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Monday, February 23, 2009

Honda Insight 2010 Reviews - Consumer Guide’s Impressions of the 2010 Honda Insight

The green-car race is on, and Honda is readying three new entries. First up: a small, low-cost “dedicated hybrid” that reprises the Insight name and could give the Toyota Prius a run for your money at purchase time and at the gas pump.

What We Know About the 2010 Honda Insight

It didn't appear in public until October 2nd at the Paris International Auto Show, but Honda’s promised low-cost “dedicated hybrid” car is coming into focus. The company confirmed the new model’s broad outlines in a late-May press briefing that gives us just enough detail to make good guesses about the specifics that are due to be released later this year.

The 2010 Honda Insight is due to start production early in calendar 2009 and should reach U.S. dealers by spring with a hoped-for starting price of less than $20,000. That compares with $22,600 for the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan, now the only gasoline/electric vehicle in the brand’s portfolio. The new Insight will be built alongside the Civic at Honda’s Suzuka plant in Japan, but on a specific (“dedicated”) platform shared with no other current Honda vehicle. In this way--and perhaps others, too--the 2010 Honda Insight mimics the top-selling Toyota Prius. However, Honda says it will also add a hybrid patterned on the sporty 2007 CR-Z concept coupe, as well as a gas/electric version of its Fit subcompact. Timing on these hasn’t been announced, but sources forecast the CR-Z by model-year 2012, the hybrid Fit by 2015.

Company officials say the 2010 Honda Insight will be a 5-passenger 4-door hatchback looking somewhat like the wedge-shaped FCX Clarity, the hydrogen-fuel-cell midsize sedan that’s now being leased to a handful of select Southern California consumers. The front-wheel-drive Insight will be smaller than Clarity, likely falling in the compact-car class. Our estimated dimensions are based in part on sightings of test prototypes based on the Honda Airwave, a compact high-body wagon not sold in the U.S.

The 2010 Honda Insight will use a lighter, simpler new version of the Civic Hybrid’s basic Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) drive system. Unlike other hybrid setups, notably Toyota’s, IMA uses a battery-powered electric motor only to assist the gasoline engine; the car does not run on electricity alone except in certain low-speed situations. Company talk of “significant” weight and cost reductions suggests the Hybrid’s IMA will have either a 3-cylinder engine or a small 4-cylinder with displacement of 1.0-1.3 liters. The engine, like the platform hosting it, should also be specific to the 2010 Honda Insight. Ditto the expected continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The motor and battery pack should also be exclusive, Honda-engineered components designed for maximum efficiency with minimum space, weight, and cost. The batteries, which reportedly tuck beneath the cargo floor, will be conventional nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH), not the more-advanced lithium-ion (LI) type. Honda believes LI batteries are not yet ready for mass-market cars because of their cost and concerns about overheating. That means the 2010 Honda Insight will not have plug-in capability like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt or the LI-powered Prius expected by 2012.

The 2010 Honda Insight will also feature a new driver-focused fuel economy enhancement system called the Ecological Drive Assist System, or Eco Assist. Honda says the system combines a driver-activated ECON mode that optimizes fuel economy with a feedback function that changes the background color of the speedometer to reflect the effects of driving style on economy. The company also says the system's scoring function will provide additional information on current and long-term driving techniques. Honda claims these features will help the car's operator increase real-world fuel economy.

Demand for hybrids and other “green” vehicles is fast gaining momentum, especially in the U.S., and Honda clearly wants a big piece of this expanding pie. That explains reported heavy investment in the 2010 Honda Insight project, which includes expansion of the Suzuka plant (from 70,000 vehicles a year to around 250,000) and setting up new facilities to produce the electric motor and related components. Though Toyota is likely to remain far ahead of Honda in hybrid-vehicle sales, Japan’s number-two says it’s not in a race, only continuing its drive to make cars more environmentally responsible. In that regard, Honda touts its many years of pioneering low-emissions technology--and for being named “greenest automaker” by the Union of Concerned Scientists four years in a row (2004-07).

Still, the 2010 Honda Insight is no mere image-polishing exercise. As financial analyst Koichi Ogawa pointed out in a recent Reuters report: “When you say ‘hybrid,’ the image that really comes to mind is Prius. Honda is very dependent on the U.S. market, which is shifting towards things like hybrids, and for survival having a hybrid (model) is essential.” So, despite all the high-minded spin that will doubtless surround it, the 2010 Honda Insight is as much about earning greenbacks as greening-up the planet.

A Notable Feature of the 2010 Honda Insight

Despite its hoped for sub $20,000 base price, the 2010 Honda Insight shouldn’t skimp on essential features like antilock brakes and curtain side airbags. Other standard equipment remains to be seen, but we’d expect at least air conditioning, a multi-position rear “magic seat” a la Fit, and simple but attractive cabin appointments. Pricing would probably preclude fancy Prius-style options like keyless starting or a navigation system with rearview camera, but Honda marketers may have other ideas. As for fuel economy, it’s bound to be good, but just how good is impossible to say until we have specifics on vehicle weight, engine and motor outputs, battery capacity, and other essentials.

