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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Introduction
When you think about a hybrid car, you probably generate a mental picture of a Toyota Prius. Honda, however, was first to sell a gas-electric hybrid in America, and that original hybrid was called the Insight. When it debuted for the 2000 model year, the Insight was revolutionary, a teardrop-shaped 2-seater designed to cheat the wind and to get more than 60 mpg on the highway. Toyota didn’t offer its iconic boomerang-on-wheels Prius until the 2004 model year.
Today’s 2013 Honda Insight is bigger and more practical than the original, if not quite as thrifty with a gallon gas. It is the most affordable hybrid car for sale, mainly because it employs a proven Integrated Motor Assist powertrain similar to the one that came installed in the very first Insight. This powertrain is what is known as a “mild hybrid,” in that it is unable to accelerate or maintain speed operating solely on electrical power. Aside from Honda, General Motors is the only other large automaker using “mild hybrid” technology.
To determine if an inexpensive hybrid relying on dated technology can still be insightful, I spent a week with an Insight EX. On the one hand, I think many people could be very happy owning this car. On the other hand, I think the expiration date on the nameplate is rapidly approaching.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 Honda Insight is the cheapest way to buy a hybrid, costing less even than a Toyota Prius c. Select the Insight in base trim, and the window sticker reads $19,390 including the $790 destination charge.
If you want floor mats, map lights, a center storage console with an armrest, cruise control, steering wheel controls for the stereo, a USB interface, and remote keyless entry, the Insight LX is your ride ($20,375).
My test car was the top-of-the-line EX ($22,065), identified on the outside by its 15-inch aluminum wheels, projector beam automatic headlights, and heated side mirrors. Bluetooth is standard with this model, and the Insight EX is equipped with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, a leather-wrapped shift knob, front visor vanity mirrors, and front seatback pockets.
A color touchscreen navigation system is optional for the Insight EX, and includes voice recognition technology, real-time traffic information, and a reversing camera. It adds $1,725 to the price of the car.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review
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Some people might think Honda has copied the shape of the Toyota Prius to create a me-too hybrid. That’s not true. The original Insight had this same swoopy roofline, as well as the split-view rear glass hatch, in order to maximize aerodynamic efficiency. Toyota didn’t adopt this design approach until 2004.
All Insight models have LED taillights with blue tinting, a treatment repeated up front for the headlights and grille. The turn signal indicators in the side mirrors are also standard equipment. My Insight EX came equipped with attractive 15-inch alloy wheels, while the base model and the Insight LX have plastic wheel covers.
Inside, the Insight adheres to the driver-centric design philosophy displayed by Honda’s smaller vehicles, a mix of buttons, knobs, and both traditional and digital gauges that bring unique personality to the interior. Materials are, generally, of higher quality than might be expected for car with complex technology and a low starting price, though soft-touch surfaces are few and far between.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
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As far as comfort is concerned, the Insight’s front seats sit high for a good view out, offer firm and supportive cushions, and are wrapped in quality cloth upholstery with leatherette bolsters. Taller people, however, are likely to find legroom to be an issue. I have a 33-inch pants inseam, and there was just enough room for me behind the steering wheel as long as the seat was moved all the way back in its track.
There’s more room in the Insight’s back seat than might be expected. Taller people will want to watch their heads on the sloping roofline when climbing in, but once seated, the car is surprisingly comfortable. Foot room is generous, and though legroom is snug when four tall adults are on board, the front seatbacks are softly padded and friendly to knees and shins. Plus, the bottom cushion is tall enough that rear passengers sit up high and enjoyed decent thigh support.
During the week I drove this Insight, I used it to carry my family around all week, and nobody complained about space. It’s also worth noting that the gray interior shows very little dirt. That’s important when you’ve got preschoolers like I do.
Cargo space is greater than expected, too. The Insight has a 15.9 cu.-ft. trunk. For comparison, that’s about the same size as a typical midsize sedan. Here, though, you’ve got to pack all the way to the glass if you’re planning to use all of the space. Let me give you a tip: don’t put anything that might melt at the top of the pile.
The rear seat backs fold down to nearly double the amount of cargo room, and Honda offers small storage areas to the left of and underneath the cargo floor. To swing the hatch down, there’s a handy spot to grab hold and let ‘er rip.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
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The Insight has an unusual gauge and control layout, but it works. Primary functions are arrayed around and on the steering wheel, and a digital speedometer sits atop a gauge cluster containing a tachometer, fuel gauge, a trip computer, and a battery charge meter. The speedometer background is green when you’re driving green, and blue when you’re not.
