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When it was launched two years ago, the Honda Insight was pitched as the lowest-priced hybrid sold in the States. It's still inexpensive, but the 2012 Honda Insight suffers a bit in comparison to its stablemate, the Honda Fit. Both are five-door subcompact hatchbacks, but the highly flexible Fit has more room inside, gets real-world gas mileage around 30 mpg, and has a base price $3,175 lower.
The EPA rates the 2012 Insight at 42 mpg combined. A further challenge for the Insight is that the same Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system in the all-new 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan returns 44 mpg combined--better than the Insight. The compact Civic is a larger, more luxurious car--albeit several thousand dollars more expensive.
For 2012, Honda has updated the Insight with a new grille, revised the interior materials and displays, and added several features. Its rated fuel efficiency rises 1 mpg on all three test cycles, and the base model added for 2011 continues in the range.
In the hybrid's favor, the 2012 Honda Insight somewhat resembles a Toyota Prius. Both cars use a smooth, high-tail design to cleave through the air with the least aerodynamic resistance, burning the least fuel possible. The new grille and reshaped front fascia are joined by a revised rear bumper with diffusers to smooth airflow at the tail.
Inside, the 2012 Insight's two-level instrument panel puts a digital speedometer and status information in a Civic-like digital cluster above the main gauge area, with center-stack controls angled toward the driver. Climate controls are in their own area to the right of the steering wheel, making them awkward for the front passenger to operate.
The 2012 Honda Insight uses a small 1.3-liter engine with a 10-kilowatt electric motor sandwiched between the engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Total outputs are 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The motor can't move the car solely on electricity, unlike the Prius, but it restarts the engine after stops, adds torque to complement that of the engine, and acts as a generator to recharge the battery pack when the car brakes.
Driving the Honda Insight is pleasant enough around town, with engine torque assisted by electric power to make takeoff from stoplights quick. There's power for passing, too, but at the price of significant engine noise. At high speeds under high loads, you'll be reminded that the Insight is a heavy subcompact powered by a small 1.3-liter engine--there's not a lot of extra power available at the top end of freeway speeds.
The 2012 Honda Insight handles decently too, though that may not be many buyers' top requirement in assessing this small hybrid hatchback. It doesn't turn into corners as crisply as the Honda Fit, but it's confident under most circumstances. And it feels quite composed in high-speed cruising.
Inside, the front seats are a little short and flat, but they're comfortable and headroom abounds. That's not the case at the rear, where that sloping aerodynamic roofline makes headroom tight--though Honda has reshaped the rear seats and headliner to add 0.6 inches for 2012. The rear seat offers enough room for three kids, though only really two adults. Ride quality is good despite the short wheelbase, and under most circumstances the Insight is quiet and civilized--except under hard acceleration, when the engine howls at a surprising level. For 2012, Honda has added thicker noise-suppression materials and extra insulation in the load bay in an effort to cut the clamor.
For 2012, the base Honda Insight is priced at $18,350 and features power windows, remote entry, automatic climate control, and a two-speaker sound system. The mid-level Insight LX starts at $20,125 and adds floor mats, an armrest console, map lights, a security system, and steering-wheel controlsf or the four-speaker audio system with USB interface.
The top-of-the-line Insight EX includes alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, a six-speaker stereo system, Bluetooth audio linking, and paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel to give the driver simulated "gears" that can be shifted for better responsiveness. When fitted with the optional navigation system, the Insight EX with Navigation starts at $23,540. All Insight prices also have a mandatory $770 destination fee added to them.
- Handles and maneuvers well
- Ride is smooth for such a small car
- Clever twin-cluster dash design
- Very good gas mileage
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- Rear seat remains tight for taller adults
- Load bay is shallow
- Adding options makes the price climb quickly
- Honda's own offerings highlight Insight's weaknesses