- Good handling and roadholding
- Smooth ride for a subcompact
- Smart, attractive dash graphics
- Rear-seat room very tight
- Shallow cargo bay
- Price climbs quickly with options
The 2014 Honda Insight is one of the better-handling small hybrids, but it faces tough competitors who beat it on gas mileage, interior space, and features.
The 2014 Honda Insight is the least expensive hybrid car on the market, and it remains a marginal entry for Honda, which is phasing this model out after this model year. It's been on the market for five years; it's never reached the sales numbers Honda hoped for; and it's now essentially outgunned in its own category—subcompact hybrid hatchbacks—by the more fuel-efficient Toyota Prius C. And as a device for carrying people and their goods, its stablemate the Honda Fit sits right next to it at dealerships and handily outsells it, at a price that starts more than $3,000 lower.
The 2014 Insight is carried over unchanged. It was revamped for 2012 with a new battery pack, very minor styling updates, and revisions to the interior materials and instrument displays.
The Honda Insight shares the high-tail hatchback shape of the Toyota Prius, simply because it's aerodynamically most efficient. The windshield is raked at a steep angle, and the tailgate has a small second vertical window as well as the long, almost-horizontal main glass, improving visibility. Space inside is good in front, although taller drivers may find the lower cushion of the front seat too short. But the sloping roofline makes rear-seat headroom very tight indeed, despite a reshaped headliner in 2012 that added half an inch. It's strictly a two-adult seat, though three smaller kids will fit in emergencies.
Behind the wheel, drivers face a two-tier instrument display like that of the Honda Civic. Above the main cluster of gauges is a digital display with various status indicators and a large numeric speed reading. The center stack is angled toward the driver, and the climate controls are on a separate panel to the right of the driver--making them annoying to operate for front-seat passengers.
The Insight handles decently, not always the case with hybrids. It's no hot hatch, but it's unquestionably more of a driver's car than the traditional (and larger) Toyota Prius, and it has the edge on the more enjoyable Prius C as well. Its stablemate the Fit is still crisper than the Insight, but it's composed at freeway speeds and handles confidently in corners. It rides well despite its small size, and it's quiet inside--until, that is, you accelerate hard. Engine howl is remarkably noisy, though the 2012 upgrade added insulation in several areas to quiet the din. Still, drive the Insight hard and the engine will tell you just how hard it's working.
That engine is a 1.3-liter four-cylinder unit, with a 10-kilowatt (14-horsepower) motor sandwiched between the engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The combined overall output is 98 hp; torque is 123 lb-ft. The motor can't move the car on its own; instead, it supplements engine output with added torque, restarts the engine after a stop, and acts as a generator to recharge the car's lithium-ion battery pack. That pack is sited under the load floor, meaning a shallow cargo bay--in contrast to the Prius C, which managed to shoehorn its battery under the rear seat next to the gas tank, providing a full-depth load bay behind the rear seat.
Acceleration away from a stop is decent, with the engine and motor together moving the car efficiently. There's also adequate passing power around town, at the cost of vastly increased noise. On the highway, there's less reserve, which is where the Insight's relatively high weight and tiny engine come into conflict. Drivers need to plan their passing carefully.
The 2014 Honda Insight is rated at 42 mpg combined, against the 50 mpg of the Prius C--and even the 44-mpg rating of the admittedly much more expensive Honda Civic Hybrid sedan that uses the same powertrain. With hybrid buyers being more affluent than general car buyers, the Civic Hybrid's more spacious, more luxurious cabin may seem worth its $5,000 higher cost.
The base model of Honda Insight costs less than $19,000. While it includes remote entry, power windows, automatic climate control, and an audio system with two speakers, it's still fairly spartan. Most buyers will want to move up to the mid-level LX models, which adds niceties like an armrest console, map lights, a security system, and floor mats as well as a four-speaker audio system with USB interface and steering-wheel controls.
At the top of the range is the Insight EX, which adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel that provide simulated "gears" for the driver to shift for more responsive performance. Additional features include automatic headlights, heated side mirrors, and a six-speaker stereo system with Bluetooth audio linking, and alloy wheels. Navigation is optional.