New & Used Honda Insight: In Depth
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The Honda Insight, a subcompact hybrid hatchback, was intended to be the company's competition to the larger Toyota Prius hybrid. It was sold in North America for five years, starting in 2010, but its sales never came close to those of the Prius--or to Honda's own hopes for the car. Its last model year was 2014, and the Insight is now out of production in Japan.
The Honda Insight managed to retain the title of least expensive hybrid in the U.S. even after the 2012 launch of the subcompact Toyota Prius C. But it was handicapped by limited interior room, a mild-hybrid system that couldn't power the car on electricity alone, and competition with the excellent Honda Fit. The all-new 2015 Honda Fit now gets a 36-mpg combined fuel-efficiency rating, bringing it much closer to the Insight's combined 42 mpg (41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway) in 2014, its last model year.
The price of a base-level Honda Insight stayed below $20,000 (including the mandatory delivery fee). Three trim levels were available: base, LX, and the more luxurious EX, the only model in which an optional navigation system and backup camera was offered. The base-level trim wasn't available the first year, and the Insight received mild updates to its styling, features, and efficiency for 2012. Otherwise, the Honda Insight changed little throughout its five-year model run.
The Insight's shape is the same high-tailed hatchback as the Prius and also the Chevrolet Volt, all in service of minimal aerodynamic drag above 30 mph. Its two-level dashboard offered colorful graphics, and its handling and roadholding was generally considered better and more responsive than the numb and ponderous Prius.
The final iteration of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system sandwiched a 10-kW (13-hp) motor between a 98-hp, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As a mild hybrid, the Insight's electric motor can't move the car away from a stop under electric power or power the car alone for any appreciable distance. Instead, it adds torque to supplement the gas engine output, restarts the engine after the car comes to a stop, and recharges the battery pack both under regenerative braking and using engine overrun.
While the 2010 Honda Insight was intended to face off against the third-generation Toyota Prius launched the same year, the Prius was a mid-size car by interior volume, while the Insight remained a subcompact with less interior space than its Fit gasoline sibling. The Prius was a “full” hybrid that allows some all-electric running on battery power at low speeds. In 2012, the classic Prius Liftback was joined by the subcompact Prius C--a direct competitor to the Insight in the subcompact category. The following year brought a pair of new hybrids from Ford. With hybrids largely offered in mid-size cars--the Prius plus four-door sedans from Toyota, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, and Kia--the market niche of "least expensive hybrid" was one that buyers simply didn't seem to value.
In the end, the Insight likely suffered badly from buyers comparing it to the Honda Fit next to it on showroom floors. That car had more interior room, far more flexibility, and a price $3,000 lower than the Insight. Without a truly "wow!" difference in fuel efficiency, the mild-hybrid Insight never lured large numbers of buyers into its lair. For those buyers determined to get a subcompact hybrid, the Toyota Prius C hit the magic 50-mpg mark and was priced within $500 of the Insight. Its full-depth load bay also makes it more practical than the Insight, which stored its battery under a much higher load floor.
First-generation Honda Insight
The previous-generation Honda Insight, sold from 2000 to 2006, had the best gas mileage of any car the EPA had rated at the time. Adjusted for modern-day test cycles, the old Insight subcompact three-door hatchback got 48 mpg city, 58 mpg highway with a five-speed gearbox, or 45 and 49 mpg with the optional CVT. That first-generation Insight was both lightweight--using things like aluminum front brake disks--and very aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of just 0.25, the lowest at the time excluding the GM EV1 electric car.
It used a 995cc three-cylinder engine producing 67 hp, with the earliest generation of Honda’s IMA hybrid system, which used a 10-kilowatt (13-horsepower) electric motor. But despite its fuel efficiency, the tiny Insight proved too small for most markets. Honda sold just 17,000 of the cars globally over seven model years.