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Release Date: 06/29/2009

CR Faults Honda Insight for Its Ride, Handling, Noise, and Rear Seat

CR’s engineers say Insight’s 38 mpg overall fuel economy is one of its few highs

CR August '09 Cover YONKERS, NY — The new Honda Insight posted a lackluster “Good” overall road-test score in Consumer Reports’ testing for the August issue. The Insight achieved an excellent 38 mpg overall in CR’s tests but fell short in ride quality, handling, interior noise, acceleration, rear- seat, access and visibility.

“The Insight is the most disappointing Honda Consumer Reports has tested in a long time,” said David Champion, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center. “The Insight is a noisy, stiff-riding car with clumsy handling that is nothing like the Fit on which it is based.  Also, Electronic Stability Control is only available on the highline EX version.”

In a ratings chart of small hatchbacks and wagons, the Insight was rated 21st out of 22 vehicles, with a road test score of 54 points. It was followed by the Dodge Caliber, which scored 49.

Two new wagons, spin-offs of popular sedans — the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen and Hyundai Elantra Touring scored within a point of each other and received Very Good ratings, 80 and 79 respectively.

The Sportwagen, a new addition to the Jetta line, combines sound driving dynamics and more cargo and versatility than the sedan. It also imparts the feeling of a much more expensive vehicle. The Elantra Touring, also an extension to its line, is an affordable and practical vehicle with good fuel economy (26 mpg in CR’s own fuel economy tests.)

Consumer Reports tested a total of six wagons and hatchbacks in the August issue including the improved Chevrolet HHR and the Pontiac Vibe (the virtual twin of the Toyota Matrix.) The Vibe will be discontinued this August given GM’s decision to discontinue the Pontiac brand. Both the Vibe and the HHR received Very Good ratings. The test group also included the sporty Mazda3 hatchback, freshened with a new four-cylinder engine and new styling was also rated Very Good. 

Prices ranged from $19,085 for the Pontiac to $24,730 for the Chevy HHR. All vehicles in the test proved to have average of better reliability in CR.

Consumer Reports also tested the Kia Soul. The Soul shares several of the same attributes of the small, boxy Scion xB, and was also rated Very Good. This is a new model so CR does not have any reliability data and cannot Recommend the Soul.

All vehicles in the test group are Recommended by Consumer Reports except for the Insight, which scored too low in CR’s tests to be Recommended and the Soul which does not have any reliability data yet. CR only Recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its more than seven million print and web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

Full tests and ratings of the test group appear in the August issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale June 30. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org.

The Honda Insight seats five and gets excellent fuel economy, but it’s a noisy car with a stiff ride and clumsy handling. At its cornering limits, the Insight plows straight ahead early on in tight turns and the tail can slide out too quickly for stability control to completely prevent it. The Insight EX, ($21,790 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested), is powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine with a 13-hp electric motor combine for 98 hp that  delivers 38 mpg overall. The continuously variable transmission performs smoothly. Unlike a full hybrid, the Insight requires the gas engine to turn whenever the car is moving. Braking is Very Good. Cargo space behind the rear seats is adequate.

The wagon version of the Volkswagen Jetta combines good driving dynamics and versatility with excellent fit and finish. The Jetta SE, ($24,324, MSRP as tested), is powered by a 170-hp, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine that delivers average performance but got only 23 mpg overall in CR’s fuel economy tests. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and has a manual-override feature. Braking is Very Good. The cargo area is very spacious and you can fold down one or both sections of the rear seatbacks.

The Elantra Touring wagon is fairly roomy and versatile, with a nicely finished interior and lots of amenities for the money. The Touring’s ride is noticeably stiffer than the sedan’s ride, with some sharp impacts. The Elantra Touring wagon, ($19,475, MSRP as tested), is powered by a 138-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers average performance and a respectable 26-mpg overall.  The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and responsively. Braking is Excellent. Folding down the 60/40 seatback makes for a fairly commodious load volume.

The Mazda3 has been one of CR’s top-scoring small cars for several years, distinguished by agile handling and a good-quality interior that is laid out well. The Mazda3 had a firm, compliant ride that provided good isolation from everyday road bumps. The Mazda3 s Sport, ($20,700, MSRP as tested), is powered by a 167-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that feels smooth and refined and delivers 25 mpg overall in mixed driving. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. Braking is Very Good. Cargo space is good behind the rear seats, and when the seatbacks are lowered the hatch encloses a good-sized cargo area.

The Pontiac Vibe is versatile, fuel-efficient, and reasonably priced. The Vibe’s ride is compliant but not very steady and bumps create side-to-side rocking and even the highway ride can feel choppy. The Pontiac Vibe 1.8L, ($19,085, MSRP as tested), is powered by a 132-hp, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that provides good performance and 24 mpg overall. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The rear is quite spacious. The cargo area is lined with hard plastic and small items slide around on it.

The Chevrolet HHR plays to 1950s design nostalgia but one drawback to its retro styling is the small and short windows, which inhibit the view out. Bumps are absorbed quite well, but the deep ruts and ridges come through as rubbery kicks. The Chevrolet HHR LT, ($24,730 MSRP), as tested is powered by a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that provides good performance and 24 mpg overall. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The seatbacks fold down for generous cargo space.

With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To become a subscriber, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

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