Test Drive: 2011 Honda Insight Hybrid

?Honda Adds new standard features to Insight Hybrid?

Honda introduced the first Insight model in 1990, and it was the first gasoline-electric hybrid to be sold in the U.S. A lot has changed since then – the first Insight was a two-seater that was not unlike GM?s EV1 in its appearance. Motive force came from Honda?s original Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) powertrain that combined a lightweight and efficient gasoline engine with an ultra-thin electric motor that supplied low-end torque and power assist as needed. It claimed a possible 70+ miles per gallon. The first Insight also featured a special aluminum body that weighed 40 percent less than a comparable steel body.

An all-new Insight debuted in 2010 representing a new era of efficient transportation with a tradition of low-emissions and high-mileage innovation in a package that was much more conventional looking than its predecessor, while borrowing some design elements from the original such as the highly aerodynamic side profile combined with the frontal appearance of the FCX Clarity hydrogen-powered concept vehicle. A 1.3-liter, 4-cylinder VTEC gasoline engine teamed with a 10-kilowatt electric motor forming the foundation of the IMA? hybrid system. The electric motor was positioned inline between the engine and Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), adding power during acceleration as well as certain cruising scenarios, and recapturing energy from the vehicle?s forward momentum during braking. The improved IMS system delivered 98 horsepower @5,800 rpm and 123 pound feet of torque in a range from 1,000 to 1,500 rpm. The CVT transmission featured paddle shifters that simulated discernable gear changes.

The reborn Insight came in only two trim levels and seated up to 5 occupants comfortably, though four were ultimately more comfortable. Three trim levels are offered for 2011: a new value-oriented base model, simply designated as ?Insight.? As before, the well-equipped ?Insight LX? continues to be available, yet with additional features, along with the top-of-the-line ?Insight EX,? which continues to be available with the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System?. All Insight models are equipped with Vehicle Stability Assist? for 2011, which was previously exclusive to the Insight EX.

The new Insight base model includes remote entry and has exclusive content compared to the other models consisting of unique seating fabric and a basic audio system with CD player and two speakers. Outstanding standard features of?the LX include: the CVT, automatic climate control, power windows and door locks with remote entry, tilt/telescopic steering column and driver?s seat height adjustment, four-speaker 160-watt audio system with CD player, projector beam headlights and LED brake lights. EX trim models add: Vehicle Stability Assist ? an electronic stability system; alloy wheels; steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters; a six-speaker audio system; USB audio interface; and turn signal-integrated side mirrors. Available for the EX Insight are Honda?s Satellite Linked Navigation System with Voice Recognition and a Bluetooth? HandsFreeLink? system.

The latest iteration 2011 Insight joins the Civic and Accord Hybrids in Honda?s fuel-efficient lineup. Its identity is no longer unique ? at least not on a level with the first Insight. Many have commented that the Insight is difficult to differentiate from Toyota?s Prius Hybrid due to its overall form ? which is not necessarily a bad thing, since it places it in a more mainstream environment. The Insight also costs considerably less than the Prius.

The Insight features an Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist?), designed to assist drivers in achieving excellent real-world fuel economy. Pressing the ECON button enables the Insight to enhance the efficiency of multiple vehicle systems such as: throttle control; CVT operation; idle stop duration; air conditioning and cruse control operation (EX only). Eco Assist also provides driving style suggestions or recommendations via a 3D background within the speedometer, changing color, reflecting how efficiently the driver is operating the vehicle. Results are tracked continuously as fuel economy ratings are indicated per drive cycle as well as on a lifetime basis, in the form of plant leaf graphics that appear in the Multi-Information Display, up to a five-leaf level.

My latest, test Honda Insight was a 2011 model and came in EX trim with the Navigation system and paddle shifters for the CVT. The exterior finish was Crimson Pearl metallic with a patterned Gray cloth interior and contrasting Charcoal trim accents. The base price was set at $23,265 with only the Destination charge as extra for a final total of $24,015.

SUMMARY: Honda felt that the 2010 Insight was the right vehicle for the right time in the industry, fitting well into transportation?s next era. The same holds true for the new 2011 model lineup. It is ten percent more fuel efficient than the Civic Hybrid, in addition to costing less.

The Insight performs in much the same manner as any other gasoline/electric hybrid. In other words, it is capable of running exclusively on battery power at?speeds up to 30 mph, at which point, the gasoline kicks in to assist. Braking or coasting results in replenishing stored electrical energy through a regenerative process. When at a stop with the brake on, and the battery sufficiently charged, both the electric motor/generator and the gasoline engine come to a halt as well. Releasing the brake restores motive force. The speedometer displays a Blue glow when utilizing gas power assist, and a green hue when charging in the ECO mode.

If you like the styling of the Prius, you?ll undoubtedly be a fan of the 2011? Insight?s design form. It is comfortable to ride in and pleasant to drive. As a testament to its efficiency, Honda had set up a 16.1-mile test loop during the vehicle?s initial press introduction in Arizona, which was to be completed in 35 minutes. There were up and down grades and a variety of traffic? conditions along the route, that effectively established real world driving conditions. A professional ?Hyper-miler? had previously covered the course achieving 66.1?miles per gallon. I completed the test, exercising the Eco-Assist with exactly the same result, while yet another auto journalist managed to even beat that figure substantially. It is certainly possible to record higher mpg ratings under specifically better conditions.

The 2011 Honda Insight Hybrid continues as bigger and better than that first 1990 model, and it performs admirably, while being affordably priced. ?This latest iteration adds new standard features along with the addition of a value-oriented entry model that offers enhanced value, exclusive content and a Manufacturer?s Suggested Retail Price starting at $18,200, plus a destination and handling charge?of $750.