Buying Advice for the 2010 Honda Insight

The 2010 Honda Insight should appeal for affordability, high mpg, and Honda’s reputation for quality and strong resale value. Unfortunately, Honda’s answer to the Toyota Prius will have to take on a brand-new Prius that should beat it to market by several months. Expected next January as an early 2010 model, the new Prius is said to be somewhat larger yet lighter than today’s version, with better performance, higher fuel economy, and a longer electric-only driving range despite retaining NiMH batteries. Moreover, Toyota has a knack for removing cost in ways customers don’t usually notice, so the next Prius may well be priced very close to the new Honda. Still, the U.S. market has plenty of room for both cars, and Honda plans on sending over 100,000 of its Insight “dedicated hybrids” each year, fully one-half the model’s planned worldwide production. With all this, the 2010 Honda Insight should be readily available, but should also be in high demand with gas prices where they recently were, so be prepared to pay full sticker price and probably more.

010 Honda Insight Release Date: There’s nothing firm at the moment, but Honda says U.S. sales will commence during the spring of 2009.

2010 Honda Insight First Test Drive: If the above timing holds, the 2010 Honda Insight would likely meet the press in early 2009.

2010 Honda Insight Prices: The less than $20,000 price is not official, only a well-founded expectation based on statements by Honda officials. Though we don’t doubt Honda can meet that target at the current dollar/yen exchange rate, any major weakening in the greenback could push the announcement-day price above $20K. So could more big rises in raw-materials costs, a major headache for all automakers these days.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

BlackBerry Storm: The Novelty Wears Off Fast

It seemed like a neat idea when Research in Motion (RIM) announced it in October: the first smartphone with a clickable touchscreen. I even enjoyed the few minutes I spent playing with a prerelease version of the BlackBerry Storm, which goes on sale Nov. 21 for $200 (after the $50 rebate from wireless carrier Verizon).

But after 24 hours of actually testing the new BlackBerry side by side with its main competition — Apple's iPhone 3G and T-Mobile's G1 (the "Google phone") — the novelty quickly wore off. I hate the click screen, and none of the handful of people I let try it had anything nice to say about it either. That's a shame because the Storm has a slew of handy extras that neither the iPhone nor the G1 can match. But an annoying user interface is a deal breaker. (See pictures of the cell phone's history.)

The trouble with having to push down on the entire 3.2-inch screen every time you type a letter or confirm a menu choice is that it slows you down. The idea behind the clickable screen is that it will minimize errors by getting you to think before you press. Instead, it took much of the fun out of using the device. While some people complain that the iPhone's touchscreen is a little too slick and imprecise — of the three devices, I tend to make the most typos with the iPhone — at least it's fast. And while the G1's mini, Chiclet-size keys seem designed for Lilliputians, they are accurate and respond even when pressed with the edge of a fingernail. The Storm's click screen, on the other hand, demands the strength of your entire thumb. What's more, the screen jiggles in the phone's casing when you press on it, which makes it feel cheap. (See pictures of the iPhone 3G hitting stores.)

So, what's to like about the Storm? Plenty. My favorite feature is the built-in video-recording capability, which you won't find on either the iPhone or the G1. And, of course, no one can beat BlackBerry's e-mail expertise. Verizon, the sole service provider for the Storm in the U.S., has the best wireless coverage in the country. In addition to the instant delivery, or "push," of messages that CrackBerry users have become addicted to, the Storm lets you easily search messages by sender or subject, and cut and paste to your heart's delight. Even viewing and editing attached files are a cinch, thanks to DataViz's Documents To Go free built-in software. You can even search for key terms inside attached Word files. Sweet. When it comes to messaging, the Storm reigns supreme.

hose are the Storm's only pluses. Adventurous users can find and download thousands of BlackBerry applications from independent sites like Handango, but the built-in Application Center on the Storm comes with just eight add-on apps for you to install, including Flickr, Facebook and AOL Instant Messenger. That's a sore disappointment compared with the thousands of iTunes apps you can click to right from your iPhone and the hundreds of Android Market apps available for the G1. There's no built-in music store on the Storm either, although a deal with Rhapsody is in the works, according to RIM. Worse, you can't talk on the phone while you surf the Web (a limitation of Verizon's CDMA network), and there's no wi-fi. Sigh.

If, like many Americans, you're planning to scrimp your way through the holidays, the Storm isn't worth busting your budget for. Even die-hard BlackBerry fans would be better off with RIM's new Bold, Pearl or Flip. All three have many of the same pluses as the Storm, minus the drawbacks of the unusual display. This is one storm you'll want to steer clear of this winter.

article source :,8599,1860717,00.html

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