Although the Honda Insight was eagerly awaited before it launched as a 2010 model, the little hybrid hatchback has never come remotely close to its sales goals.

But the company isn't giving up, and the new 2012 Honda Insight features revised front styling, a nicer interior, and improved gas mileage ratings.

The subcompact 2012 Insight now gets EPA mileage numbers that are 1 mpg higher for all three ratings: city goes from 40 to 41 mpg, highway from 43 to 44 mpg, and the combined rating is now 42 mpg, up from last year's 41 mpg.

The front of the Insight now features a redesigned--Honda calls it "more distinctive'--grille with a thin blue accent bar to underscore the Insight's hybrid technology, along with a reshaped bumper. The internal reflectors of the headlights have also been updated.

The rear bumper is updated too, with diffusers added to smooth airflow. The aerodynamic strakes ahead of the front wheels have been extended, and the undertray below the engine has been revised as well. Together, Honda says, the changes cut the drag coefficient by 2 percent, helping to improve highway mileage.

New covers for the 15-inch wheels on lower-line models are standard, and the upscale Insight EX model sports restyled 15-inch alloy wheels. Honda has also widened the tires slightly for better grip.

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

Under the hood, minor revisions to the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT) cut friction to reduce fuel consumption. A 10-kilowatt electric motor is sandwiched between the two, as before. Total combined power output remains at 98 horsepower.

Inside, the seat fabric on the LX has been upgraded, the EX now offers "synthetic leather" as well as premium fabric. Thicker noise suppression materials and added load-bay insulation make the 2012 Insight quieter to ride in.

Up front, the center console has been reshaped to allow larger drink cups to fit in the cup holders, and the armrest has been improved on LX and EX models. Drivers will see a restyled background on the gauge cluster.

The rear seat gets 0.6 inches better headroom due to a reshaped headliner, and the rear seat cushions have also been "resculpted" for better comfort. Honda has reduced the sizes of the rear wiper motor and spoiler to improve rearward visibility.

The Insight EX's navigation system receives several upgrades, including for the first time a rear-view camera. FM traffic, a free service to alert drivers to congestion, is built in, and the maps are now stored on 16 GB of flash memory, rather than the previous system's 4.7-GB DVD-based storage.

2012 Honda Insight - European market version to be shown at Frankfurt Motor Show

2012 Honda Insight - European market version to be shown at Frankfurt Motor Show

For 2012, the base Honda Insight model costs $18,350 plus a mandatory $770 destination fee, and features a two-speaker sound system, power windows, remote entry, and automatic climate control.

The mid-level Insight LX model, starting at $20,125 plus destination, adds the armrest console, floor mats, a four-speaker audio system with USB interface, and a security system. For 2012, Honda has added map lights and steering-wheel controls for the audio to the LX.

New for 2012 on the top-of-the-line EX, starting at $21,815 plus destination, are automatic headlights, a Bluetooth link, and leather wrapping on the steering wheel and shift knob.

As before, the EX also features alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo, heated side mirrors, and paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel that let the driver shift simulated "gears" to improve the car's responsiveness. The Insight EX with Navigation starts at $23,540 plus destination fee.

The restyled 2012 Honda Insight was first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.


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