2012 Honda Insight Hatchback - FROM $18,500
While fuel-efficient and reliable, the 2012 Honda Insight doesn't measure up to its archrival, the Toyota Prius.
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Honda Insight receives a mild refresh. Exterior changes include a new grille design, restyled front and rear bumpers, redesigned headlights and brake lights and slightly wider tires for more confident handling. Inside there is a reconfigured rear seat area (with 0.5-inch more headroom and better visibility), a redesigned gauge cluster, and reshaped cupholders that hold larger drinks. The EX and LX models also get upgraded upholstery and a more supportive front armrest.
All Insights get added noise insulation and a newly upgraded optional navigation system. A rearview camera is now available (packaged with the navigation system), and engine and transmission tweaks provide a fuel economy gain of 1 mpg in both city and highway driving.
Honda Insight Video Review
Relaunched a few years ago, the Honda Insight is one of the granddaddies of the hybrid segment. The fact that its sales over the years have paled relative to those of the segment's other founding father, the Toyota Prius, says a lot about what most Americans want from their hybrids.
The 2012 Honda Insight has some things in its favor. One is its low price tag; with a starting price of less than $20 grand, it's the most inexpensive hybrid on the market, though not by much now that the new Prius C is around. Another is its performance at the gas pump. Though its mileage doesn't top that of the supremely frugal Prius (standard version or the C), the Insight bears the distinction of being one of the most fuel-efficient models in a segment known for fuel efficiency.
This Honda's primary weakness concerns ride comfort. While it offers a less isolated and more engaging driving experience than the Toyotas, the Insight doesn't feel nearly as refined on the road, thanks largely to a suspension that's less forgiving over broken pavement. It also comes up short in utility. It trails both Prius models in cargo capacity, and although 2012 upgrades leave it with an ever so slightly roomier backseat, its second row remains less spacious than theirs.
If you're one of the many hybrid owners who take special pleasure in cruising along solely on electric power, you should know that's impossible in the Insight, since its "mild hybrid" setup doesn't allow the car to travel on electricity alone. And this setup comes with another drawback: air-conditioner shut-off when the car stops, which can lead to sticky times in hot weather.
Overall, the 2012 Honda Insight isn't a bad pick for affordable transportation. Still, most buyers will be better served by either the comparably priced Toyota Prius C or roomier but more expensive standard Prius, given their superior versatility and refinement. You might also want to consider Honda's own Civic Hybrid, which is a nicer car to drive and actually returns slightly better fuel economy.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Honda Insight is available in three trim levels: base, LX and EX.
Standard equipment on the base trim includes 15-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver-seat height adjustment, a trip computer and a two-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The LX adds cruise control, a front center armrest and storage bin, floor mats, steering wheel audio controls, four speakers for the sound system and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The EX adds 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering wheel shift paddles, Bluetooth, vanity mirrors and a six-speaker sound system. The EX can also be equipped with a navigation system, which includes a touchscreen interface, voice controls, a digital audio card reader and a rearview camera.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Honda Insight's hybrid system consists of a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor paired with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The gas engine is good for 88 horsepower and 88 pound-feet of torque, while the electric motor chips in 13 hp and 58 lb-ft. Due to varying power peaks, the maximum combined output is 98 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. Power flows to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
At our test track, the Insight accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds -- a few tenths slower than the Prius, but a substantial 2.6 seconds quicker than the glacial Civic Hybrid. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 41 mpg city/44 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined.
Every 2012 Honda Insight comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), brake assist, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Insight received the best possible rating of "Good" in frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Insight's cabin has a spare feel, and doesn't aspire to transcend the car's low price tag. This is particularly noticeable in the base model, which lacks a front armrest and has just two speakers for the stereo. Though rear headroom sees a slight improvement for 2012, the Insight still trails the Prius when it comes to headroom and legroom in the second row.
On the positive side, the Insight's controls are quite simple to use and the standard automatic climate control is appreciated. Also, the visual aids offered by the Insight to help encourage fuel-efficient driving are a nice touch. As your long-term fuel economy improves or declines, the background color of the speedometer changes, and the trip computer rewards or chastises you with images of growing or wilting trees.
Because of its "mild hybrid" setup, the 2012 Honda Insight feels more like a traditional gas-only car than the Prius; there's no transition between electric and gasoline modes since the Insight's engine is assisted by its electric motor rather than working in tandem with it. For some drivers, this may be an advantage.
Its responsive steering and relatively sporty suspension tuning make the Insight more fun to drive than the Prius. However, it is noticeably less engaging than non-hybrid yet still fuel-efficient models like the Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper. Ride quality suffers over rough surfaces, and even the smallest pavement imperfections are transmitted to the cabin. Excessive road noise has long been an issue with the Insight but the situation sees some improvement for 2012, thanks to improved noise insulation.