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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
The 2011 Honda Insight introduces a new Base trim designed to keep the cost of the hybrid competitive while offering good fuel economy, sharp handling and an interior with high build quality.The Bad
Although the fuel efficiency of the 2011 Insight is good, other non-hybrid competitors have hit its 40-mpg mark, and with a cramped back seat and rear vision impacted by the split rear window, combined with engine, road and wind noise, the Insight may not be the hybrid of choice.
The CarGurus View
The 2011 Honda Insight offers a new affordable approach to the hybrid market with its new Base trim. Although noise and a cramped rear seat are notable downsides, the Insight's price, handling and build quality counter the criticisms. However, the Insight’s fuel economy, while good, doesn’t match other hybrids and is met by non-hybrids in the market.
At a Glance
One look at the exterior streamlined shape of the 2011 Insight quickly suggests that this is Honda’s answer to the Toyota Prius. The big news for this year’s Insight is the addition of a third, Base, trim to the lineup. While 2010 offered the LX and EX only, Honda has designated this year’s Base trim as its “value-oriented entry model.” The LX has moved to the midrange trim spot, now coming with standard floormats, cruise control, a center console with storage and a USB audio interface. The 2011 EX trim incorporates steering-wheel-mounted controls for audio—a feature formerly available only when the EX was equipped with the navigation system. All three trims also provide standard Vehicle Stability Assist in 2011.
Although the Insight offers a fun-to-drive vehicle that seems ready to take on its clearest competitor, the Prius, in the battle for hybrid supremacy, there are some notable downsides to the Insight that keep it from coming out on top, despite its competitive price, good fuel economy and responsive handling.
All three trims operate with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The IMA provides a 1.3-liter i-VTEC gasoline-powered engine that gets a power boost from an electric motor during acceleration and when going uphill. When operating on its own (e.g., during some low- and mid-speed cruising situations), the electric motor is powered by a nickel metal hydride battery recharged through regenerative braking. Each trim comes with a standard Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and the EX provides paddle shifters for manual shifting. While the fuel economy numbers are impressive (40 mpg city/43 highway), they don’t match the Prius’s numbers (51/48). And even non-hybrids such as Hyundai's Elantra hit the 40-mpg mark with their fuel economy (29/40).
The Insight’s system does not provide much power, either, with 98 hp at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque at 1,000-1,700 rpm. The efficiency of the car can be improved with the ECON button on the dash, which adjusts various systems for more fuel-efficient driving. One of these fuel-saving tweaks limits the heat and air conditioning systems at idle—a potentially frosty or sweaty cost-saving measure. The Insight’s Eco Assist function also gives the driver feedback on the fuel economy of his driving habits. Similar to a video game, the driver works to accumulate leaves on an Eco flower that appears on the multi-information display (MID). Drivers’ awards are also displayed on the MID as they graduate through the levels of driving, striving to improve their eco score. Effective driving is also monitored for the driver with an Eco drive bar in the MID that moves right for excessively assertive acceleration and left when braking too hard for optimal regenerative braking (needed to recharge the battery). Even the speedometer gives driving feedback, with backlighting that glows green during efficient driving, blue-green for moderate driving and blue for driving practices that are not efficient.
Ride & Handling
The Insight uses an independent MacPherson Strut front suspension and semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension with a front and rear stabilizer bar. All of the trims ride on 15-inch tires, with full covers for the Base and LX and alloy for the EX. The ride is generally sporty and responsive with little body lean in turns, but bumps are not ironed smooth by the suspension system, and transitions between the stop and start of the engine are not flawless.
The Insight combines front disc brakes and rear drum brakes. One brake test registered a stopping distance (from 60-0 mph) of 125 feet, a reasonable result for the class.
Acceleration fares better, with one road test calculating a 0-60 time of 10.9 seconds, slower than the Prius but quicker than the Civic Hybrid. Some feel that the Insight is perfectly fine for mundane driving activities, but can feel the strain of the engine when it is pushed to accelerate. In addition, road, engine and wind noise is noticeable, particularly during acceleration and at highway speeds.
Cabin & Comfort
The Insight is one of the more affordable hybrids on the market and, to a degree, the interior of the 2011 Insight reflects its lower price. While the fit and finish are high quality, the materials themselves are plastic and unpadded. Despite this, most seem to feel that the interior doesn’t look like it came from the bargain basement.
Standard features in all three trim levels of the 2011 Insight include a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with mounted MID controls (audio, cruise, navigation and hands-free phone buttons are included at the higher trim levels), automatic climate control, power windows and locks. The 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system comes with between 2 and 6 speakers (depending on trim level) with standard MP3/WMA playback, an MP3 auxiliary jack and speed-sensitive volume control. The LX and EX also provide a USB audio interface, cruise control and a center console armrest with storage. The EX is the only trim to offer an available satellite-linked navigation system with voice recognition and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. The addition of the navigation system also provides Bluetooth for hands-free phone use.
The instrument panel is easy to read and offers logical gauge and control placement. Taller drivers should note, however, that some of the instrument panel view may be blocked by the top of the steering wheel.
The Insight seats five, with a driver’s seat manual height adjustment and front seats that are adequately spacious and supportive for most. Rear seats, however, are noticeably cramped and short on headroom for many adults—the result of a sloping roofline that, combined with the split hatchback rear window, also hinders the rear view. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split to increase cargo room from 15.9 cubic feet to 31.5 cubic feet. However, the liftover height in the cargo space may make it difficult to get bigger items back out of the rear.
This year’s Insight has added Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control and brake assist to all trim levels. This feature combines with antilock brakes and electronic brake distribution, tire pressure monitoring and Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body construction, which is designed to increase safety in a frontal collision. Each Insight also comes with dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, front side airbags with an occupant detection system for the front passenger seat, and side curtain airbags to protect the front and rear outboard seat occupants.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested the 2011 Honda Insight and gave it the highest rating on their scale (Good) for front, side and rear collisions. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) created new standards for testing vehicles starting in 2011. However, only the rollover crash test had been administered for the Honda Insight, which scored a four (out of five) stars, demonstrating a 11.3% risk of a rollover.
What Owners Think
Owners consistently comment about the 2011 Honda Insight’s fuel economy. In fact, they find that their fuel economy numbers beat the EPA's estimates, making the 2011 Insight a great commuter car and easy on the wallet at the pump. Owners also like the standard safety features in the Insight, as well as the responsive steering and handling. Criticisms include the rear seat’s lack of headroom. Driving noise also receives mixed reviews, with some owners finding the car quieter than anticipated from the expert reviews, while others find the engine noisy, particularly when climbing hills. Overall, however, owners are pleased with the driving experience, affordability (for a hybrid), and fuel economy that often surpasses even the official estimates.
by Jessica McCombe
Talk about the 2011 Honda Insight
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