2011 Honda Insight Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 15, 2011

The 2011 Honda Insight lives in the shadow of the iconic Toyota Prius, but it's more enjoyable to drive.

The 2011 Honda Insight has a silhouette looking a lot like that of the Toyota Prius. That's no mistake; it's the shape carved to cut through the air with the least resistance.

Yet the design allows hatchback practicality, and Honda manages to incorporate an impressive degree of design detail for such a low-priced vehicle. A Civic-influenced, two-tier, two-tone instrument panel greets you inside, and is situated quite far forward to permit a spacious feel for those in front. Center-stack controls—except for the sound system and nav display—are angled toward the driver, and climate controls are similar to those in the Fit, centered in their own round area just to the right of the steering wheel, rather than in the center.

The underpinnings of the 2011 Honda Insight are all familiar: It essentially takes the front end of the Honda Fit hatchback and mates it with the Honda Civic Hybrid's version of Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), a mild-hybrid system that features a 1.3-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine, supplemented with an electric motor system and together making 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The hybrid system captures energy during deceleration and braking and helps it out when accelerating.

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Altogether, the powertrain feels more eager than that of the Prius, but not quite on the level of the 'normal' powertrain in the Honda Civic. Thanks to the IMA system, there's plenty of torque to take off quickly from stoplights, along with good power for passing. The Insight isn't a truly sporty car, but eco-minded drivers encountering a curvy road will be pleased with the way the Insight handles. The Insight doesn't change directions as crisply as the Honda Fit, but it feels confident in all but the tightest corners, with unexpected poise in high-speed cruising. Brakes are front disc, rear drum but feel up to the task.

The 2011 Honda Insight might be a little lower and more rakish than other small cars, but aside from tight rear headroom it offers good comfort. The Insight's front seats are a little short and flat, but they're covered with a nice, meshy fabric that's grippy and comfortable and there's plenty of headroom. Unfortunately, behind the front seats, it's not quite as perfect; the backseat can fit three kids across, or two adults, but headroom is very tight due to the sloping roofline.

Interior appointments in the Insight are about on par with those in Honda's other small cars—which is to say, there aren't a lot of soft-touch surfaces, but it feels tightly assembled and the dash and doors have nicely grained plastics. Ride quality is good despite the short 100-inch wheelbase, and the interior is quiet and civilized except when mashing the throttle to the floor, which causes the engine to become quite raucous.

Slotting below the Insight LX, the base Insight is new this year, at $18,950, and includes remote entry, automatic climate control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows and locks, and a two-speaker CD sound system. LX and EX models add more conveniences, and on the top EX model you can upgrade to a 6.5-inch navigation system with voice recognition, bundled with Bluetooth hands-free calling.

7

2011 Honda Insight

Styling

It's easy to write the 2011 Honda Insight off as another Prius, but there's some eye-catching complexity in the Insight's exterior that sets it apart.

The 2011 Honda Insight has a silhouette, if not details, that look a lot like that of the Toyota Prius. That's no mistake; it's the shape carved to cut through the air with the least resistance. Yet the silhouette allows a hatchback practicality, and Honda manages to incorporate an impressive degree of design detail for such a low-priced vehicle. The Insight's thin projector-beam headlamps are a distinctive break from the large, overwrought designs of recent years, and the front grille is complex but simpler version of what we've seen in Honda's larger vehicles like the Pilot SUV. Also, distinctive LED taillamps adorn the rear, and at the back is a tinted window that plays a styling role and allows improved visibility for the driver. Smooth lift-up door handles are a nice alternative to the chunky, trucky versions expected even on small cars, and the beltline in general is a little lower it could be—a nice touch at a time when hulking sheetmetal and cavernous interiors seem to be the norm.

A Civic-influenced, two-tier, two-tone instrument panel greets you inside, and is situated quite far forward to permit a spacious feel for those in front. Center-stack controls—except for the sound system and nav display—are angled toward the driver, and climate controls are similar to those in the Fit, centered in their own round area just to the right of the steering wheel, rather than in the center.

Review continues below
6

2011 Honda Insight

Performance

The 2011 isn't overtly sporty, but it's more engaging to drive than most other fuel-efficient hybrids.

The underpinnings of the 2011 Honda Insight are all familiar: It essentially takes the front end of the Honda Fit hatchback and mates it with the Honda Civic Hybrid's version of Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), a mild-hybrid system that features a 1.3-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine, supplemented with an electric motor system and together making 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The hybrid system captures energy during deceleration and braking and helps it out when accelerating.

A start/stop system turns off the gasoline engine to save fuel at stoplights, but unlike full hybrids like the Toyota Prius or Ford Escape Hybrid the Insight can't start from a stop (or accelerate, for that matter) on electric power alone. It can however maintain a 30-mph cruise with solely electric power, and turn off the gasoline engine at even higher speeds in some situations.

