- Handles and maneuvers well
- Ride is smooth for such a small car
- Clever twin-cluster dash design
- Very good gas mileage
- 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
The 2012 Honda Insight has been updated for 2012, but it has less space than other subcompacts and lower mileage than several other hybrids.
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.
2012 Honda Insight
The interior design of the 2012 Honda Insight sets it apart from the Prius it somewhat resembles on the outside.
Squint at the 2012 Honda Insight, and you may see a silhouette that looks rather like the ur-hybrid Toyota Prius. The laws of physics are to blame; both cars are shaped to cut through the air with the lowest possible wind resistance, stretching each gallon fuel to its maximum. As a result, both are five-door hatchbacks with very high tails and a vertical glass panel in the liftgate to improve rearward visibility.
Still, the Insight incorporates some very Honda-esque design elements, including thin projector-beam headlamps that offer a distinctive break from the large, overwrought front lights of recent years. The grille and front fascia design, mildly revised for the 2012 model, evokes Honda's larger and even greener FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, with distinctive LED taillamps and a new-for-2012 air diffuser in the rear. The window line is low, offering better visibility than in small cars with more extreme and slit-like side window styling. Even the sleek door handles are scaled to the car, rather than the truck-like oversize efforts even some small cars carry.
A two-tone, twin-tier instrument panel similar to that of the new Civic puts critical driving and powertrain information quite far forward, and closer to the base of the windshield, making it easier for the driver to glance at with less refocusing. The center-stack controls--excepting those for the optional navigation system and the audio system--angle toward the driver. Climate controls will be familiar to those used by Fit owners, but are located in their own dashboard area to the right of the steering wheel, rather than in the more usual position in the center stack.
2012 Honda Insight
The 2012 Honda Insight is hardly a sport sedan, but its response and roadholding are more engaging than many other fuel-efficient hybrids.
The 2012 Honda Insight uses the company's well-known Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system, featuring a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that's supplemented by a 10-kilowatt (13-horsepower) electric motor. Together, the pair of power sources produce 98 hp and 123 pound-feet of torque.
Unlike the better-known Prius, which is a full hybrid, the Honda mild-hybrid system can't move the car away from a stop solely on electricity. Instead, the tiny nickel-metal-hydride battery pack recaptures wasted energy from braking and engine overrun, and stores it so the motor can supplement the gas engine when more power is needed under heavy loads. It also restarts the engine, which switches off every time the car comes to a stop. The 2012 Insight can maintain its momentum solely on electricity at speeds up to 30 mph, though we've seen this happen relatively little in our various road tests of Insight models.
The electric motor provides the system with plenty of torque for eager acceleration from stoplights, along with adequate power for passing. The 2012 Insight uses a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), which is mostly unobtrusive but still provides some of the rubber-band-like lag when full power is suddenly demanded. The sporty Insight EX version includes paddles on the steering wheel that simulate a seven-speed transmission, allowing drivers to "downshift" and increase engine speed for better performance.
The Insight's handling is as good or better than that of the larger Prius. Eco-minded drivers who encounter winding roads won't be tortured by the Insight, though it's still not as crisp and linear as its similarly-sized Fit hatchback sibling. The Insight feels confident in all but the tightest and curviest corners, and its high-speed cruising is unexpectedly poised. The brakes (discs in front, small drums in back) are up to the task, and of course regenerative braking provides a little extra slowing effort when the driver lifts off as well.
2012 Honda Insight
Comfort & Quality
The 2012 Honda Insight is fine up front, but the rear is cramped; its comfort and refinement are on a par with other small cars until you floor it, when it gets remarkably loud and raucous.
For better aerodynamics, the 2012 Honda Insight is lower and tighter than other subcompacts, but its comfort is decent except for a cramped rear seat with very little headroom, a consequence of the drooping roofline. For 2012, Honda has reshaped the rear seat cushions and "sculpted" the headliner to increase rear headroom by 0.6 inch.
The front seat cushions are a touch short, but the grippy mesh covering holds well, and headroom for front-seat occupants is generous. While two adults or potentially three small kids can fit into the rear seat, the adults will be happier if they're short and the kids had better be friendly. Open the hatchback, and you'll find 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space--a generous amount, but one that's compromised by a high load floor and 60/40 split rear seatbacks that don't fold flat, meaning the load floor isn't flat either.
