2013 Honda Insight: The Forgotten Hybrid?

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2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

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Some lead, others follow. And with poor sales and Toyota's Prius C now on the market as a head-to-head rival, the Honda Insight can definitely consider itself a follower.

That's a shame, for those who remember the original Honda Insight.

It may have looked quirky, cost a great deal and only seated two, but it was a triumph of engineering over marketing. With a 53 mpg combined rating and up to 59 mpg highway, it's still the highest-ranked non plug-in vehicle ever tested by the EPA. As such, used examples rarely stay long on dealer lots.

Predictably, as many pioneering cars do, it also lost Honda money on every vehicle, no doubt part of the motivation taking a more conventional route for the second-generation car.

But as you cast your eyes over the Insight's surprisingly Prius-like silhouette, it's hard not to think the car may have had more success with a little more of the first-generation car's spirit.

This is borne out in poor sales. Well, poor sales in the U.S.--in its home market of Japan, the Insight became the first hybrid car ever to top Japan's sales charts in a month, and sold 93,283 units in its first year on sale, 2009.

On this side of the Pacific, the Insight has sold little over 20,000 per year--selling 20,572 in 2009, 20,962 in 2010 and only 15,549 in 2011--while sales this year, according to Reuters, have topped no more than 4,801.

If that doesn't sound too bad to you, consider that the archetypal hybrid, the Toyota Prius, sold 139,682 units in 2009.

This year's lull is no doubt partly due to the arrival of Toyota's Prius C, which at 50 mpg combined beats the less sophisticated Insight's 42 mpg EPA rating comfortably. In the Honda's favor, it's still the cheapest hybrid on sale, with an MSRP of $18,500.

Comparison: 2012 Honda Insight vs. 2012 Toyota Prius C

Also in the Insight's favor, people actually taking the plunge into Insight ownership are enjoying impressive fuel economy figures. Among three owners posting figures on the EPA's fueleconomy.gov website, Insight owners are averaging 56.2 mpg.

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

Enlarge Photo
You can usually take figures like this with a pinch of salt, but even the lowest quoted economy from the three users is 51 mpg, with an 80 percent highway, 20 percent city mix.

From those who have driven the Insight, it's also considered the sportier drive than its Prius equivalents, though some feel it lacks a little refinement. And if you want sporty--as some do--then Honda sells the CR-Z.

And maybe that's the Insight's problem. If you want more efficiency for a similar price, then Toyota sells the Prius C. If you want more refinement, then it's hard to ignore the 44 mpg Civic Hybrid parked next to the Insight in the showroom. Or the funky CR-Z, if razor-sharp styling is your thing.

But we'd like to hear from owners, or those who've been tempted to own one--are the Insight's low profile and low sales justified? Or does Honda's dedicated hybrid not get the attention it deserves? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Comments (33)
  1. These discussions always leave me cold because it seems to assume that buyers stay within a "segment" imagined by the writer, e.g. the hybrid segment. They don't.

    My sister-in-law went to test drive the 2010 Honda Insight and found it lacking in many ways. The biggest deal breaker was that the AC turned of when the engine turned off. Not great for summers in Boston.

    Fortunately, parked next to the Insight was the Honda Fit which is cheaper and a much nicer car. She bought it and loves it. Sorry if that segment shifting ruins the narrative of journalists, but that the way real shopping is.

    For me, I cross shopped the Toyota Prius and the Toyota Sienna. They were the only two vehicles under consideration.

  2. So because the AC shut off (actually it continues blowing cool til the evap coils warm up or the interior exceeds the set temp, then starts up and cools again), she skipped the Insight and chose the least fuel efficient nonhybrid in it's class? Yikes.
    For me the Insight is lacking in info display features. There's no dedicated battery display, and an old school needle for charge/assist readout. They need to put the CRZ (which I now drive) gauge cluster in the Insight.

  3. Well, maybe the AC works better on longer trips, but when we drove it in the city, as soon as the engine shut off, no more cold air was coming out and the cabin got hot. The only remedy was to take it out of hybrid drive mode. A pretty poor solution.

  4. John, as others have noted the behavior of the A/C can be tweaked to your desired comfort/efficiency parameters. If it's 110 outside, you may wish to toggle the A/C to remain on at all times. On the other hand, if it's 85 outside, you may wish to toggle it to stop when necessary. Your choice.

