2011 Honda Insight Review and Prices
Past and Future Reviews
The 2011 Honda Insight hybrid is the best car for you if you want one of America’s highest-mileage cars at a reasonable price -- and can live with its quirks.
The 2011 Honda Insight gains a new entry-level model and expands standard features elsewhere to mark its second season as Honda’s answer to the Toyota Prius. Insight hasn’t been the sales or critical success Honda had hoped for when it debuted for model-year 2010 promoted by the automaker as the first “affordable hybrid.” This aerodynamic four-door hatchback rates a laudable 40/43 mpg city/highway, but its five-passenger cabin is cramped and noisy, and overall performance is tepid, even by hybrid compact-car standards. Moreover, Toyota stole much of the value impact Honda had banked on with the 2010 Insight’s $20,510 starting price by pricing its larger, faster, more fuel-efficient Prius at $22,750. Honda hopes to retake some value ground by adding the 2011 Insight base model at $18,950 while at the same time filtering such essentials as cruise control and a USB iPod interface from the top-line Insight EX model down to the less-expensive midlevel LX version.
Should you buy the 2011 Honda Insight or wait for the 2012 Honda Insight? If this blend of size, styling, and image fits your environmental commitment and your bank account, there’s no reason to wait for the 2012 Insight. It won’t change in appearance or performance, and prices could hardly go much lower. Honda could continue to shuffle features availability, but the bigger issue is that a slew of conventional gas-engine cars are coming to market with fuel-economy ratings in the mid 30-mpg range in city driving and an even 40 on the highway. That’s within sniffing distance of the Insight (though not of the 51/48-mpg Prius), at lower prices. Might be worth checking out subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta and redesigned 2012 Hyundai Accent before committing to an Insight.
2011 Honda Insight Changes back to top
Styling: The 2011 Honda Insight styling is unchanged. Its low nose, swept-back windshield, and long, gently arched roof reduce mileage-robbing wind resistance. They also let onlookers know that Insight is a gas-electric car. That message is important to many hybrid buyers, as evident from the success of the distinctively styled Prius.
The 2011 Toyota Prius is only about 3 inches longer than the Insight, but has enough passenger-compartment volume to be considered a midsize car. The 2011 Insight again falls into the compact class. It has fairly spacious front seating but rear accommodations are squeezed for knee and head room. The seating itself is notably supportive, though. And Insight’s hatchback design gives it fine cargo space: 15.9 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks up, 31.5 with them folded. However, a horizontal rib dividing the hatchlid’s upper and lower glass panels seriously interferes with the driver’s view of traffic behind.
The Insight borrows some chassis engineering from the 2011 Honda Fit, a slightly smaller and less-expensive four-door hatchback with a conventional gas engine. And in a bid to enliven its hybrid lineup, Honda cuts a few inches from the Insight’s overall length and wheelbase to create the 2011 Honda CR-Z, a sportier two-seat hatchback with a slightly more powerful version of the Insight’s hybrid powertrain and the added distinction of the only six-speed manual transmission available in a gas-electric car.
The 2011 Honda Insight lineup expands to four models, from three. The newcomer is a base version that essentially replicates model-year 2010’s entry-level LX model, but at a price savings of $1,560. The 2011 Insight LX returns as the new midlevel model, while the Insight EX and Insight EX with Navigation again topping-out the roster. Visual distinctions between these models are slight: all 2011 Insights again have 15 inch wheels and identically size tires, though the EX is the only version with alloy wheels; the others have wheel covers. The EX also has exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Mechanical: The 2011 Honda Insight gets one mechanical change: Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) antiskid system is now standard on every model after previously being exclusive to the EX versions. Like other antiskid systems, this one monitors steering angle, speed, turn rate, and other factors to determine any difference between the path the driver intends and the path the car is actually taking. If the car begins to veer off course, the system activates individual brakes and modulates engine power in an effort to prevent a sideways slide. It employs some of the same wheel-rotation sensors used by the antilock braking system, which is designed to enhance control in emergency stops.
Underhood, the 2011 Honda Insight again uses a small, 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine boosted by an adjacent electric motor to produce 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. It runs primarily on gas and uses the electric motor as an assist to produce more net power than the engine alone can make.
Honda calls the system Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). It self-charges Insight’s nickel metal hydride battery pack; no plug-in is necessary. Under ideal conditions, IMA can save fuel by running the Insight on electric power alone at low speeds for short distances. It can also shut off the engine while the car is stopped, then automatically turn it on again when you touch the accelerator.
By contrast, the gas-electric hybrid systems in the Prius and in some Hyundai models more equitably shares gas and electric propulsion. They can run on battery power for longer periods than the Insight, and under a wider range of conditions. Consequently, they use less gas, but they also are more expensive.