Honda's interior appointments have slipped on other models in recent years, but the Insight is about average for the make. There are few soft-touch surfaces, but the expanses of hard plastics are nicely grained and everything seems to be bolted together well. The doors feel a bit tinny when closed hard, and it's obvious that Honda has made absolutely every effort to cut weight, resulting in flimsy materials for things like the headliner (which is, granted, out of sight most of the time).
The 2012 Insight's ride quality is good despite its short 100-inch wheelbase, and the car is quiet under most circumstances. The exception is spirited driving when maximum power is demanded from the engine--which becomes raucous and howls loudly when the throttle is mashed.
2012 Honda Insight
The 2012 Honda Insight regains its IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, but hasn't been tested by the NHTSA; it includes the expected list of safety features and airbags.
The 2012 Honda Insight has all the bases covered for safety features, and it gets decent safety ratings, though not the top of the heap on all counts.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2012 Insight its top rating of 'Good' in frontal offset, side, and rear impacts, and also for roof strength. That latter rating is an improvement on 2010-2011 Insight models, which were rated on 'Acceptable' on roof crush strength. As a result, the 2012 Insight is an IIHS Top Safety Pick--as is the larger 2012 Toyota Prius, if you're keeping score.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not rated the 2012 Insight using its new and more stringent frontal crash and side crash tests, so the Insight doesn't get an Overall safety rating from the agency. For rollover, it's rated at four out of five stars.
The 2012 Insight provides all the expected safety features. The list includes front, side, and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and active front head restraints. The car also offers decent outward visibility, helped by its low window line and the Prius-like additional vertical glass panel in the tailgate for rearward vision. For 2012, Honda redesigned and moved the rear window wiper to improve visibility as well.
2012 Honda Insight
A handful of new features keep the 2012 Honda Insight up to date, but it still doesn't offer most of the high-tech electronic features found on other hybrids.
The 2012 Honda Insight starts at just over $19,100 (including a mandatory $770 destination fee), which on the surface can make it a tough sell against the remarkably good Honda Fit subcompact that sits on the same showroom floor with a price more than $3,000 lower.
The Insight doesn't skimp on equipment, though the base model was a new addition last year to respond to an even greater price differential two years ago, when the Insight was first launched. And unlike the Prius, Honda's least expensive hybrid doesn't offer a long list of high-tech options--lane assist, automated parking guidance, and the like.
The base Insight does include automatic climate control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, power locks and windows, remote entry, and a two-speaker audio system with a CD player.
The next trim level up is the Insight LX, at about $21,000, which adds cruise control, a center console with armrest and a storage box inside, a security alarm, and a four-speaker audio system with USB jack. For 2012, Honda has added map lights and steering-wheel controls for the audio to the LX.
The top of the 2012 range is the Insight EX, which adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, heated side mirrors with turn signals integrated into them, and alloy wheels. New for 2012 on the EX are automatic headlights, a Bluetooth link, and leather wrapping on the steering wheel and shift knob.
A navigation package is the only major option, and only on the EX trim level, with a 6.5-inch display and voice recognition. For 2012, the navigation system adds a rearview camera, along with FM real-time traffic alerts, and the maps are now stored on 16 GB of flash memory, rather than the previous system's DVDs.
2012 Honda Insight
The 2012 Honda Insight is rated at 42 mpg combined, which is lower than not only the Toyota Prius but also Honda's own 2012 Civic Hybrid, both of them larger than the Insight (albeit also pricier).
The 2012 Honda Insight offers good fuel economy, but its price premium over conventional gasoline-engined subcompacts that come reasonably close may make the numbers a hard sell.
For 2012, all gas-mileage ratings have gone up by 1 mpg. The 2012 Insight is rated at 41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined. That's not as efficient as the tiny, two-seat first-generation Insight, nor does it match the 2012 Toyota Prius (50 mpg combined) or even Honda's own 2012 Civic Hybrid (44 mpg combined), though the Civic Hybrid is considerably pricier than the Insight.