertrain to save gas. And auto stop is also used to keep things lean. But I found, unless the climate control system is turned off, the car will typically refire the engine while you're stopped after a few seconds, apparently to keep the cabin temperature spot-on. The inside's ride is rather unrefined. And if you expect this car to move itself, electric-only, at low speeds like a Prius, you'll be sort of disappointed. Honda says it does use an EV mode at low speeds, but the electric motor turns the crank to move the car. It's just that the valves are closed, and the fuel is shut off. But it never really feels or sounds like you're driving all electric. Now, of course, Honda loves their dual-tiered instrument panels these days. And this one's no different. You've got your main one there, notable for a giant tach, and your charge assist gauge. But above it, we have a speedo digitally superimposed on a plastic panel, and then behind that is that arc of color. It's green, even deep green when you're driving very efficiently. When you're driving more like a pig, it gets blue, down to deep blue. That's your kind of color prompt. Now, our inside EX has the optional fancy head unit, with the navigation and some more audio options. The audio is improved just about that much. Instead of being a base four-speaker system, it's six speakers, 160 watts, I think. It's no great shakes; it's just fine. And we've seen this head unit before in a slightly crunchy looking Honda graphics. This is by no means cutting edge. And when you get the navigation rig, you also get Bluetooth as part of the package. That's not available a la carte. Neither is that. There's just an upgrade that brings you those two very vital features. No live traffic, no HD radio, the audio sources you will have are going to be FM, AM, CD -- that's back here -- and aux refers variably to either the analog aux jack here on the dash, or the USB jack, here in the console, for thumb drives or some MP3 players. There's a PC card slot here that you'll never use, but it's nice to capture dust.
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Honda is betting the Insight will sale based on three attributes, Honda-ness, hybrid-ness, and inexpensiveness. Actual pricing's not released as of our video shoot today, but it has been described variously as "under 20 thousand base" and "less than a Civic hybrid," which costs 23,600 base. The major option will be that navigation and Bluetooth hands-free rig, which I'd expect to cost about $2,000.00.
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