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When the first generation Honda Insight launched in 2000, its fuel economy numbers and low cost were untouchable. But due to its small size and two-seat capacity, car buyers largely ignored the Honda hybrid, preferring instead Toyota's less economic, but bigger Prius.

When the car was redesigned for 2010, Honda made the Insight considerably bigger, with four-doors and room for five. But Insight sales still lagged far behind the Prius. Fuel economy was lower than the (still bigger) Prius, and the Insight seemed less refined.

To help rally sales, Honda unveiled a more efficient, more polished version of the Insight at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The changes revealed in Frankfurt should be a solid indicator of things to come for the US model.

Honda engineers have been hard at work coming up with ways to make the Insight more fuel-efficient. New materials have been used inside the engine to help reduce friction. The Insight's CVT transmission has also been revised to help increase the car's efficiency. Even the air conditioner has been upgraded to improve mileage.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which rates cars on their fuel economy, hasn't released any data on the new version yet. We don't expect the 2012 Insight's new numbers to beat the Prius' 50 miles per gallon (combined city & highway), but it should close the gap between them - and the Insight should continue to cost less than the Prius.

On the outside, changes to the Insight are minor. The front grille is updated for a slightly more aggressive look. The body has been tweaked to make it more aerodynamic and reduce drag, which helps boost the car's efficiency. To give the car more of a unique hybrid look, the headlights now have a mild blue tinge. But due to government regulations, this may end up being one of the things that doesn't make it to the US.

Inside, the Insight gets revised trim, and tall back seat passengers may notice the slight increase in headroom. Honda squeezed the extra space out of the car by re-shaping the back seats and headliner. And it addressed complaints of limited visibility out the back by reducing the size of the rear spoiler and rear window wiper.

Honda also revised the car's ride to be quieter and more comfortable. Suspension settings are something that almost always differs between US and European cars, but buyers in either market can expect a more refined ride.

More details on updated to the US version of the Insight should be available later this fall.


See more coverage of the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show.


J. MARK STERNBERG is an automotive journalist, car enthusiast and writer with a degree from the University of Arizona. Mark is a devoted Formula 1 fan and also enjoys boating, flying and attending the occasional track day..
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