2013 Honda Insight Review

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The Car Connection
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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
October 15, 2012

The 2013 Honda Insight falls behind other hybrids in gas mileage, and has less space than other subcompacts.

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.

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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 theĀ  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.

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2013 Honda Insight

Styling

The 2013 Honda Insight shares the same hybrid hatchback shape as the Prius, with a Honda two-level instrument panel inside.

The 2013 Honda Insight shares a basic shape with the quintessential hybrid, the Toyota Prius, and it's all due to physics. Both cars are five-door hatchbacks that have been styled and shaped for lowest wind resistance, to eke out every last mile from a gallon of gasoline. While the Insight's a subcompact and the Prius is dubbed a mid-size for its interior room, each has a steeply raked windshield, a high tail, and a vertical glass panel in the hatch to permit visibility out the back through the rear-view mirror.

Inside, a Civic-like two-level dashboard 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 climate controls are located in their own area of the dash, to the right of the steering wheel, rather than in the more usual position in the center stack--making it slightly awkward for the front right passenger to reach them. Controls for the audio system and the optional navigation system are in the usual central location, however.

Looking out from inside--even from the rear seats--is easy, thanks to a lower window line than in many modern cars. This is a Honda trademark we approve of, carried even into the latest 2013 Accord mid-size sedan, and makes the Insight a much nicer car to ride in than those designs with rising beltlines and more slit-like windows.

On the outside, the 2013 Insight carries several distinctive Honda design elements. The thin projector-beam headlamps are calmer than the huge, overwrought lights of a few years ago, and the front fascia and grille--which were redesigned last year--evoke the Honda FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle. LED taillamps and a prominent air diffuser under the bumper continue the low-energy-use, highly aerodynamic theme at the rear. Even the sleek door handles are scaled to the car, rather than the truck-like oversize efforts even some small cars carry.

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2013 Honda Insight

Performance

The 2013 Honda Insight handles better than some hybrids, but it runs out of power quickly at higher speeds.

Unlike the better-known full-hybrid Prius, the mild-hybrid system in the 2013 Honda Insight doesn't move the car away from a stop solely on electricity. Instead, the motor provides added torque to 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 tiny nickel-metal-hydride battery pack stores energy recaptured from braking and engine overrun, and delivers it to the electric motor on demand. While Honda says the Insight can maintain its momentum solely on electricity at speeds up to 30 mph, we've rarely seen this happen for more than a few seconds in our various road tests of Insight models.

The 2013 Insight uses the company's well-known Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. The 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine is paired to a 10-kilowatt (13-horsepower) electric motor sandwiched between it and the continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Together, the two power sources produce 98 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque.

That combination gives the Insight plenty of torque for eager acceleration from stoplights, along with adequate power for passing, especially at lower speeds. The CVT is mostly unobtrusive, but still provides some rubber-band-like lag when full power is demanded--at which point engine noise rises sharply. The sporty Insight EX version provides paddles on the steering wheel that let drivers "downshift" and "upshift" the "gears" in a simulated seven-speed transmission, for more responsive performance.

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. And the Insight's handling is as good--largely better than--that of the larger Prius. The Insight feels confident in all but the tightest and curviest corners, and its cruising at highway speeds is unexpectedly poised, as long as you don't need to pass in a hurry. The brakes (discs in front, small drums in back) are up to the task--and the regenerative braking provides a little extra slowing effort when the driver lifts off too.

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2013 Honda Insight

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Honda Insight is roomy in front, cramped in the rear, and gets very noisy under hard acceleration.

The 2013 Honda Insight is far from the roomiest subcompact hatchback on the market, handicapped by a body shaped for minimum aerodynamic drag and the need to house a high-voltage battery pack under the rear load bay. (The Toyota Prius C, its newest competitor, manages to get both a gas tank and a battery pack under the rear seat--giving it a full-depth load bay.)

The Insight is comfortable enough in front; the front seat cushions are a touch short, with grippy mesh fabric that holds well, and the headroom for front-seat occupants is generous. But the cramped rear seat offers very little headroom for two adults, a consequence of the drooping roofline. Last year, Honda reshaped the rear seat cushions and "sculpted" the headliner to increase rear headroom by more than half an inch--and every half-inch counts back there. Three kids can fit into the rear in a pinch.

Open the rear hatch, and you'll find 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space. That's a decent amount, but it's compromised by a high load floor and rear seatbacks that don't fold flat despite a 60/40 split, meaning the load floor isn't flat either. That contrasts vividly with the uber-flexible Honda Fit just a car or two over on the showroom floor.

