Test Drive: Changes help, don’t fix, Honda Insight – USATODAY.com

4 Jun 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Test Drive: Changes help, don’t fix, Honda Insight – USATODAY.com
Honda Insight

By James R. Healey, USA TODAY

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The improvements — such as 1 mpg more in each driving mode and more rear headroom — are laudable, but Insight remains personality-challenged.

That is, it’s difficult to like.

PHOTOS: More views of the Honda Insight

It still takes a determined head tuck to get into the back seat, where your reward is insufficient legroom, knee space for a long drive. But once in, you don’t bump your head on the ceiling now.

Honda’s efforts to cut noise eliminated much of the engine’s coarse, crude sound. But full-bore acceleration still provokes the wince that was the normal response to hard running in the pre-freshened Insight.

The transmission takes a moment to engage when the engine restarts after the fuel-saving shutoff at red lights. That probably was more annoying than any other flaw in the test car.

The interior trim and some changes to the instruments are welcome, but some people will find that the steering wheel rim blocks the nifty digital speedometer.

Housed in its own pod atop the other instruments, the speedo’s numbers seem to float in entertaining 3-D fashion.

Radio/navi buttons still are way too small to stab without looking. Thus, they also can contribute to distraction.

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Enlarged cup holders get only polite applause, because they remain too small for the fatter go-cups and soft-drink bottles that lots of folks favor.

Goodness, you’re saying, perhaps I should run fast in the other direction. Well, perhaps not.

•Insight, at least in bright red as the test car was, looks good by the humpback hatchback hybrid standards of the day. It’s nice to see a bold color on a save-fuel car. If we’re going to do our bit burning less petroleum, let’s please do it brightly.

Enough with the whites and silvers.

Insight looks enough like a Toyota Prius that you’ll get eco-recognition, even though few enough Insights are on the road that people won’t automatically know what it is.

•It’s comfortable, at least in the front seats.

• If you are a low-demand driver, it’s smooth and quiet enough to suit, though the transmission’s balky engagement after the engine restarts could bother such people.

•The value equation is pretty good using today’s calculus: Sub-$20,000 starting price and an honest 40 mpg or so in suburban dash-about.

•You won’t see yourself coming and going, as you would driving a Prius in some ZIP codes.

Honda sold just 15,549 Insights in the U.S. last year. Toyota, by contrast, sold 136,463 Prius Liftbacks (new name for the familiar Prius hybrid), according to Autodata. Through April this year: Insight, 3,035; Prius Liftback, 86,027.

Perhaps more startling, the smaller Prius c, which is a closer size and price match to Insight than the Prius Liftback is, already found 4,782 buyers in the one month it was on sale.

Honda Insight

Honda says Insight rarity isn’t due to unpopularity. Rather, low sales are due to short U.S. supply. Insights are made in Japan, where production was disrupted last year by the tsunami.

And demand in other countries is strong, pulling away some supplies, Honda says.

You might be an Insight candidate if you are a Honda partisan — if you want better mpg than the frisky, $3,200-cheaper gasoline-only Fit, but can’t see paying $5,000 more than Insight to get the bigger Civic hybrid that has a government mileage rating a bit better than Insight’s.

But if you’re willing to consider the gamut — rival hybrids as well as the new generation of high-mpg gasoline small cars — you could decide Insight doesn’t seem to cut it.

Details:

•What? Updates to the slow-selling, front-drive, five-passenger, hybrid subcompact hatchback.

•When? On sale since late last year.

•Where? Made in Japan.

•How much? Base model starts at $19,290 with $790 shipping; LX $21,065; EX $22,755; EX with navigation $24,480.

•What makes it go? Gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Combined power ratings are 98 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, 123 pounds-feet of torque at 1,000 rpm.

•How big? A few inches smaller all-around than Toyota Prius Liftback. Insight is 172.3 inches long, 66.7 in. wide, 56.2-in. tall, on a 100.4-in. wheelbase.

Weighs 2,747 to 2,767 lbs. Passenger space, 85 cubic ft.; cargo space behind rear seats, 15.9 cu. ft.

Turning circle diameter: 36.1 ft.

•How thirsty? Rated 41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, 42 mpg combined — each of which is 1 mpg better than last year.

Burns regular, holds 10.6 gal.

•Overall: Obvious and appreciated upgrades, but still a bothersome little thing.

Honda Insight
Honda Insight
Honda Insight
Honda Insight
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