Honda has been saying all along that the Insight was engineered to be the world's most affordable hybrid vehicle, so I went into the press introduction expecting to see and drive an entry level vehicle. Suffice it to say that what I saw easily surpassed those expectations. Quite simply, the Insight has a look and feel that belies its expected price point.
First off, the Insight's feature set should automatically exempt it from any discussion of "entry level". Furthermore, without even taking the feature set into account (nor the fact that it's a Hybrid), the Insight is actually trimmed quite nicely for a car that starts out at just under $20000. With a quick walk around the car, you'll probably notice several upscale touches such as LED taillights, foglights (EX model), directional indicators in the wing mirrors (EX model), and projector headlamps (with fashionable blue-tinted reflectors). Open the door and you're greeted by a handsomely styled cabin that generally boasts of quality materials throughout. A more thorough survey of the interior will reveal a few areas where cost savings were realized, but most everything seems to be on par with or a slight step above the Fit's interior. A few items that stood out immediately to me when contrasting it with the Fit were the Insight's heavier carpeting, standard automatic climate control, and the Insight's (EX) center console armrest. Even the cargo area of the Insight seemed to be finished to a slightly more "premium" level than the Fit's. I also noticed a feature or two (such as the EX's lighted glovebox) which are absent even on the Civic.
The Insight's standard 160-watt stereo (4 speakers in LX trim, 6 speakers in EX) and optional double-DIN navi system appear to be specced from the the same hardware that's found in the Fit. The Insight's navi system adds Honda's Bluetooth® HandsFreeLink® to the feature tally, however. A USB Audio interface with full iPod integration is also standard on EX models. The navi unit appears to be essentially identical to the system used by the Civic, Fit, and CR-V, and uses the same button layout and motorized LCD screen. Ergonomically, this unit has never been one of my favorite efforts from Honda, as the touch sensitive LCD screen occupies the majority of the space afforded by the 7.2 by 4.2 inch double-DIN standard, which means the buttons and knobs are quite small by Honda standards. This issue is mitigated to some extent by the redundant controls for the mode, volume, and tuning functions on the steering wheel. This is one of the few ergonomic gripes I could make about the Insight; fortunately, the dashboard layout of the non-navi Insight is ergonomically superior and more visually appealing than the navi-equipped model. The standard stereo controls are large, laid out logically, and labeled clearly. All Insight models feature an automatic climate control system with a very simple control scheme. Most of the time you will probably set the temperature and allow the system to operate in fully automatic mode, but a dedicated "Mode" button and fan speed switch allow you to manually override the controls. A large rotary knob for controlling the temperature is set below these controls. This knob is ringed by 5 large buttons for controlling the other facets of the HVAC system including the recirc/fresh air, front/rear defrost, and system off.
From the driver's seat, it doesn't take long to find a comfortable seating position, though without the benefit of jumping back and forth between the Insight and Fit, I think I may like the design of the Fit Sport's seat a little better. Fortunately, in addition to the standard fore-aft and seatback angle adjustments, the Insight's seats are height adjustable as well. It may be my imagination, but the doorpanel armrests of the Insight seem to be padded slightly more than the Fit's, and the Insight EX's standard center console armrest is a nice touch and adds further to the comfort factor. The tilt-and-telescoping wheel allows optimal placement for comfort and visibility of the Insight's Civic-inspired two-tiered gauge cluster. The digital speedometer is mounted high in the upper tier, while the tachometer, fuel gauge, and IMA system charge/assist gauge all reside in the lower tier. Interestingly, the IMA's charge/assist gauge is represented by an analog needle, which I believe marks the first time Honda has represented that information in that format.
To the driver's left, a big green button labeled "Econ" grabs your attention. For hypermilers, this button is the equivalent of the "sport" button sometimes found in high-performance machinery. For the rest of us, it's basically the opposite of the "sport" button. Engaging the "Econ" mode causes the Insight to adopt a more conservative approach to pretty much everything involving energy flow. The gain maps on the electronic throttle system are flattened, CVT operation is optimized for economy, the window for idle stop functionality is opened up, the climate control system engages the recirculate function more frequently (and even operates at a lower fan speed), the cruise control relaxes its grip on the set speed, and power and torque production are reduced by 4% (though full power and torque are said to be provided at wide-open throttle).
Passenger accommodations are adequate for four adults, though headroom in the rear is probably a little tight for taller folks or for those who are long in torso. At 66.7 inches, the Insight is identical in width to the 2009 Fit, so passengers are positioned similarly. In other words, don't count on comfortably squeezing 3 adults in the back seat. The rear seat itself is pretty comfortable, and folds flat in a 60/40 configuration. Unfortunately, the Fit's "magic seat" didn't make the cut in the transformation to the Insight floorpan.
Like most Honda products, the Insight provides a number of useful cubbies and nooks for storing your personal effects. Each of the four door panels features a bottle holder and the front doors offer additional pockets for small to medium sized items. The glovebox is average in size, but as mentioned earlier, at least it's illuminated (EX model). On the dash, there are several more pockets, with one to the lower left of the steering column and a covered pocket located directly beneath the radio. The design of this pocket leaves you wondering a little bit, as a sizeable portion of its usable volume is obstructed by the large stationary button that releases the door. Directly beneath that pocket and a bit deeper into the dash is another open cubby hole. If you still have change spilling out of your pockets, more storage awaits you in the center console. EX models have a relatively small storage pocket located underneath the padded armrest - on Navi-equipped models, this is also where the USB interface audio system resides. Fore of the shifter, you will find a cupholder designed to swallow a pair of big gulps and a partitioned bin for additional small items. This entire cupholder/bin area can be reconfigured by removing the partition, essentially creating a single large bin (Honda suggests that a tissue box could fit in this area)
One item that caught my eye was the trim plate surrounding the nav/stereo - it's a sort of deep midnight blue color with metal flakes in the finish, which reminded me of the finish on a bass boat. It doesn't really stick out too much, but looking around the interior of the car it doesn't exactly match anything else, either.