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Honda Insight, test drive, Inhabitat test drive, Honda hybrid, Honda Insight hybrid, electric hybrid, electric vehicle, electric car, green transportation, green automotive design, alternative transportation, Laura K. Cowan, Transportation Editor, Laura Cowan

It’s inconceivable that an automaker could advance 10 years in automotive technology and build a car with half the fuel mileage of its predecessor, unless it were a radically different car. Well, it turns out that the new Insight, reintroduced in 2010, is a radically different design. The first Insights were two-seaters with a long shallow hatchback trunk, no air conditioning, and bodies made out of super-light materials to save weight. Everything that could be done to save fuel was done to these early cars. But Honda wanted to bring back a car that would have more mass appeal to consumers, so the two-seater became a family-friendly 5-seater, the air conditioning was added back in, and the car got more power to please the new buyers that weren’t part of the hypermiler set. Honda offset these weighty additions with modern fuel-saving technologies such as the car’s ECON ASSIST button that throttles the gas and modifies the air conditioning and other systems to automatically maximize fuel efficiency. The Insight also now has a start-stop feature that puts it in EV mode when at a full stop, and the body uses Honda’s latest weight-saving techniques and aerodynamics.

Still, with average driving and using the ECON ASSIST button only about 70% of the time, we averaged 40 miles per gallon, exactly what the new Insight is rated for. It’s not bad fuel economy, but we still had hoped for better from a car that feels somewhat underpowered. We were ready to gripe about the fact that we used a half tank of gas with just one week of driving, until we filled up for a paltry $16.50 and discovered the Insight’s gas tank is Chevy Volt-sized, at just 8 gallons. Even driving the Insight carelessly and impatiently for 175 miles, we still only used 4.4 gallons of gas. That’s not bad, really. The hypermilers could do much better. So, after a week of living with the little Insight, we finally fell in love with it, or at least in like. It offers navigation, satellite radio, air conditioning, 5 seats, and a spacious trunk and still manages to be reasonably efficient. Plus, the Insight is not only a radically different design from the original: it is a radically different price, too. The 2011 Honda Insight currently retails for a starting price of $18,200-$23,265, which puts it at half the cost of an equivalent plug-in Prius or Chevy Volt. Now that’s eco frugal, something we love very much indeed.

+ Honda