Honda Insight review
The Honda Insight promises low fuel consumption and emissions from its petrol-electric drivetrain, but many diesels will cost less to run
The original Honda Insight launched in 1999, as one of the first hybrid cars to go on sale in the UK. It’s now regarded as a modern classic, thanks to its quirky looks and incredible fuel efficiency. But while the original Insight was a two-door coupe, the current car is something completely different. It's now a five-door hatchback aimed directly at the Toyota Prius, and scores with its space and practicality. The key selling point, though, is efficiency: Honda claims impressive fuel consumption and emissions figures from the petrol-electric drivetrain. Trouble is, rivals have moved the game on. The Insight is now overshadowed by the Prius, while even efficient diesel family cars like the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion and Ford Focus ECOnetic are now matching and exceeding its figures. Plus, the price has crept up in recent years, so while the Insight still undercuts the Prius, it doesn’t look such good value for money. Still, all cars come with plenty of equipment as standard, as well as a five-star crash test rating. And some buyers will be won over by the peace of mind the Insight provides, as it upholds the strong reputation Honda has for reliability.
Our choice: Honda Insight 1.3 IMA HS
The Honda Insight is a bit smaller than its Toyota Prius rival, but the two cars do share similar dimensions and have the same coupe-like silhouette. Setting the Insight apart are blue-tinted headlamps, a smart grille and an odd-shaped rear, which is designed in the pursuit of aerodynamics. The interior is futuristic, with highlights including a glowing speedometer – this turns green when you drive economically and dark blue when you don't, and part of the fun of owning the car for many people will be the challenge of staying in this ‘green zone’. Equipment is fairly generous across the range, with entry-level models featuring 15-inch alloy wheels, climate control, all-round electric windows and MP3 compatibility. Mid-spec cars get slightly bigger, 16-inch alloys, as well as automatic wipers and lights, rear parking sensors, front foglights and a USB socket. Range-topping HX cars are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a sat-nav system with traffic updates and voice recognition.
All versions of the Insight are powered by a hybrid drivetrain comprising a 1.3-litre petrol engine and an electric motor. The engine produces 87bhp and 121Nm of torque, while the motor acts like a generator to recharge the battery when you're braking or decelerating. Performance is adequate, with Honda claiming a 0-62mph time of 12.5 seconds and a 113mph top speed. There's an Econ button, which limits the response of the engine to maximise economy, but it just serves to make the Insight painfully slow. While earlier versions of this car suffered from a rock-hard ride, revisions in the past few years have improved things considerably, and the suspension now does a decent job of soaking up bumps and lumps in the road. Honda hasn’t been able to address criticism of the CVT automatic gearbox that features on all models, though. This helps the car achieve the lowest possible fuel consumption, but does nothing for the driving experience, as it causes the engine to whine noisily when you put your foot down. Wind and road noise is also excessive at motorway speeds.
The experts at Euro NCAP awarded the Honda Insight the maximum five-star rating in crash tests, with the car scoring an impressive 90 per cent for adult occupant protection and 86 per cent in the safety assist category. All versions come fitted as standard with ABS and ESP, as well as a full complement of driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags. Honda has a very strong reputation for reliability, and although the Insight didn’t rank in the Auto Express Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey – not enough owners took part – the company finished sixth out of 32 in the manufacturer rankings. So customers can be reassured that problems are likely to be few and far between. The hybrid system was developed in the Civic Hybrid so is tried and tested.
The Insight has a boot size of 408 litres, which expands to 1,017 litres with the rear seats folded. This is more than in conventional family cars like the VW Golf, as well as the range-extending Vauxhall Ampera hybrid, but crucially the Honda trails its Toyota Prius arch rival in this area. Still, unlike most hybrids, the battery pack doesn't encroach into the cabin space, ensuring that the Insight makes the most of its dimensions. The seats are comfortable enough and there's plenty of legroom in the front and back. Taller passengers may find their head scraping the rooflining when sitting in the rear, though, due to the coupe-like roofline. The Insight compensates for this with plenty of neat storage, including a cubby below the stereo in which owners can keep their MP3 player away from prying eyes.
Fuel consumption in the Insight averages up to 68.9mpg, according to Honda. That’s for the lower-spec HE and HE-T models, which also claim CO2 emissions of 96g/km and are exempt from road tax. In fact, all versions now dip below the 100g/km emissions barrier, so road tax is free whichever Insight you choose – for now at least. Efficiency just isn’t quite so strong on higher-spec cars, with HS, HS-T and HX models claiming fuel consumption of 65.7mpg. Impressive as these figures sound, though, the Toyota Prius is even more efficient, with 89g/km emissions and up to 72.4mpg economy. And the latest advanced diesels also trump the Honda – for example, the new VW Golf BlueMotion promises 88.3mpg and 85g/km. Other costs are a bit more competitive: all models sit in either insurance group 15 or 16, and while service intervals stand at 12,500 miles, Honda offers free servicing packages to customers buying an Insight on finance.