With the launch of the 2011 Honda CR-Z sport coupe the family of affordable Honda hybrids is finally a complete line. As it just so happens Honda had a Civic hybrid and Insight hybrid both available to drive at the recent San Francisco press launch for the 2011 CR-Z. How convenient.
Given the chance to drive all three (I already had tested the Civic but not the Insight), I decided that this would be as good a time as any to compare the luxury (Civic hybrid), mainstream family (Insight) and the sporty “I may be having a midlife crisis but I still want to save the Earth” (CR-Z) hybrid Honda models all in one sitting.
Now, you know what I think of the CR-Z. It is a sport coupe first and foremost with the hybrid powertrain affording this model terrific economy as well as increased performance. While some think hybrids can only sell if they are optimized for economy, Honda has been the first to stake out a middle ground. There are no “performance” hybrids like at Lexus and no “frugality at all costs” hybrids like you find with the Prius.
2010 Honda Insight (Driving Impressions)
I will admit that I did not get a whole lot of seat time in the Insight as I kept to just a few miles of local city streets with a bit of freeway driving. But then, most Insights will probably stick to these kinds of routes anyway.
Driving on city streets the Insight’s hybrid powertrain (whose IMA electric motor puts out 30% less power than in the CR-Z) helped this spacious five door hatchback feel like a zippier Honda Fit. The back seat felt more claustrophobic than the one in the 2010 Prius but the Insight’s cargo hold appeared to be more usefully shaped.
As it was a warm day I appreciated that the air-conditioning system blew really cold air even when the vehicle was functioning in ECO mode. This matters to me because I love cold air blowing on my face even in cold weather. I don’t know why but I am just always hot. I mean temperature-wise. I don’t have that big of an ego.
Getting on the freeway I hit a few spots where the Insight felt a bit breathless but after putting it in manual mode and using the paddle shifters I got the power I needed. There was a bit of engine noise, as well, as I accelerated down the freeway but everything quieted down once I reached cruising speeds.
The gauges were easy to read, the seat fabrics in the EX tester felt Honda durable with only the interior door handles making themselves known for the mere fact that they felt flimsy. It’s odd that the door handles in the Insight felt like victims of cost cutting when nothing in the Civic or Fit’s interior feels that way. It must be due to the added expense of the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) batteries and hardware.
One thing that I had read repeatedly in the press about the Insight was that it had a choppy ride. During my test drive the Insight felt like the perfect suburban cruiser as it isolated me nicely from road irregularities and bumps. One thing that never goes wrong in a Honda is the steering and the rack in the Insight gave the family hatch the feel of a zippy go-kart.
Honda Civic Hybrid
I tested a Honda Civic Hybrid for a week earlier this year and came away impressed with its luxury feel, refinement, spaciousness and fuel economy. As it is a Civic it has best in class handling, steering and before the CR-Z came along it was the sportiest hybrid I had ever driven.
The Civic is sort of the Bentley of Honda hybrids as long as you option it with the rich feeling blue leather upholstery. While I know that it is odd to compare this frugal Civic with a land yacht that costs more than most people live on in a decade, the only other place I have seen blue leather upholstery is in a Bentley. You do the math.
Overall, the Civic hybrid does cost a few thousand dollars more than the Insight but it is on a larger and more refined platform and has more power. The Civic hybrid just feels that bit more expensive when compared to the Insight but often times a matter of a few thousand dollars can mean the difference between buying a certain new car or not.
Honda was wise to launch a less expensive version of the Civic hybrid in the Insight but unfortunately gas prices were plummeting when it launched and seriously stunted any sales momentum the car might have built. Alas, someday gas prices will go up and it will be the owners of Honda hybrids that have the last laugh.