New & Used Honda Insight: In Depth
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The Honda Insight is a five-door subcompact hatchback that mainly competes with the Toyota Prius. Although the Insight hasn’t been as successful for Honda as the Prius has been for Toyota, it’s still the least expensive hybrid on sale in the U.S. The Prius C is a close competitor, though.
For more details of the current Insight, including options, prices, and specifications, see our full review of the 2014 Honda Insight
The price of a base-level Honda Insight for 2013 stays below $20,000 (including the mandatory delivery fee), but it suffers in comparison to the Honda Fit that sits on the same showroom floors. That car has more interior room, far more flexibility, and a price more than $3,000 lower than the Insight. And without a truly "wow!" difference in fuel efficiency, the mild-hybrid Insight hasn't lured large numbers of buyers into its lair. The Prius C, on the other hand, hits the magic 50-mpg mark and is priced within $500 of the Insight. (Its full-depth load bay also makes it more practical than the Insight, which stores its battery under a higher load floor.)
After updates to the Insight for the 2012 model year, the EPA now rates the latest model at a combined 42 mpg (41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway). Three trim levels are available: base, LX, and the more luxurious EX, the only model in which an optional navigation system and backup camera is offered.
The Honda's 98-hp, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine puts the latest iteration of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system, still with a 10-kW (13-hp) motor, between the 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 alone. 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.
As a mild hybrid, the Honda Insight doesn't run on electric power alone for any appreciable distance. So full hybrids like the expanding Prius range and Ford's new C-Max and Fusion hybrids offer that ability. Sure, those cars are larger and pricier. It would seem that at the low end of the market, buyers are willing to sacrifice a few miles per gallon for lower overall cost. Score: Honda Fit 1, Honda Insight 0.
As a “full” hybrid that allows some all-electric running on battery power at low speeds, the third-generation Toyota Prius that hit the market in 2010 as well may also be more impressive on the road. Plus, the Prius is also a mid-size car by interior volume, while the Insight remains a subcompact with less interior space than its Fit gasoline sibling.
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; together, an expanding array of high-mileage hybrids of various sizes and shapes from a growing number of makers poses an increasingly stiff challenge to the 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.