Honda announced that it began building its third-generation Insight hybrid at its factory in Indiana this week.
The company first introduced a concept version of the car at the Detroit auto show in January, and showed the production version in New York in March.
This is the third generation of the Insight, which was the first hybrid to reach the United States as a tiny aluminum two-seater with a 3-cylinder engine in 1999.
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When second-generation of the Insight graduated into something like a Civic hatchback, it found more buyers, but still couldn’t compete with the more grown-up and fuel-efficient Toyota Prius, whose mold it seemed to copy.
The new Insight drops the hatchback and moves to a sedan format that looks very much like a Civic sedan with the nose of a new Accord and the tail of a 10-year old one.
Unlike past Insights which were strictly mild hybrids, this model uses Honda’s new two-motor full-hybrid system, which allows the car to putter around town on electric power for a mile or so without turning over its small 1.5-liter 4-cylinder.
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It works very much like other recent Honda hybrids with a simple one-speed gearbox that clutches in the engine at highway speeds for the greatest efficiency but otherwise runs electrically, with the engine just providing juice for the batteries and electric motor. The Insight does not plug in.
EPA fuel-economy estimates have not been released, but Honda expects the new insight to be rated at least 55 mpg in the city and more than 50 mpg overall. That would imply a highway fuel-economy rating in the mid- to high 40s.
Honda has said the car will go on sale in early summer.