"The hybrid Honda Insight is technically advanced, but many modern diesel engines offer a more conventional, and just as economical, driving experience."
The first Honda Insight was a quirkily styled, ultra-fuel-efficient two-door coupe that was produced between 1999 and 2006. This model, however, was launched in 2009 and is a completely different car. Its primary function was to bring hybrid technology on to the road at a more affordable price, but this practical five-door hatchback isn’t quite as technically advanced as some of its rivals and Honda's work to reduce costs has reduced its fuel efficiency. The lookalike Toyota Prius and the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion diesel are both more efficient and arguably more fun to drive. You do get Honda's formidable reputation for reliability and a good range of standard equipment, including a digital dashboard that can tell you off if you’re driving style isn’t as green as it could be.
Operating a standard 87bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine alongside an electric motor, the Insight feels pretty fast – thanks to the electric motor giving a boost of performance from a standing stop and acceleration in general. And when you braking or coasting, the motor also recharges the battery itself. It's actually capable of going from 0-62 in 12.5 seconds up to a top speed of 113mph. You get a continuously variable transmission (CVT) gearbox that offers one singe gear that constantly adjusts to give the best engine revs for performance and economy. This shiftless system is good for the latter, but it does generate a whining noise when you accelerate hard. Which means the Insight is great as a town runabout but isn’t the most stable car at motorway speeds. What's more, if you put it in Eco mode, economy is improved further, but it makes the car move at a snail's pace.
The Insight's suspension is generally good at soaking up any lumps and bumps in the road. However, as soon as you embark on a longer journey on the open road or motorway, then road and wind noise combine with the whine of the engine to make quite a din that will quickly tire you out. You do get comfortable seats and there is lots of leg and shoulder room in the back, but the sloping roofline squeezes headroom enough to make the already noisy long journeys even more uncomfortable for adult passengers in the rear seats. At least the floor is flat in the back and all models come equipped with climate control and electric windows as standard. Also, it's worth noting that the driving position is very low, which means actually getting in is far trickier than a Honda Civic for example.
Honda is renowned for reliability, often having a fuddy-duddy image for that very reason. The newer, sexier Civics have gone some way to dispel that mustiness, however, with cool new details and a futuristic design. In keeping with its credentials, Honda placed sixth in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, so you can have real peace of mind when you buy. The hybrid system inside the Insight is well proven in the old Civic Hybrid, so it can be relied upon despite the expected complexity of any hybrid technology. The Insight has also had no recalls or major problems reported as yet. In terms of safety, it comes fitted with driver, passenger and curtain airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchor points, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and vehicle stability assist as standard. It also scored the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, so it's one of the safest cars in its class.
The Insight offers 408 litres of boot space with the back seats in place – which is more than a Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Ampera, but less than a Toyota Prius or Honda's own Civic hatchback. Drop the 60:40 folding back seats down and the storage space expands to 1,017 litres, with the wide boot opening making loading bulky items easy. You can also stash valuables in the two-level boot floor to keep them out of sight from prying eyes. Inside, the battery pack doesn’t impact on passenger space as it does in some rival hybrids, and space is generally good – except for taller passengers in the back, who may have to slouch to get comfortable. There are plenty of neat storage areas, though, including one below the stereo for you to store your MP3 player, plus large door bins with bottle-shaped holders.
Value for money
You can get the Insight in five specifications – HE, HS, HE-T, HS-T and HX. The basic model comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, climate control, a full range of airbags and connectivity for your MP3 player. HS models add 16-inch alloys, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, heated front seats, parking sensors, front fog lights and a USB connection, while the HE-T and HS-T models add sat-nav. Top-spec HX cars gets all the above, plus leather seats and more powerful headlights – feeling the most luxurious of the bunch. The Insight is much cheaper than the Toyota Prius, but if you consider that many diesel cars are just as fuel efficient, then Insight's value does diminish somewhat.
This is where you’d expect the Insight to perform well – and it does. Fuel economy is 68.9mpg with tax-free CO2 emissions of only 96g/km. That's impressive but is no match for the Toyota Prius (74.2mpg and 86g/km) or the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion diesel (88mpg and 85g/km). Top-spec models go down, too, returning 61.4mpg and emitting 105g/km. That said, every Insight comes with a five-year/90,000-mile warranty for added peace of mind.