    My 2010 Insight, which I just purchased used, is a nice drive with excellent mpg, and is indeed underrated. I like the Prius C and Prius "classic" as well, so no harm in choosing those either. But the Insight at its price point is an excellent option that really is underestimated. I had a 2000 Insight and enjoyed it (the mpg was of course crazy good) but this one is a much more refined (and of course roomy) car compared to the original.


  5. The 2010 Honda Fit gets 28 city 35 highway. What was the more efficient choice in this class?

    2010 Matrix 25/31
    2010 Focus 24/34
    2010 Yaris 29/35

    Not much to improve on there. I would say the Fit was class leading efficiency for 2010.

  6. For 2010 the Fit gets a pass. Now it's one of the worst, especially the manual.
    I had an 07 Fit and it was great. Awful MT gearing and want for more features had me looking for something else after 4 years though.

  7. If the AC is on the start/stop engine only stays off for 20-30 seconds, then the engine comes back on. I looked at the Fit. Not bad but much smaller and choppy ride. I get 44-46 mpg combined during summer in real driving. I have 54,000 miles on mine.

  8. I have to disagree. The REALY FORGOT HYBRID is the 2000-2006 Honda Insight. If Honda would bring back that bad boy, I so would get one!

  9. If I were looking for a small used high mpg car in the next few years the Insight would definitely be on the list of vehicles to look at.

    Brand new? No thanks.

  10. I purchased a 2012 Insight in November, even after John's doom and gloom warning about his sister-in-law. As for the A/C problem, turn off the econ button and your problem is solved. Boston summers have nothing on New Orleans summers and I do just fine. I'm also able to fit 4 (or 5 if a child) with the 4 doors so the CRZ isn't a good comparisonDedicated battery monitor or upgraded charge/assist gauge,why? I simply watch the mpg gauge.I get 42/52 without using econ mode and have no complaints about the car. Honestly I never see it mentioned in Honda advertising so it's no wonder sales are low. But for those of you interested in an actual owners experience,I've had the car almost a year now and am extremely satisfied.

  11. If you turn off the Econ button, the motor runs all the time.

  12. EPA estimates of the Insight are not reflecting real world driving, plain and simple. EPA estimates Prius to be 19% more efficient than Insight: 50 vs 42. So why does UK estimate the Prius to be only 5% more efficient than Insight: 72.4 vs 68.9. And how is it that I get 50+ mpg in my 2010 insight under normal driving (calculated myself after each fillup). The Prius C wasn’t available at the time but if I was in the market today I would be looking closely at both, and I would want to know the real deal about the Insight mpg.

  13. I bought a 2012 Insight EX in July. Because I wanted to get over 40mpg city or hwy, and was looking to spend no more than $22k, it came down to the Prius C or the Insight. I test drove both, and went home with the Insight.

    My reasoning? It's a better drive - it has better steering feel and feels more peppy. It looks better. It feels more roomy inside, and the cargo area has more useful space (despite the official volume numbers). The interior feels higher-quality - there's some use of chrome, the fabric is wonderful, and the leather wrapped steering wheel is worlds ahead of the one in the Prius.

    And I knew from fuelly.com that the real-world fuel economy of the two is not that far apart. I'm happy to report a 46.2mpg average from mine.

  14. I am always skeptical of these reports, but maybe there is something to this.

    Looking at 2010 Honda Insight on Fuelly shows 44.2 mpg for 170 cars and 7600 fillup.

    2010 Toyota Prius on Fuelly shows 47.6 mpg for 418 cars and 17,000 fillups.

    So the gap in between the Insight and the Prius MPG is perhaps much closer than the EPA numbers suggest.

    Interestingly, the 2012 Prius C shows 51.5 mpg for 266 cars and 2,900 fillups.

  15. Yes, the Prius C without a doubt posts better numbers. Just not as far off as the EPA tests show. And the 2012 Insight is showing 47.7mpg average across all users (32 cars and 669 fillups). I think fuelly is less sketch than EPA; it's simply users punching in their miles and gallons at fillup. Can't get more accurate than that.

    Prius C is a great car, so is the Prius Liftback, definitely. But it's great to have different choices.

