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In its fourth year on the market, the 2013 Honda Insight is the little hybrid that never quite lived up to the high hopes Honda had for it. It's still the least expensive hybrid sold in the U.S., but it faces new competition from the Toyota Prius C, not to mention the Honda Fit subcompact it sits next to on showroom floors. Both Hondas are five-door hatchback subcompacts, but the Insight is less flexible, has less room inside, and is priced more than $3,000 higher than the Fit.
EPA ratings for the 2013 Insight are 42 mpg combined, which is 1 mpg better than earlier models. Unfortunately, that's still lower than the 44-mpg combined rating of the Honda Civic Hybrid, which uses the same powertrain as the Insight but has more room for people and cargo. While it's several thousand dollars pricier, the Civic compact is larger and more luxurious--which puts the Insight between a rock and a hard place.
There are no changes to the 2013 Insight after its 2012 revamp. That update included revisions to the instrument displays, interior materials, a handful of new features, and a new grille and front and rear bumpers to smooth airflow front and rear. To keep the Insight firmly anchored as the least expensive hybrid on the market, Honda added a base model in 2011, which continues for 2013.
Styling inside and out underscores the different nature of a hybrid car, as does that of the Toyota Prius that the Insight somewhat resembles. Aerodynamics demand a steeply raked windshield and a smooth, high-tail design to reduce the wind resistance that gulps fuel. Inside, a Civic-like digital display above the main gauge cluster includes a digital speedometer and various status indicators. The controls in the center stack angle toward the driver, with a separate area at right for the climate controls--which makes them awkward for the front-seat passenger to operate.
Interior room in the front is ample, especially headroom, though we found the front seats a little flat, with short bottom cushions. The back seat, however, has quite tight headroom due to the sloping roofline--though last year's update added more than half an inch using a reshaped headliner. Only two adults will fit, though you can get three kids back there in a pinch.
Handling is decent, though it's usually not a top priority among buyers of the most fuel-efficient cars. It's definitely more fun than the better-known "other" hybrid hatchback, the Toyota Prius. While the Insight isn't as crisp into corners as the Fit, it's confident in curves and composed at high speeds. The ride quality is good under most circumstances, despite a short wheelbase, and it's mostly quiet inside. The exception is when the driver accelerates hard, producing a prodigious amount of engine howl. The 2012 update also included more insulation and thicker noise-suppressing materials to cut the clamor, but if you drive the Insight aggressively, you'll be well aware of how hard the engine has to work.
The 1.3-liter engine and 10-kilowatt (14-hp) motor together put out 98 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. Being a mild hybrid, the electric motor can't move the car away from a stop by itself; instead, it contributes torque to assist the gas engine and also recharges the battery on engine overrun and during regenerative braking. Power is transmitted to the wheels through Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT), and there's no manual transmission option, unlike the Insight's sportier sibling, the CR-Z hatchback hybrid coupe.
Around town, the electric motor switches the engine on as the driver begins to lift off the brake and then adds torque to the engine output, making stoplight acceleration fairly quick. Passing power is there but, as noted, gets noisy quickly. And at highway speeds, the Insight is clearly a heavy little subcompact with a small 1.3-liter engine--there's just not the kind of passing power you'll feel confident with under all circumstances. Planning ahead is a necessity.
The 2013 Honda Insight base model is priced at $18,500, and includes automatic climate control, remote entry, power windows, and an audio system with two speakers. The mid-level Insight LX, starting at $20,275, adds steering-wheel controls for the four-speaker audio system with USB interface, an armrest console, map lights, a security system, and floor mats.
The top-of-the-line Insight EX, at $21,965 includes heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, a six-speaker stereo system with Bluetooth audio linking, and alloy wheels. It also adds paddle shifters, mounted behind the steering wheel, that let the driver select among simulated "gears" that can be shifted for more responsive performance.
When fitted with the optional navigation system, the Insight EX with Navigation starts at $23,690. All Insight prices also have a mandatory destination fee of $790 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