Like its hybrid competition, Insight has front-wheel drive and, like the majority of hybrids, has a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A CVT performs the duties of an automatic transmission but delivers power in a seamless, rheostat-like fashion rather than by stepping up and down through a set of four-to-six gear ratios. CVTs can be more efficient than conventional transmissions, but tend to allow the engine to rev ahead of actual vehicle speed during acceleration. It’s an unorthodox sensation and can result in copious engine roar until the pace of acceleration and rpm equalize. The CVT in the 2011 Insight EX models again is equipped with steering wheel-mounted paddle “shifters” so the driver can trigger manual-type gear changes programmed into the CVT.
On the road, the Insight can feel strained when you want to accelerate rapidly off the line or overtake faster-moving traffic. In ordinary driving conditions, the powertrain acquits itself is well enough and the car is stable on the highway and goes around corners with confidence. On the downside, engine and road noise are prominent and the ride is quite firm. Worst of all, the electric steering system provides little road feel and inconsistent response when you turn the wheel.
Features: The 2011 Honda Insight doesn’t add any new features, though the new entry-level base model has its own unique seating fabric and comes with just two radio speakers instead of the LX’s four and the EX’s six. As per Honda companywide policy, the 2011 Insight offers no options: each model in the lineup escalates in features as you ascend the price ladder. Of note is Honda’s move to liberalize availability of conveniences such as cruise control and USB linking, but it continues to reserve for only the most expensive Insight model an item that can be considered a safety feature. This would be Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity, which is again available in the 2011 Insight only on the EX with Navigation.
More details about equipment levels are in the “2011 Honda Insight Prices” section below, but every 2011 Insight again comes with air conditioning as part of an automatic climate-control system, plus power windows, locks, and mirrors, a tilt-telescope steering wheel, a height adjustable driver’s seat, and 60/40 split/folding rear seatbacks. Seat-mounted side airbags designed to provide torso protection are standard in conjunction with head-protecting curtain side airbags.
Insight asserts its hybrid-ness with Honda’s Ecological Drive Assist System -- Eco Assist, for short. It rewards fuel-efficient driving with green dashboard lighting and transitions to blue if you use more gas than necessary. You earn digital plant leaves for good behavior, and can press an “Econ” dashboard button to dial back the air conditioning and recalibrate the throttle to save even more gas.
The only tire size is a modest 175/65R15 and the tread is a low-rolling-resistance compound to aid fuel efficiency.
The Insight’s dashboard design enhances the sense you’re driving a car with an alternative-fuel powertrain. It’s futuristic without being gimmicky; even the green-to-blue color change is thoughtfully integrated, and the shape and placement of the controls shows original thinking and sound ergonomics. Interior materials are solid and feel slightly richer than Insight’s pricing might imply.
2011 Honda Insight Prices back to top
Price range for the 2011 Honda Insight is $18,950-$24,015. This compares to a 2010 Insight price range of $20,510-$23,810 and reflects addition of the new price-leader base model, as well as an increase in Honda’s mandatory model-year 2011 destination fee, to $750 from $710. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee.)
The 2011 Honda Insight base model is priced at $18,950. Compared to the step-up LX version, the base Insight deletes a security system, and two stereo speakers, though it uses the same 160-watt audio system as other Insights and includes an auxiliary jack for digital devices.
The 2011 Honda Insight LX is priced at $20,650. It has all the Insight base-model equipment and for model-year 2011 gains some features previously exclusive to the EX. These include cruise control, a center console with an armrest, floor mats, and a security system, and a USB interface for iPods and other MP3 devices
The 2011 Honda Insight EX is priced at $22,240. It adds to the LX the alloy wheels, paddle shifters, and heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, plus variable intermittent windshield wipers rather than two-speed wipers, illuminated power window switches for both front side windows, not just the driver’s. EX models also have cabin map lights, driver and passenger vanity mirrors, and seatback storage pockets.
The 2011 Honda Insight EX with Navigation is priced at $24,015. It has all the EX equipment, plus Honda’s voice-activated navigation system with a 6.5-inch dashboard screen. Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone linking also is included, and the steering wheel gains buttons to control both navigation and Bluetooth functions.
2011 Honda Insight Fuel Economy back to top
Fuel-economy ratings for the 2011 Honda Insight are unchanged, at 40/43 mpg city/highway. These remain among the highest of any car, though Honda’s own Civic Hybrid, a larger more comfortable compact-class sedan, earn the same 40/43-mpg ratings. Tuned for sportier performance and using a 122-horsepower version of the Insight’s Integrated Motor Assist system, the 2011 Honda CR-Z rates 31/37 mpg with its manual transmission and 35/39 with its CVT.