  16. I bought my 2010 Insight exactly 3 years ago, and I have put a little over 45K miles on it. Average fuel efficiency is at 42.5 m/g, which I consider to be great, because of how I drive.
    My second set of tires (Michelin) only have about 2/32 of depth left (even wear, periodic rotation and balancing, no alignment issues).
    I tried getting the best efficiency I could in mixed city/highway driving. I got about 46 m/g. Everybody who got stuck behind me in traffic must have hated me back in the first quarter of 2010. Then I decided that it was a lot more fun for me, and a lot better for the planet if people who stopped behind me at a traffic light had to go from "Darn it, I am behind a hybrid" to "Wow. What hybrid was that?"
    It is fun to drive.

  17. I just bought Insight 2013 last month. I learned from research before I bought this car, that it was 100% fully assembled in Japan. It is the No. 1 hybrid car in Japan. From all we know, a lot of US-made cars were later recalled. I am not against "Made in USA" quality. Having lived in Japan for 11 years, there was no such thing as "recalled" cars.

  18. I bought a used 2010 Insight 5 months back and love it! Besides the very close fuelly.com real world MPG numbers, its battery is only 40% the size of a Prius battery - so if you ever need to replace it, it should be much cheaper. Plus the smaller battery means less weight, and that with the much better steering and brake pedal feel versus the Prius, makes it a much more enjoyable car to drive. This car does not get the credit it deserves!

  19. I love my 2010 Insight. Yes, with the eco assist the air or heat go off when at a stop light. However, whining about such a trivial thing is silly. The air goes back on in a couple of minutes when you start driving again. And I like, Keith live in the south, Augusta GA to be exact and it gets very hot and hummid here. I also love the way it teaches you how to drive more efficiently with the blue and green light and other displays. We drove up to Charleston SC over Labor Day weekend and got 48.8 miles on the highway, wonderful millage. In another month I will be driving up to Pittsburgh and will try to see if I can get over 50 mpg. Oh, and another thing, I do alot of gardening and hauling so the hatchback works very well for me.

  20. The reason why the Insight is somewhat forgotten is because Honda is not making a profit on sales in the USA of this Japanese made car. Same with the Fit, though it is cheaper to make and has more appeal to the US customer. Primarily because it has the most amount of cargo room versus exterior mass at entry level prices. This justifies the below average mpg in the current market and Honda is keeping its base happy. However, Honda needs to invest in a Hybrid Fit made here if it wants to compete.

  21. The Insight is not forgotten, it is just under appreciated and
    not advertised. Honestly, when you do some research on
    Fuelly and other sites you will find that it has great gas mileage, that is very close to the prius, with actual prices paid being much less than what you will have to pay for a prius. In my case the Insight LX was $5000 dollars less than the cheapest prius II. Once you drive the two cars as many have stated, the Insight looks and drives like a normal car and indeed is more engaging to drive. The interior of the prius to me was very basic, and I could not handle the center mounted gauges. So I agree with other owners that it is great to have other options out there, and especially ones that save you alot of money up front.

  22. I have the 2012 Honda Insight and I love it, I like how the guage cluster is where it should be, at the drivers side. I'm getting 50mpg and the driving dynamics are much better than the Toyota whatever it is (ie, not boring). Plus it was thousands cheaper than the Prius, add to that Hondas reliability and it's a no-brainer. The AC will not shut off when you stop if you turn Eco off, it's a button press.

  23. I own a 2010 Honda Insight. I bought it new. This car is Honda's biggest secret. It is never advertised on TV. I love the car. I have never gotten lower than 52 mpg. It is quiet and comfortable. It's the most efficient car I have ever owned. The car has a good bit of power for such a small car. The car costs a lot less than the Toyota Prius. This is why I bought it and am completely satisfied with it. I live in a smaller town and have seen only 2 other Insights here. If the public knew more about this car, Honda would sell a lot more. The car seems to shut itself down at a traffic light, but responds when I need it to. I have no complaints about the car and wonder why Honda is hiding it. Great car.

  24. Its a well balanced car. In everyway.
    I owned a 2011 unit. Clocking almost 32K miles.
    The chassis was just nice with accurate rigidity. Not too big or small in size. Not too soft hence it felt nimble.
    Engine wise, it sounds small (1300cc) but packed with enough juice (plus the battery of course) to do 120 on the freeway. Fuel economy was excellent.
    If only i can list down why its low on sales volume:
    1. Engine; 1.3 sounds weak. Prius 1.8 sound better for ear while people didnt realized Prius engine was atkinson cycle and have a very low output as a 1.8.
    2. Chassis; earlier owner claim harsh ride. People usually comment for the first few miles after they bought the car. After few K mileage, the chassis-suspension actually better balanced.

