The Honda Insight has been out of the automotive game for about three years. What's happened during its absence? As Honda brings back its original hybrid car, how does it stack up against other hybrid cars?
First, the numbers: The 2010 Honda Insight should be able to achieve 40 miles per gallon (17 kilometers per liter) in the city and 43 miles per gallon (18.3 kilometers per liter) on the highway -- a combined average of 41 miles per gallon (17.4 kilometers per liter), according to the Environmental Protection Agency's estimates. In terms of performance, the Insight features a 1.3-liter, 8-valve, 4-cylinder engine, which delivers 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet (166.8 newton-meters) of torque.
Honda has equipped the 2010 Insight with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a system that exchanges the gears found in typical automatic transmissions for a seemingly simple metal belt that runs between a pair of pulleys. One pulley stays in place, while the other can move with the help of a hydraulic cylinder. When the pulley moves, the belt moves higher or lower on the pulley depending on how fast you're driving, and this changes the gear ratio. It's a lot like changing gears while riding a mountain bike, except in a CVT system, there aren't any steps and there's an infinite number of ratios. This makes a vehicle using a CVT system slightly more efficient, increasing its fuel economy by about one or two miles per gallon (.43 or .85 kilometers per liter). That might not sound like much, but fuel economy is highly dependent on good driving habits -- any extra bit of efficiency engineers can squeeze out of a single system helps, and that's exactly why many automakers like Honda are adding CVTs to their cars.
The Insight's engine is, of course, coupled with an electric motor for extra power. Honda's system is known as the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). The IMA is mounted right between the engine and transmission, and the motor also provides regenerative braking, electric start-up and start-stop technology to improve fuel efficiency during idle stops.
Up against similar hybrids like the Toyota Prius, the 2010 Honda Insight isn't quite as efficient -- the Prius gets around 50 miles per gallon (21.3 kilometers per liter), and that's nearly 10 miles per gallon (4.3 kilometers per liter) more than the Insight. Whether or not the Insight's lower price will attract more buyers, however, is yet to be seen.
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