The worst thing about my test car’s control layout, from both appearance and ergonomic standpoints, was the optional navigation system. Honda’s rectangular navigation system looks outdated and has small buttons unfriendly to my large fingers. The graphics lack resolution, too, but the touchscreen buttons are relatively large and responsive, and I had no trouble pairing to the system’s Bluetooth.
An automatic climate control system is standard on every Insight, and when the engine’s automatic stop/start system shuts the engine off as the car comes to a stop, the climate control system takes a break, too. On a June day with the sun directly overhead, it gets pretty hot, pretty fast.
I also noticed that due to the climate control system’s on/off button location, I often accidentally shut it off when reaching for a beverage in one of the front cupholders.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
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Aside from the reversing camera that is included with the optional navigation system on the most expensive version of the Insight, this hybrid includes the same basic safety equipment that all other cars do. The Insight’s underlying structure, however, employs Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) design, a structure built to deflect crash energy away from the occupant compartment in collisions with a variety of vehicle types and sizes.
2013 Honda Insight Crash-Test Ratings:
Based on Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash-test results, ACE works. The Insight is a “Top Safety Pick,” according to the organization. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not performed crash tests on the 2013 Insight.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
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The Insight is equipped with a small gasoline engine, an electric assist motor, and a nickel-metal hydride battery that is recharged by a regenerative braking system. This is all pretty standard-issue stuff, though some automakers are now employing smaller and more powerful lithium-ion batteries.
What is not standard-issue about the Insight’s hybrid powertrain is that it’s a “mild hybrid” instead of a “full hybrid.” That means it cannot accelerate using only the battery and the electric assist motor, even at parking lot speeds. So in that sense, the Insight hasn’t changed much at all since it debuted way back in the late 1990s.
Paired together, the 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and the electric assist motor generate a combined 98 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. of torque. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider that the car weighs more than 2,700 pounds. That’s a terrible power-to-weight ratio, even if the torque is made way down low where it is most useful.
If the driver shuts the Insight’s Econ Mode off, and shifts the continuously variable transmission into Sport mode, the Insight feels a little bit snappier, but this car is still slow.
Just to make sure I stayed out of everyone’s way, I ended up stomping on the accelerator pedal on a regular basis. That didn’t help in terms of fuel economy. The EPA says I should have gotten 42 miles per gallon in combined driving. Instead, I averaged 38.4 mpg during a week of driving.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
The Insight is built for daily commuting and errand-running, and should be purchased by people who are willing to sacrifice driving dynamics and ride comfort in the pursuit of fuel efficiency.
But even that person shouldn’t drive an Insight on a long trip. The way the Insight’s engine performs, the level of road noise inside, and the way the steering and suspension are tuned make 70 mph a just-right speed on the highway. The car goes faster than that, but doing so mainly serves to increase the driver’s blood pressure.
Like the original Insight, the modern version makes the most sense when used as a city car. It is small, easy to park, and equipped with automatic stop/start technology to help conserve fuel. Do try, however, to avoid large bumps and potholes, as the shock is transferred directly to the Insight’s interior.
Otherwise, the suspension is adept at communicating road textures, and when driven in urban and suburban environments the limited grip provided by the narrow low rolling-resistance tires is a non-issue. Though the regenerative brakes are grabby and sometimes inconsistent in terms of application, traits common to the breed, they’re easy to use.
I did take the Insight on a twisty mountain road, where it proved more talented at descending a hill than climbing one. As you might expect, this is not the Insight’s natural habitat.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
A car with the name Insight ought to be a rolling example of the latest and greatest technology available, and when the original Insight first went on sale in 1999, that was true. Today’s Insight is affordable, and it’s packed with proven components, but I just can’t help but feel that maybe this car’s name should actually be the Honda Hindsight.
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2013 Honda Insight Hybrid Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Low price
- Comfortable seats
- Sizable cargo area
- Nearly 38.5 mpg without trying
- “Top Safety Pick” crash-test rating
- Mild rather than full hybrid
- Slooooooooow acceleration
- Raises pulse over 70 mph
- Aging navigation system
- Missed fuel economy target by 3.5 mpg
Honda supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Honda Insight EX photos by Christian Wardlaw
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