  25. Purchased: Feb 2010.
    Model: 2010 Insight EX
    Price: $20,700
    Problems: NONE
    I wanted a car that at least doubled the 16 mpg I was getting with my small 4 cylinder SUV. EPA I think was 41 on the Insight. The car looked nice, drove well. What really surprised me is that it consistently gets up to 20% HIGHER mileage than the EPA sticker. I always am in the 48 - 52 mpg range. I live in Palm Springs and Long Beach Ca. Mostly Freeway driving. I actually got 58 mpg on a one-way trip from Long Beach to Palm Springs. Also own a 2010 Civic Coupe. Nice looking car but the interior is so loud a conversation is work. Road noise from the tires is the worst of any car I ever owned. Another Civic? Never. Another Insight? Absolutely.

  26. I have a 2013 Insight. I can't understand why Honda doesn't promote this car. I was looking for a fuel efficient replacement for my 2003 Toyota Matrix and considered Honda Fit and Subaru Impreza, stumbled upon the Honda Insight. They don't stock them anywhere in town and I just happened to discover two at a dealership. It cost more than the Fit and less than the Impreza. The Prius C was also more $$ but I didn't consider it. The gas mileage keeps creeping upward, it's at 49.x, and I think will get to or above 50. I guess the breakin period and figuring out how to drive it affects that. It's very affordable and should be a popular car. As to the a/c, there's more than one way to prevent it from shutting off when you stop.

  27. The reason it's better is because it's not a Toyota.

  28. I have a 2013 Insight and I love it. I'm averaging 51.3 MPG, and I've gotten up to 62MPG on some longer drives. I love the design. The PriusC looks like a toy to me.

  29. I find the posts in this thread very helpful and am interested in more info. I am looking into buying a 2010/2011 insight but have questions about the maintenance cost. What is your experience? How much do you pay for maintenance per year and is there a known and costly issue that has not been mentioned? Also, does anyone have an opinion about buying a used insight that used to be a rental/loaner car?

  30. I am a well read car follower. I decided to purchase a 2013 Insight EX in July of this year, after much debate as to buy this vehicle or a heavily discounted Prius II, putting both at approximately the same price. For me the Insight´s ergonomics are very well done and I like the dash layout. The paddle shifters and its sporty approach to driving are what won me over the Prius II. When cruising its incredibly quiet, with little engine noise. The Prius is super, but for me the Insight felt more fun. There´s just something about a Honda product. I feel like a kid when looking at it. The Insight is not seen as much either on the road making it more unique. I avg around 50mpg on highway driving, and in city driving average 41-45.

  31. I bought a 2010 Insight with less than 31K miles on it for 12.5K in beautiful condition except for the good-riddance Dunlop OEM tires. Siliconed away the window rattles, put a set of Yokohama Avid Ascends LRRs on and it drives just like my old 03 Accord--solid as a rock. I attribute the price largely to Consumer Reports' ignorant review of the machine. Thanks, CR!

    I've put 11K miles on it and the lowest tank I've had was 46mpg plus (in the DC winter and mainly city/suburban). I had several tanks over 56mpg in the summer, and the machine runs beautifully and gets its best mileage and performance on ethanol-free regular.

    If I ever replace my other "city car", a 2000 Insight that parks everywhere, I'm going to get another used Gen II.

  32. I bought my Insight new in 2010. With 131,000 miles I can say that It was what I was looking for. I need a hatchback for work (the Civic seat backs don't fold, thus eliminating it), and with my previous purchases of Honda's I didn't hesitate to purchase. It is definitely slowing however, no doubt the batteries are getting tired. But with a lifetime average close to 44 mpg, it has been exactly what I needed.

  33. Am way behind the discussion here: My wife got a 2010 insight last March. She loves it but I don't. Having driven it on a few longer trips, my gripe is with the lousy layout of the windows, which restricts visibility to a point that feels unsafe. The long sloping A-pillars on either side of the windshield block key lines of sight for turns. The rear view is like looking through a toaster. The molding with the rear wiper drive cuts out even more view on the driver's side =right where you'd want more glass. And whenever sunlight hits the oversized top shelf of the dash, that reflects in the windshield as a veil of grey glare. I've not driven the original Insight, but did try a Prius 2. The Insight 2 makes a Prius feel positively panoramic!

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