While the recent Honda Civic was a disappointment for its interior materials, the Insight is about average for subcompacts. It has few soft-touch surfaces, but the hard plastics expanses are pleasantly grained and all the parts seem to be fastened together well. The doors are tinny when closed hard, and it's one of many signs that Honda has made every effort to cut weight to a minimum--resulting in remarkably flimsy materials for things like the headliner.

Ride quality in the 2013 Insight is good, despite a short 100-inch wheelbase, and the car is quiet under most circumstances. The one exception is spirited driving, when drivers and passengers will find that demanding maximum power from the engine makes it remarkably raucous, with a loud howl when the throttle is mashed.

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2013 Honda Insight

Safety

The 2013 Honda Insight hasn't been tested by the NHTSA, though the IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick.

The 2013 Honda Insight covers all the bases in terms of safety, though only one of the two major testing organizations has rendered a verdict on its crash safety. It has the expected suite of electronic safety systems, though no particularly innovative or advanced features beyond those.

The 2013 Insight doesn't get an Overall safety rating from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which hasn't retested the Insight since establishing new and more stringent frontal crash and side crash tests. For rollover, the agency rates the Insight at four out of five stars.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, on the other hand, gives the top rating of 'Good' to the 2013 Insight in frontal offset, side, and rear impacts, and also for roof strength. Earlier 2010-2011 Insight models did not do as well on roof strength; they were only rated 'Acceptable' for roof crush strength. The institute deems the 2013 Honda Insight an IIHS Top Safety Pick--as is the larger Toyota Prius, if you're keeping score.

The 2013 Honda Insight offers decent outward visibility, helped by its low window line and the Prius-like additional vertical glass panel in the tailgate for rearward vision. The list of safety features in the Insight includes electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, front, side, and side-curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. Honda redesigned and moved the rear window wiper to improve visibility last year as well.

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2013 Honda Insight

Features

The 2013 Honda Insight is only average for equipment, and has fewer of the high-end electronic features of many hybrids.

Adding in delivery, the most basic model of the 2013 Honda Insight hybrid now starts at $19,290. That's less than $500 below the inclusive price of the new Toyota Prius C, which gets better fuel efficiency, has more load space, and offers full electric running under light loads at low speeds. On the other end of the scale, the remarkably good Honda Fit subcompact that sits next to the Insight on the showroom floor carries a price more than $3,000 lower.

That base model of the Insight was added in 2011, but most Insights are sold at the higher LX or EX trim levels. The base model carries a decent level of standard equipment for a subcompact, though it's missing some features--cruise control, for instance--found on larger $20,000 cars. Honda's least expensive hybrid also doesn't offer a long list of high-tech options--automated parking guidance, lane assist, and the like--unlike the larger hybrids represented by the Prius Liftback and Ford C-Max.

The base Insight model does include a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, power locks and windows, automatic climate control, remote entry, and a two-speaker 160-watt audio system that includes a single-disc CD player.

The mid-level trim is the Insight LX, which starts at just above $21,000 with delivery, and includes steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, a security alarm, a center console that provides an armrest and includes a storage container inside, map lights, and a four-speaker audio system with USB jack. .

The top of the 2013 range is the Insight EX, which adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, heated side mirrors with turn signals integrated into them, automatic headlights, a six-speaker stereo system and Bluetooth link, leather wrapping on the steering wheel and shift knob, and alloy wheels. The only major option for the EX is a navigation system with a 6.5-inch display, voice recognition, a rearview camera, FM real-time traffic alerts, and maps are now stored on 16 GB of flash memory.

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2013 Honda Insight

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Honda Insight gets worse gas mileage than several major competitors, though it's still among the most fuel-efficient cars sold in the U.S.

While it's still one of the most economical gasoline cars offered in the U.S., the 2013 Honda Insight faces increasing competition both in its niche--lower-priced subcompact hybrids--and in larger, pricier hybrids that return better combined gas mileage numbers. And in the subcompact category especially, its price premium over conventional gasoline-engined subcompacts that come reasonably close may make the numbers a hard sell.

The 2013 Insight is rated at 42 mpg combined (41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway). That's not only lower than three more expensive compact or mid-size cars--the Toyota Prius (50 mpg combined), Ford C-Max (47 mpg combined), and even Honda's own compact Civic Hybrid (44 mpg combined)--it's lower than the Toyota Prius C subcompact, at 50 mpg combined.

So while the Insight remains a viable competitor, it's facing a tougher array of competitors this year--especially among buyers willing to pay about $5,000 more for a larger car to get better gas mileage.

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April 28, 2015
For 2013 Honda Insight

Incredible MPG at a reasonable price

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I purchased my 2013 Honda Insight in the spring of 2014, after the model had been discontinued. I've been extremely satisfied. Fuel economy has been excellent, especially on longer trips. If the weather's... + More »
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Styling 7
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