The 2010 Insight promises to launch a new era in affordability for hybrids when it goes on sale in April, although Honda would confirm nothing more in Detroit than to expect this compact, front-drive hatchback to sticker "somewhere below the Civic Hybrid." Both LX and EX variants team a 1.3-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine that makes 98 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. of torque (versus its 110/123 stats in the Civic Hybrid) with a new, fifth-generation Honda Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The IMA's lightweight electric motor/generator is sandwiched between the engine and the Insight's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) while an advanced Nickel-Metal Hydride storage battery and a redesigned Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) that's 19 percent smaller and 28 percent lighter than before. Both reside under the rear floor area. The IMA can add up to 13 horses and 68 lb.-ft. of peak torque as-needed, and gets replenished via regenerative circuitry on the Insight's disc/drum anti-lock brakes. Other econo enhancements, including electric power-steering/air-conditioning systems, selective cylinder deactivation, automatic idle stop and low-rolling-resistance tires help it earn 40/43 mpg city/highway EPA ratings.
Visually, the Insight displays a fair bit of aero wedge styling from Honda's fuel-cell-powered FCX Clarity. Inside, its nicely finished cabin offers room for five and loads of standards including a tilt/telescoping steering column, power windows/locks, 160-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, 60/40 split-folding rear seat and six airbags. While Vehicle Stability Assist, voice-activated GPS navigation, Bluetooth/USB connectivity, cruise control, power mirrors, alloy wheels and a paddle-shifted Sport-mode CVT with seven virtual gears are EX-only items, both trims do feature Honda's mileage-enhancing Ecological Drive Assist System. Eco Assist combines a driver feedback function that changes the speedometer background from blue to aqua to green to reflect greater instant fuel efficiency and a "growing leaf" graphic that depicts longer-term economy with a driver-selectable "ECON" mode that actively optimizes operation of the Insight's CVT, throttle, idle stop, air and cruise control to help extend the range of its 10.6 gallon fuel tank beyond the 400-mile mark.