The Honda Insight petrol-electric hybrid recently enjoyed minor revisions, including its CO2 emissions being reduced from 101 to 96g/km, so is the latest version a big improvement?
When it was launched in 2009 the Insight revived an old model name but the philosophy was very different to the original two-seat hybrid coupe. The brief was to make a practical family hatch with low CO2 and low regulated emissions, but crucially it had to be affordable. Honda fulfilled the brief by cutting corners, with material quality below class standards, but overall it was a good package because it undercut diesel rivals as well as being comfortably cheaper than other hybrids. The latest version aims to take the Insight upmarket with higher quality materials and CO2 emissions under 100 g/km.
The Honda Insight has Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), which means that it’s a ‘mild’ hybrid rather than a ‘full’ hybrid (such as the Toyota Prius). This means that Honda’s hybrid system doesn’t allow electric-only driving for any distance – but the car does have a brake energy regeneration system which puts charge back into the battery and allows the electric motor to assist the 1.3-litre petrol engine under acceleration, and the engine should stop running when at a standstill, so saving fuel. The petrol engine is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
Inside the car, the driver is faced with a dashboard that is about as far away as possible from the understated, high quality appearance that you would find in an Audi. There’s lots of bright displays and even with recent improvements, there are many different materials (which are mostly hard-to-touch plastics); it’s likely that there’s just too much going on for most people. The interior and boot are quite spacious, but were light grey in our test car – not a very practical colour.
One of our main memories from the last Insight that we tested was that it felt unrefined – very ‘tinny’ and fragile over poor surfaces – it seemed to lack sufficient damping and soundproofing. Honda says that it has made improvements in this area, and this latest version did feel better. The car still feels light (it weighs just 1243 Kg); light weight is good for a more responsive driving experience and for economy, but it’s not good for helping to provide a feel of solidity and refinement that you would associate with, for example, a Volkswagen Golf, and the Insight still suffers in this area.
Another feature of the Insight is its CVT transmission. This results in the revs and noise increasing under acceleration, usually without any directly proportionate increase in forward velocity, a sensation which is not to everyone’s tastes. Thankfully higher specifications get seven ratios programmed into the CVT which gives you a semi-automatic option, so you can change manually using paddles behind the steering wheel.
The Insight’s steering is quite responsive but it’s light and has little feel. The car handles reasonably well, but the relatively narrow tyres don’t have much grip through corners. Our previous test of the Insight was in the snow, when it did perform well, and the narrow tyres were probably a key factor in this.
In terms of rearward vision, the spoiler that sits across the rear window does impact upon visibility, especially at night, when it can block out the headlights of cars behind.
The Insight is easy to drive around town, which may suit some people, but it’s certainly not a driver’s car.
The Insight has an official combined economy figure of 68.9 mpg, along with emissions of 96 g/km CO2. During our week with the car we averaged 53.9 mpg. This may be short of the official figure, but the differential is not too bad compared to many cars that we test. However, one of our main contributors, Andrew Leadbetter, owned an Insight until very recently, during which time he covered 44,000 miles. He logged his fuel consumption and achieved an average of 60mpg (against an official figure of 61.4 mpg for the previous-generation model). At the end of summer 2012 the average was 63.4 mpg; it dipped to 60mpg during winter. Andrew also adds that the Insight had no problems during the 44,000 miles.
The Insight costs £19,535. Our test car had metallic paint, a £450 option, taking the price to £19,985. It came with a decent amount of standard equipment such as 16″ alloy wheels, rear parking sensors and front heated seats, but this is still quite expensive. Model grades are HE, HE-T, HS, HS-T, and HX. As our contributor found over 44,000 miles, the Insight should be reliable.
The Insight is economical and has low CO2 and regulated emissions, it’s practical, easy to drive, and should be reliable. However it’s still not the most refined car in its class, and neither the CVT or dashboard may be to everyone’s tastes. The latest model has marginal gains in efficiency and improvements in material quality; however such advances can’t justify Honda’s decision to significantly increase the price. So on balance the latest Honda Insight retains a Green-Car-Guide rating of 6 out of 10.