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2012 Honda Insight

$21,990 MSRP


Review of: 2012 Honda Insight 5dr CVT LX


Honda Insight: Hybrid on a budget

By Jil McIntosh

Mar. 19, 2012

I know the CR-Z, Mr. Insight. And you, sir, are no CR-Z. You may be among the least-expensive hybrids out there, but you are not among the best.

The 2000 Honda Insight was the first commercial hybrid we saw; the Toyota Prius was the first worldwide, but the Insight arrived in Canada slightly ahead of it. Unlike that original two-chair model, the current Insight has a rear seat, and it’s arguably a much handsomer vehicle. But it’s not as technologically advanced as the Prius, and it’s nowhere near as much fun as its more powerful, and surprisingly sporty and tossable Honda CR-Z cousin.

The Insight was temporarily discontinued for 2011 – Honda cited production difficulties due to the Japanese tsunami – and it returns for 2012 in a single base LX trim line, with the upper-level EX trim no longer available. Its MSRP is $21,990, but only a few options and accessories can be added to it, including a “Protector Package” of all-season mats, cargo tray and mud guards for $405, a leather-wrapped steering wheel for $194, and a USB adapter at a hefty $468.

Pros & Cons

  • + Fuel economy
  • + Trunk space
  • - Usable technology
Read the full review
  • Interior

    There are several small-item cubbies, including two shallow ones in the dash, one lidded (a push-button opens it) and one open. The cupholders are set under the dash and in front of the shifter, and so you’ll probably rap a taller travel mug against the dash. Most will end up using the cupholder at the rear of the centre console.

    Standard features include cruise control, power windows, keyless entry, fixed intermittent wipers, and a CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input jack, but no Bluetooth.

    There’s also plenty of storage space at the back, with a cargo floor that’s 85 cm long when the rear seats are upright, and a completely flat 160 cm in length when they’re folded. There are also several cubby spaces hidden under the floor.

    8.5Very good
  • Tech

    The Insight’s busy dash isn’t bad-looking, but there’s an awful lot of hard grey plastic, and combined with the tinny doors, it’s a bit low-rent. That said, when you’re getting hybrid technology and a NiMH battery for less than $22,000, you have to expect that there will be compromises. Everything fits together well, and there were no squeaks or rattles. I did find, though, that the dash and its lines are reflected in the windshield in bright sunlight, which became annoyingly distracting.

    That odd centre stack is actually well-positioned for the driver, and includes standard automatic climate control, with a dial for adjusting the temperature. The stereo is equally simple, once you figure out that the on/off button isn’t the big dial in the middle, but a piddly little one up in the corner.

    The two-tier dash has a digital speedometer up top, with a background that glows green when your driving is light-footed, and which turns blue when you’re being less economical. The bottom half contains the tachometer, along with a driver-selectable information screen that can display instant and average fuel economy, whether the car’s on gasoline or electricity, or a forest of tiny “trees” that sprout more leaves as you continue driving efficiently. I liked to keep the fuel economy gauge displayed, but every time I shut the car off, I had to hit the button on the steering wheel to bring it back again. Why can’t it just stay on?

    Comfort-wise, the Insight’s seats are great for commuter drives, although they get hard on longer trips. The foot wells are long but narrow, and so when my passenger got squirmy on a long drive – the seats were past their comfort zone at that point – he couldn’t find the room to stretch his feet sideways for a bit of relief. The rear seats have enough legroom for full-size adults.

  • Driving

    The Insight starts with a 1.3-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine, rated at 88 horsepower and 88 lb-ft of torque. Honda then hooks it to an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, a thin electric motor that can boost the combined output to a maximum of 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. The motor’s powered by a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery that recharges through regenerative braking – you don’t plug this car into the wall to charge it. The sole transmission choice is an automatic, gearless continually variable transmission (CVT).

    As with other hybrids, the Insight has a start/stop function: when you come to a stop with your foot on the brake, and such parameters as ambient and engine temperature are in line, the gasoline engine shuts off, saving fuel and eliminating emissions. The lights, stereo and climate system continue to operate, although I did notice that the heater fan speed dropped considerably. This was especially evident when I had the “Eco” button engaged, which also cuts back aggressively on the engine performance and throttle response. The engine starts up again as soon as you take your foot off the brake, with a bit of a rough jolt each time.

    The Insight’s system is commonly called a “mild” hybrid, as the electric motor primarily assists the gasoline engine. It is capable of running on its battery alone, but only under certain conditions, which is most likely when you’re cruising on a flat road at around 40 km/h. It can’t start off on electric power or run at low speeds on its battery as the Prius can.

    The performance is about what you’d expect for 98 horses in a 1,240-kg car, which means you have to rethink gaps in traffic. No matter how hard you stomp the throttle, that truck you just cut off is going to get very big in your rearview mirror. The CVT can be placed into Sport mode, which keeps it at higher revs and makes it feel a bit peppier, but it all gets rather noisy. The published fuel figures are 4.7 L/100 km in the city and 4.4 on the highway, while in a week of combined driving in moderate cold – most of it in the Eco mode – I averaged 4.9 L/100 km.

  • Conclusion

    Up until recently, the Insight was able to claim the title of the least-expensive hybrid available. That was quite a selling point, since hybrids have a relatively high break-even point – that moment when the fuel you save makes up for how much more they cost over a comparable gas-only car. And while it never offered the most exhilarating driving experience, it was still fuel-miserly enough, especially if drivers needed more than the two seats offered in the vastly more fun-to-drive Honda CR-Z.

    What’s thrown a wrench into everything is the all-new Prius c, the smallest of Toyota’s hybrids, which starts at $20,950 to the Insight’s tag of $21,990. It’s a bit stubbier but has comparable interior space, has pretty much all of the Insight’s features (plus Bluetooth and USB port), more airbags, the same combined horsepower, and most importantly, even better fuel economy, thanks to being able to run more often on electricity alone. The Insight may have been the first to reach our shores, but given so many strikes against it, I wonder how much longer it will last.

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