Unlike most hybrids, Honda hybrids register higher fuel-economy ratings for city driving than highway driving. This is because Honda hybrids use their electric motor mostly as an assist to the gas engine rather than as a primary power source in low-speed driving. By contrast, Toyota hybrids have greater ability to run at low speeds on electric power alone, a capability reflected in EPA ratings of 51/48 mpg for the Toyota Prius. The Ford Fusion Hybrid and its Mercury Milan Hybrid cousin also emphasize
electric-only operation at low speeds. These midsize sedans are larger and heavier than Insight or Prius and are rated at 41/36. All these hybrids use regular-grade 87-octane gas.
2011 Honda Insight Release Date back to top
The 2011 Honda Insight went on sale in November 2010.
What's next for the 2011 Honda Insight back to top
In the short term, Honda could fine-tune Insight’s steering feel or ride quality, but don’t expect major alterations to its looks or basic engineering until at least model-year 2014 or 2015. In the long term, the Insight could provide Honda with a test case to determine whether dedicated hybrid models are truly in its green future. Hybrid versions of its Accord midsize sedan and Civic compact sedan weren’t huge sales successes, and even the dedicated-hybrid CR-Z hasn’t been in strong demand.
Meanwhile, Honda is moving forward on two other alternative-fuel fronts, developing a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a full-electric vehicle (EV) powertrain. Either or both technologies could find their way into a future Insight.
The plug-in powertrain previews the next generation of Honda’s basic Integrated Motor Assist system and teams a gas engine with extended-range electric-only capability. Unlike current Honda hybrids, the plug-in would tap into the energy grid for an initial charge to its lithium-ion battery pack, thus saving gas by delaying reliance on its gas engine for propulsion. Installed in a car with midsize-class weight and dimensions, Honda says the plug-in system has an electric-only range of 10-15 miles in city driving and a top speed of 62 mpg. It says fully recharging the battery will take 2-2.5 hours using a residential-type 120-volt outlet and 1-1.5 hours with a beefier 240-volt outlet. The company has fielded a test version of this powertrain in its midsize Accrod sedan. It says it’ll begin selling a plug-in hybrid in 2012, but it hasn’t specified what vehicle will get it.
Also promised for calendar-2012 sales is a pure-electric version of Honda’s subcompact Fit wagon, possibly accompanied by a tiny EV commuter car styled after some of the very first cars Honda built in the 1960s. Fit is a versatile four-door five-seater whose underskin structure is the basis for the Insight’s chassis, raising the possibility of an Insight EV model down the road. Powered by a lithium-ion battery and an electric motor, Honda says the Fit EV has a range of 70-100 miles per charge, acceleration equivalent to that of a Fit with a 2.0-liter gas engine, and a top speed of 90 mph. It’ll also allow the owner to use a smartphone or personal computer to remotely check or initiate charging. Battery recharging takes under 12 hours with a 120-volt outlet and under six hours with a 240-volt outlet, Honda says.
2011 Honda Insight Competition back to top
2011 Toyota Prius: The obvious hybrid alternative will cost you slightly more than an Insight to start – $23,810 for a stripper version, and will easily nudge $30,000 when ordered with options Insight doesn’t offer, such as leather upholstery and a solar-panel roof to help cool the car. But Prius is a larger, quieter four-door hatchback than the Insight. With 134 net horsepower, it’s faster, and with the ability to run longer on electricity, is more fuel-efficient, too, though it earns its own driving demerits for numb handling and indifferent steering. The current Prius was introduced as a 2010 model and is likely to gain a plug-in variant for model-year 2012.
2011 Honda Fit: We would counsel you to consider the Honda Civic Hybrid, but the Civic is due for a full redesign in model-year 2012 and details about the return of its gas-electric model are sketchy. In the interim, you can sample Honda design efficiency and waste-no-resources engineering in the remarkably roomy Fit. This subcompact four-door hatchback takes up less space on the road than the Insight, yet has more usable passenger and cargo volume. It’s got front-wheel drive, surprisingly sporty handling, and a 117-horsepower four-cylinder gas engine rated at 27/33 mpg with manual transmission, 28/35 with automatic. Prices are a treat, starting under $16,000 and topping out around $20,000. Fit won’t see any major changes for several more years.
2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI: Widen your definition of alternative fuel to include diesel and you’ll be impressed by this oil-burning version of VW’s compact hatchback. Golf was restyled inside and out for model-year 2010. It dropped the Rabbit name but returns as a front-drive two- and four-door hatchback with an available four-cylinder turbodiesel of 140 horsepower and a stout 237 pound-feet of torque. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission or with automatic shifting via an automated manual gearbox. Either way, ratings are an impressive 30/43 mpg. Diesel fuel prices fluctuate from less- to more-expensive than gasoline, but the Golf TDI delivers a decisively better driving experience than the Insight – and any compact hybrid we can think of. Compared to those of just a few years ago today’s diesels are quiet, relatively odor-free, and meet gas-engine emissions rules. Golf TDI prices start at $24,205.