The lead up to the Detroit Auto Show looked grim. Manufacturer after manufacturer announced their intentions to skip out on the international show. Others, like Honda decided to opt out of an official press conference, leaving the new Honda Insight Hybrid to introduce itself to the public. While other rides at the show ramped up on stage amidst camera flashes and fancy lighting, the Insight simply sat in its corner minding its own business. The result was a lot less buzz than deserved for one very cool green machine.
Honda’s Insight has been billed as the Prius fighter – taking on the hybrid that’s reigned supreme over the fuel-thrifty market for years. It’s nearly impossible to talk about one without highlighting the other. Partly because they look so similar, but also because Honda has flat out said the Insight will be priced under the already inexpensive Prius. It’s the makings of a full-fledged hybrid rivalry.
The new Insight is actually the car’s second generation, though the new five-door model bears little resemblance to the tiny hybrid Honda first rolled out in 2000. Despite the first car’s lofty 70 mpg EPA rating, the first Insight saw dismal sales thanks to relatively low fuel prices and a strange, two-seater design that eventually lead to the model’s cancellation in 2006.
With the rise of gas prices, Honda’s back with a second-generation Insight. From the outside, it’s easy to mistake the car for its arch-rival, the Prius. That’s due to a similar slippery, aerodynamic design that keeps wind resistance to a minimum. Typical Honda family styling cues are found all around the Insight’s exterior, including a nose that borrows heavily from the current generation Civic.
The Insight’s interior offers a comfortable seating area for both front and rear occupants, and quality materials abound throughout. Whereas the first-generation Insight offered little in the way of cargo room, the newest model dishes up a cavernous area beneath the rear hatch for whatever you need to haul around.
One very cool element inside the Insight is the car’s dash. The instrument cluster rewards the driver based on how “green” he or she drives. Fuel-saving driving techniques are rewarded with a display that glows blue. The heavier you are on the throttle, the less the dash glows, helping to enforce green driving.
Die-hard hybrid fans will find grief with the fact that the Insight isn’t a full hybrid. That means that at no point is this Honda ever powered solely by its electric assist motor. Instead, the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine provides the propulsion most of the time, while an electric motor adds a little bit of horsepower for scooting down the road. Still, with a price tag aimed several thousand dollars under the next-generation Prius and 40 mpg combined, there’s little to complain about with this car.
Honda has hinted the Insight Hybrid will hit the market at about $18,000 for a base model, though tricks like navigation will undoubtedly up the price tag. Still, a fully decked Insight will likely still fall below a base Prius. The question is whether or not you can keep your green envy in check when a Toyota owner hums up to the stoplight next to you. For almost $4,000 less, we think we could.