Honda Insight hatchback
- Quiet in town
- Low running costs
- Very reliable
- Poor refinement at speed
- Cheap interior materials
- Weedy electric motor
"The Honda Insight is cheap-to-run but the Toyota Prius outshines it, and modern diesel hatchbacks are better to drive."
It's hard to discuss the Honda Insight without talking about the Toyota Prius, because both cars not only look similar, they are both hybrid hatchbacks powered by a combination of petrol engine and electric motor in the pursuit of cutting running costs.
Unfortunately for the Honda, its 14bhp electric motor is far less powerful than the Prius’ 80bhp unit, meaning you have to use the petrol engine more of the time, reducing economy and refinement. With not much power and an automatic gearbox the Honda can sound overworked under acceleration, and is less fun to drive – and barely cheaper to run - than a diesel Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf.
Still, the Honda Insight is a very affordable model to run, with emissions of just 96g/km of CO2 making it free to tax. Around town it's also easy and quiet to drive, with noise only becoming an issue at higher speeds. For most, however, the Prius will be a better choice as both an ownership prospect and come resale time, as it holds its value better. It's worth remembering that a mid-range Golf costs a similar amount to an Insight.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Free-to-tax and economical, but it’s been overtaken by the competition
When the Honda Insight was launched in 2009, its fuel consumption of 68.9mpg and emissions of 96g/km of CO2 (HS, HS-T and HX trim levels return 65.7mpg and emit 99g/km) were considered competitive. But rival’s efficiency is improving at a startling rate and a standard 1.6-litre TDI Golf now returns 74.3mpg and 98g/km of CO2, with the BlueMotion model even better with 88.3mpg and 85g/km of CO2. The Toyota Prius returns up to 72.4mpg and emits 89g/km of CO2.
Despite its hybrid engine, the Insight is no longer exempt from the London Congestion Charge either for all but existing owners.
This makes the Honda hard to recommend, particularly as driving the Insight feels compromised compared with the far more conventional, sporty and economical Golf. After five years on sale the Insight feels badly in need of updating if it wants to win customers searching for the ultimate in economical driving.
Engines, drive & performance
Most at home around town but noisy at motorway speeds
There’s just one option here, which allies a 88bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine with an electric motor able to produce 14bhp. These feed power simultaneously to an automatic gearbox which always chooses the most efficient revs to get the Insight up to speed. Attempt to accelerate quickly and the revs rise creating an intrusive noise as economy plummets. You can get from 0-62mph in 12.5 seconds while the car’s top speed is 113mph. A ‘sport’ setting increases revs for maximum power, which can be useful if you want to overtake slower traffic.
The automatic Prius manages the same dash in 10.4 seconds, while the manual Golf BlueMotion takes 10.5 seconds. In reality the Golf always feels quicker than either hybrid, largely thanks to its conventional six-speed manual gearbox, which means there’s no delay in response between your right foot and the engine.
The Insight is incredibly easy to drive, thanks to just two pedals and light steering. It’s able to make relaxed progress, but will quickly prove frustrating for anyone who enjoys driver involvement. There can also be quite a lot of body roll on twisting roads which further indicates the Insight is best suited to gentle driving.
Interior & comfort
Cheap plastics and poor refinement let down a spacious cabin
The Insight’s interior is light and airy, but the plastics used throughout the cabin feel cheap and brittle. They should at least prove hardwearing but the design is miles behind the quality and layout you’ll find in the Golf, or even the Prius for that matter. Its best feature is a coloured strip behind the digital speedometer which changes from green to blue to indicate when you are driving most economically.
Unlike the Prius and Vauxhall Ampera, the Insight rarely drives with just electric power, so the 1.3-litre petrol is audible, but remains fairly quiet around town. Out of the city, things get worse, however, with a constant buzz from the engine under acceleration and a roar from the tyres and wind resistant at higher speeds. The front seats are comfortable, but rear seat passengers are likely to get tired quickly by the lack of headroom.
Practicality & boot space
The boot is surprisingly large and there’s decent passenger room
One of the Insight’s trump cards is its surprisingly large 408-litre boot, beating the 380 litres found in a Golf or the 316 litres found in a Ford Focus. The Prius is even bigger, mind, with 445 litres behind the rear seats. The Insight’s boot also only expands to 1,017 litres, while the Golf can accommodate 1,270 litres with its rear seats folded flat.
The boot is easy to access via the large hatchback, and there’s a hidden area beneath the boot floor for valuables. The 60:40 split rear seats fold almost flat, which is impressive in a car which also has to accommodate a battery pack. Three passengers can sit in the back, but it’s a bit of a squeeze, and most practical for four adults. Large door bins accommodate water bottles and there’s a handy area beneath the stereo for your phone or MP3 player.
Reliability & safety
The Insight is very reliable and safe
Honda has an excellent reputation for reliability and the Insight’s hybrid system was developed in the Civic IMA Hybrid, before being used here. The system has also proved reliable since the Insight went on sale in 2009. An additional consideration is the standard five-year or 90,000 mile warranty, which is longer than you get with a new Golf. The Prius’ warranty is similar to the Honda’s, lasting for five-years or 100,000 miles. However, the Insight didn’t appear in the top 150 cars in the 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, while the Toyota Prius made a particularly strong showing in 7th place, with the Golf not far behind in 18th.
When crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2009 the Honda Insight scored the full five star rating, with a particularly good 90 per cent in the adult occupant protection category. It also obtained 74 per cent for child protection and 76 per cent for pedestrian safety. All versions come with front and side curtain airbags, three rear head restraints and technology to help you stop quickly in an emergency.
Price, value for money & options
Cheaper than the Prius, but not better value-for-money
There are three trim levels, called HE, HS and HX, costing from £20,475, £21,295 and £23,595. The basic version has 15-inch alloy wheels, climate control and cruise control. HE models get 16-inch wheels and automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and heated front seats.
The range-topping HX is kitted out with leather upholstery, enhanced headlights, Bluetooth and sat-nav. It’s also possible to add a technology pack with sat-nav and Bluetooth to HE and HS, making them HE-T and HS-T trims.
The entry-level Prius T3 represents better value thanks to standard Bluetooth and a reversing camera, along with its more powerful petrol and electric motors and better efficiency. £21,470 also gets you a five-door Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion with Bluetooth, a car that is also renowned for holding on to its value come resale time.