If you measure performance in miles per gallon, the Insight is a real champ. With an EPA-estimated 55 miles per gallon city, 49 mpg highway, and 52 combined, the Insight is right in line with its arch-rival, the Toyota Prius. We managed to score a vehicle-measured 47.7 miles per gallon in some aggressive suburban driving.
Credit for the impressive fuel economy goes to the 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder coupled to dual electric motors. Total output for the hybrid system is 151 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque.
Although hybrids are now commonplace, the setup on the Insight is rather unique compared to the gas/electric systems found on other hybrids – the biggest difference being the fact that Honda's "two-motor hybrid" system doesn't use a typical transmission. Instead, the Insight's system features a fixed gear ratio between both the gas engine and one of the electric motors.
Under certain circumstances, the electric motor can directly drive the front wheels, while at higher speeds, the gas engine kicks in and all three clutch together to power the front wheels through a direct fixed-ratio drive.
The system largely skips the need for a conventional transmission, relegating the gasoline engine to typically operate as an electric generator. For drivers, this amounts to an experience that's noticeably different in that acceleration and the gasoline engine aren't always directly proportional. In some instances, the gas engine is charging up the electric motor in a situation where you wouldn't expect it to be kicking in. On the other hand, there are situations where you'd expect the engine to contribute, but it doesn't. Both scenarios happen every now and then, though these idiosyncrasies should be hardly noticeable after a few months of ownership.
Compared to other hybrids, the transmission-lacking Insight feels more responsive, with direct-drive offering a better burst of acceleration off the line, but with overall acceleration in line with other hybrids in the class, like the Prius. For the hypermiling crowd, the leisurely pace compared to conventional sedans of the same size shouldn't be an issue.
The Insight rides atop a modified version of the Civic's underpinnings, inheriting that vehicle's top-shelf fluid-filled bushings, multi-link rear suspension, and, for the most part, its trademark ride and handling. Road imperfections are handled with ease, and the Insight remains relatively unperturbed over rutty pavement.
The 16-inch wheels on base and EX trims with bigger sidewalls should have more give, but even the 17-inch wheels on our Touring tester offered a smooth ride. There's a decent amount of feedback through the steering wheel, and the brakes are easy to modulate – switching between friction and regenerative braking seamlessly – with excellent stopping power.
At the same time, even with three levels of regenerative braking (operated by the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters), the Insight still lacks one-pedal driving capability. Additionally, passing requires some advanced planning, especially on back roads, while the engine can sound raucous and unrefined when really pressed.