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 website, Insight owners are averaging 56.2 mpg.

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

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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