A Hybrid For Everyone

The angry ice blue light glared at me, silently telling me one simple thing: You’re doing it wrong.

 

In a frustrated huff, I immediately lessened my pressure on the gas pedal, and the light changed to a happy brilliant green. Much better. The message came through loud and clear.

I have a bad habit of talking to my cars while I’m driving. This is the first time the car talked back.

The speedometer on the all-new 2010 Honda Insight lights up in varying hues of green and blue depending on how efficiently you’re driving, giving you instant feedback (and sometimes sass) on your level of lead foot.

A point in the speed demon’s favor, however: I inadvertently (cough) discovered that you can, in fact, drive efficiently at 80 mph.

With this new entry into the hybrid realm, Honda has Toyota’s Prius squarely in its sights, targeting the Prius’s styling, price and hybridness. It nailed two out of three.

Styling: Hot

The exterior of Insight looks an awful lot like a Prius. The same egglike shape. The same split rear window. The same sloping hood. But as we head toward more fuel efficiency, you’ll start to see this shape more often as it the most aerodynamic. So get used to it.

The inside is where it shines. The bright blue gauge lighting, slick controls and intuitive design kept me enthralled even before I put the car in drive. Honda did a phenomenal job here, and even though it didn’t get techno-chic with the hybrid gauges, it still looks pretty damn cool. And the speedometer that changes colors? Love it!

Since the Insight is categorized as a compact, you’re not going to be using this to haul all the kids in the neighborhood to football practice. But as an everyday driver, or a family car that carries two younger children, it’s perfect. Plus, if you need to make that trip to Home Depot, you can drop the rear seats, and you actually have some practical usable space.

Price: Right

The Insight specifically looked at the price point of all the other hybrids on the market—and then shaved off a couple thousand dollars for their entry level LX model. With a base price of $19,800, you can’t go wrong.

Hybridness: Eh

If President Barack Obama had his way, everyone would be driving a hybrid. Or at least a very fuel-efficient vehicle. In fact, his administration recently raised fuel economy standards by 2 mpg, requiring all new passenger cars to meet 30.2 mpg for the 2011 model year.

The Insight has that beat by a long shot with EPA ratings of 40 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. I typically averaged around 48 mpg during the test week.

The “problem” as I see it is that the Insight is a mild hybrid, which means it cannot drive in electric only mode. The only time the engine shuts off is when it’s at a stop. Plus, the transition between engine off and engine on is kind of clunky. Every time it shuttered off, I was afraid it might not come back on.

Overall, I think the Insight is a great idea. It has excellent fuel economy, a nice compact size and an incredibly reasonable price. In effect, it proves that being green can be cheap and easy.

Love it: cool blue gauges, comfortable and attractive cloth seats, simple yet attractive interior design, easy to open and close rear hatch.

Hate it: the clunky on/off of the engine when the hybrid system kicks in, the feeling of being pushed around on the highway because the car is so small and light.

Can’t live without it: green-and-blue lighting on the speedometer that clues you in to when you’re driving well.

Make it better: Through the Honda Heroes, a group of associates, their spouses and retirees support community programs of their choice through volunteering. Their volunteer hours are rewarded with “Dollars for Doers” grants of $200 to eligible non-profit organizations. To date, Honda Hero volunteers have donated more than 198,000 volunteer hours and have received more than $400,000 in Dollars for Doers grants to their non-profit organizations since 1995.