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

Cons: Underpowered; unoriginal body style.

What's New: Unchanged for 2013.

The 2013 Honda Insight might be no different from the 2012 model, but its price remains the same, too. The 5-door hatchback is still the most affordable hybrid in the U.S., with a starting price of $18,500. And the Insight recently benefitted from significant updates for the 2012 model year. Those included not just revised styling but also a more livable interior and better fuel economy.

It's been more than a decade since Honda introduced the first Insight. That small, 2-seat hybrid hatchback that looks similar to the current Honda CR-Z was discontinued in 2006. The current-generation Insight--a 5-door, 5-passenger hatchback with decidedly Prius-like styling--first appeared in 2009.

Just like the first-generation model, the 2013 Insight uses a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. That helps the Insight to achieve a combined Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy rating of 42 mpg.

The 2013 Insight is available in three trim levels: base, LX and EX. The top-trim 2013 Insight EX with navigation is priced at $23,690.

That's less than the price of even an entry-level Toyota Prius, a direct competitor and sales juggernaut. The Insight's price advantage helps make up for its weaker--but still commendable--fuel economy.

Comfort & Utility

For the 2012 model year, Honda refined the Insight's interior to be quieter and more passenger friendly. Thanks to a reshaped headliner and rear seat cushion, rear passengers get 0.6 inches more headroom and more legroom. The center console includes beverage holders and has a more supportive front armrest.

Other updates first seen on the 2012 model and carrying over to the 2013 Insight include improved seat fabric for the LX model and a leather-like synthetic upholstery for the EX.

Technology

Upgrading from the base model to the Insight LX adds a USB input and steering wheel-mounted controls for the 4-speaker audio system. But to get Bluetooth handsfree and 6-speaker sound, opt for the EX.

The Insight EX is also the only trim available with Honda's satellite navigation system with voice recognition. Using 16GB flash memory, the system provides turn-by-turn directions and subscription-free traffic updates. A backup camera is also included with the navigation package.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Coupled with a continuously variable transmission, the Insight's 1.3-liter inline four-cylinder and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system together produce only 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. Although 98 hp is modest, the Insight only weighs 2,747 lb, a key reason that it's so fuel efficient. The Insight is EPA-rated 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. Eco Assist displays feedback about your driving efficiency through color coding behind the speedometer. When the driver is driving most efficiently, the background will appear green. If fuel-efficiency drops, the background 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, 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. It's more like its stablemate the Honda Fit, with which it shares underpinnings. With only 98 hp, the Insight is arguably slow. But it's 500 lbs lighter than the Prius, and drivers will notice the weight difference during cornering. Its lightness gives the Insight driving 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: Pricing for the 2013 model is not yet available, but pricing for the 2012 Prius starts at $24,000. Stylistically, it's the closest competitor to the Insight. The Prius is pricier but also more economical. It's rated at 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway. A new, smaller and even more efficient Prius called the Prius c is priced closer to the Insight.

Volkswagen Golf TDI: Drivers who are looking for economy but who spend more time on the highway than on city streets should consider a diesel rather than a hybrid. The Golf TDI is pricier than the Insight, but its highway fuel economy is nearly as good on paper and may prove better in the real world. And with its high-torque diesel engine, the Golf TDI is fun to drive.

Kia Optima Hybrid: If the hatchback styling shared by the Insight and Prius aren't for you, the Kia Optima Hybrid is a worthy alternative with a more conventional sedan shape. Priced starting at $25,700 for the 2012 model, the Optima Hybrid is not as economical as some hybrid choices. It's rated at 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.

AutoTrader Recommends

We recommend customers opt for the 2013 Honda Insight EX with Navigation. At $23,690, it's still relatively inexpensive and just as fuel efficient, but it offers much more in the way of creature comforts than either the base model or the mid-range LX, which has cruise control and a USB input but no Bluetooth handsfree.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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