Altogether, the powertrain feels more eager than that of the Prius, but not quite on the level of the 'normal' powertrain in the Honda Civic. Thanks to the IMA system, there's plenty of torque to take off quickly from stoplights, along with good power for passing. The CVT automatic operates unobtrusively, but there's just a bit of the rubber-band-like lag in response that's typical with the setup. For those who want to drive the Insight in more spirited fashion, there's a manual mode and steering wheel paddles on the sporty Honda Insight EX, simulating seven speeds.

The Insight isn't a truly sporty car, but eco-minded drivers encountering a curvy road will be pleased with the way the Insight handles. The Insight doesn't change directions as crisply as the Honda Fit, but it feels confident in all but the tightest corners, with unexpected poise in high-speed cruising. Brakes are front disc, rear drum but feel up to the task.

Review continues below
7

2011 Honda Insight

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Honda Insight offers comfort that's about on par with other small cars, but its rakish shape costs headroom in back.

The 2011 Honda Insight might be a little lower and more rakish than other small cars, but aside from tight rear headroom it offers good comfort.

The Insight's front seats are a little short and flat, but they're covered with a nice, meshy fabric that's grippy and comfortable and there's plenty of headroom. Unfortunately, behind the front seats, it's not quite as perfect; the backseat can fit three kids across, or two adults, but headroom is very tight due to the sloping roofline.

Cargo space isn't quite as good as it looks; there's a generous 15.9 cubic feet, but it's quite shallow, and the 60/40-split backseats don't quite fold forward flat.

Interior appointments in the Insight are about on par with those in Honda's other small cars—which is to say, there aren't a lot of soft-touch surfaces, but it feels tightly assembled and the dash and doors have nicely grained plastics. Ride quality is good despite the short 100-inch wheelbase, and the interior is quiet and civilized except when mashing the throttle to the floor, which causes the engine to become quite raucous.

Review continues below
8

2011 Honda Insight

Safety

The 2011 Honda Insight is far from top-rated for safety, but it comes with a good list of features—including standard stability control.

The 2011 Honda Insight earns respectable, though not downright impressive, safety ratings, though with electronic stability control now standard across the entire lineup, it has all the bases covered with respect to features.

The Insight earned top 'good' results in frontal offset, side, and rear impacts in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, but it was rated just 'acceptable' in the new IIHS roof strength test.

Under the previous federal crash-test system, the Insight earned a mix of four- and five-star ratings for both frontal and side impact protection—which doesn't bode all that well for the more stringent new ratings system introduced for 2011 (in which it hasn't yet been tested).

For those who are keeping score, versus the Toyota Prius, the Prius also earned 'good' scores from the IIHS but it hasn't yet been tested for roof strength, or in the new federal tests.

Otherwise, all the expected safety features are represented, including standard front side and side curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes and active front head restraints—plus electronic stability control.

Outward visibility is actually quite good in the 2011 Insight, thanks to plenty of window space and a small lower window, located just above the rear bumper, which helps when parking.

Review continues below
7

2011 Honda Insight

Features

A new base model of the Honda Insight adds value for 2011, but those who want cutting-edge tech features will still have to look elsewhere.

While the 2011 Honda Insight starts at less than $18,950 with destination, and that includes the high-tech hybrid powertrain, it doesn't completely skimp on equipment. On the other hand, there are no high-tech options like those offered in the Prius (such as parking guidance, lane assist, a head-up display, and the like).

That $19k model of the Insight is new this year. Slotting below the Insight LX, the base Insight includes remote entry, automatic climate control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows and locks, and a two-speaker CD sound system. The next level up the Insight ladder is the Insight LX, which adds cruise control, USB audio interface, and a center armrest storage console among other features.

Topping the 2011 Insight range is the EX, which gets all of the LX's equipment plus alloy wheels, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and audio controls, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals. At the top of the Insight line—and there really are no other options—is a 6.5-inch navigation package with voice recognition, bundled with Bluetooth hands-free calling. Bluetooth is only offered with the nav system, and only on the EX.

Review continues below
9

2011 Honda Insight

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Honda Insight's 40+ mpg ratings make it one of the greenest vehicles on the market—but it trails the Prius by a distance.

The Honda Insight was conceived as a vehicle that would be a unique body style, like the Toyota Prius, but a bit more affordable with the lower costs associated with Honda's IMA mild-hybrid system. Unfortunately, the Insight has ended up living in the shadow of the Prius—and this is an area of the market where fuel-economy numbers mean everything.

With EPA ratings of 40 mpg city, 43 highway, the Insight isn't nearly as fuel-efficient as the first-generation Insight two-seater, or as the Toyota Prius, which sports ratings of 51/48. But after the Prius, the Insight is tied with Honda's own Civic Hybrid for the runner-up position for 2011.

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Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 7
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