Pros: Light and relatively nimble; good fuel economy; well-utilized interior space

Cons: Underpowered; unoriginal body style

The Honda Insight's first iteration, back in 1999, was as a small, hatchback hybrid with looks similar to the current Honda CR-Z. That first Insight was discontinued in 2006. In 2009, Honda brought back the Insight nameplate on an all-new vehicle. First sold as a 2010, the new Insight is bigger, longer, wider, has four doors and can seat five passengers.

Just like the first Insight, the new Insight is a gasoline hybrid with a 1.3-liter inline-4 coupled with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. Aligned with the Honda Fit, the Insight is a direct competitor with the sales juggernaut Toyota Prius.

With a base price of $18,350, the Insight comes in three models and several trim levels: base, LX, EX and EX with Navigation.

Comfort & Utility

For 2012, the Insight's interior has been refined to be quieter and more passenger-friendly. Its rear seating area has been reconfigured for better leg and head room, and the center console is reshaped to include beverage holders that accommodate larger drinks and a more supportive front armrest.

Rear seat headroom has been improved by 0.6 inch by reshaping the rear headliner and seat cushion, and rearward visibility is better as well. The Insight LX has new, improved seat fabric, and the EX gets new synthetic leatherlike material and higher-end fabric.

Technology

Honda satellite navigation system with voice recognition has been upgraded for 2012. The upgrades include but are not limited to a new rearview camera. The satellite navigation system provides turn-by-turn directions to not only individual addresses but also more than seven million points of interest within the continental United States. For 2012, Honda has replaced the 4.7-GB DVD-based satellite navigation system with a 16-GB flash memory system. This upgrade in memory capacity allows for faster route calculation and includes traffic alerts.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Insight's 1.3-liter inline four-cylinder and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system together only produce 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque, coupled with a continuously variable transmission.

Although 98 hp isn't very much in 2012, the Insight only weighs 2,747 pounds, another key reason that it's so fuel efficient. The Insight has been rated at by the EPA to achieve 41 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway.

The Insight also features an Econ setting on the dash that modifies vehicle system use to minimize energy use, as well as Honda's Eco Assist system, which displays feedback about your driving efficiency through color coding behind the speedometer. When the driver is driving most efficiently, the background will appear green. When the driver operating the vehicle in a less-than-fuel-efficient manner, the background color changes from green to blue.

Safety

The Insight has dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, front and side airbags with a passenger's-side occupant position detection system and side curtain airbags. There's also ABS with electronic brake distribution, active front head restraints and Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering for a front body structure designed to distribute energy evenly in a crash and limit pedestrian injuries.

Driving Impressions

Despite its Prius-like outward appearance, the Insight doesn't drive much like the Prius but more like its stablemate the Honda Fit, which shares its underpinnings with the Insight. Arguably, with only 98 hp, the Insight is slow, but after all it's 500 pounds lighter than the Prius. Drivers will notice the weight difference most during cornering. It's this lightness that gives the Insight diving characteristics not commonly found in the hybrid market - and easily makes up for its slow acceleration. Most hybrids feel as if they are suffering under their own weight. The Insight feels a bit lighter and freer.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Prius - Starting at $24,000, the Prius is the closest competitor to the Insight in terms of styling and fuel economy, even though the Prius is more expensive. Unlike the Insight, the Prius achieves better fuel economy in the city (51 mpg) than it on does the highway (48 mpg).

Ford Fusion Hybrid - Starting at $28,775, The Fusion is first and foremost a mid-size family sedan and secondly a hybrid. The Fusion, like the Insight, seats five but features a much more refined interior and driving feel.

Kia Optima Hybrid - Starting at $25,700, the Optima Hybrid is a more competition for the Fusion Hybrid than it is the Insight. But since it, too, is a five-seater hybrid, it falls into the running. Customers who want a more premium, sporty hybrid sedan will prefer the Optima Hybrid versus the Insight.

AutoTrader Recommends

We recommend customers opt for the Insight EX with Navigation. For $23,690, it's still relatively inexpensive and just as fuel-efficient but much more livable. Although customers can get a base Insight starting at $18,500, we feel the extra money spent on added technology and comfort features is well worth it.

author photo

Nick Jaynes developed a passion for writing about cars working his way through Journalism School as a Volvo mechanic. When he's not writing, Nick can be seen hosting the popular automotive web-show DownForce Motoring. In his free-time, Nick collects vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

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