2012 Honda Insight Review and Prices

Last Updated: Dec 16, 2010

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2012 Honda Insight Buying Advice

The 2012 Honda Insight hybrid is the best car for you if you’re a Honda diehard who puts fuel economy ahead of driving pleasure.  

The 2012 Honda Insight isn’t likely to get any noteworthy mechanical or appearance changes, but Honda could continue to shuffle features among models, chasing the sales success that’s so far eluded this dedicated hybrid. Insight labors under comparison with the Toyota Prius, a car it resembles but one it trails for roominess, performance, and fuel economy. Honda expanded the Insight line for model-year 2011 by adding a new entry-level version priced below $19,000, including destination. More important, it began to migrate such features as cruise control and a USB iPod interface from top-line models to more moderately priced Insights. Barring a major improvement in drivability or even higher fuel economy, that’s the sort of strategy the 2012 Insight would benefit from most.

Should you wait for the 2012 Honda Insight or buy the 2011 Honda Insight? Not much point in waiting if the 2011 Insight fits your description of environmentally sensitive motoring. The 2012 Insight most likely will be a virtual rerun of the 2011 model, especially as Honda turns its attention to launching the all-new 2012 Civic compact car and 2012 CR-V compact crossover, two keystone products that outsell Insight exponentially. Wait for the 2012 Insight if you’re willing to gamble that Honda will devote resources to smoothing out some of this car’s rough edges, though there’s nothing it could do about its tight interior accommodations. Actually, the better bet might be to wait for the 2013 Insight to see if it becomes available in plug-in-hybrid form, which could substantially boost fuel economy from today’s 40/43-mpg city/highway range.

2012 Honda Insight Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Honda Insight’s styling won’t undergo notable change. Honda has already honed it for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, at the same time explaining the visual similarity to the world’s best-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius, is simply a byproduct of designing a small four-door hatchback to cheat the wind. An advantage is that with its swept-back sheet metal and elongated roofline, the 2012 Insight will again look like something other than a conventional gas-powered car, a point to consider if wearing green credentials on your sleeve is a reason you’d consider a hybrid.   

In overall length, the 2012 Honda Insight will again be just 3 inches shorter than the Toyota Prius. But its roofline will continue some 2.4 inches lower and, most significantly, its wheelbase will remain 6 inches shorter. Wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles -- is important because it largely defines a vehicle’s passenger compartment. Indeed, Insight feels notably more cramped than Prius, especially in rear-seat leg room. It really works best at transporting two adults rather than as a true five-passenger car. Fold down the standard split rear seatbacks and Insight offers a versatile 31.5 cubic feet of luggage space, quite good given its subcompact-class exterior dimensions. And the driver sits before a refreshingly contemporary dashboard design, though the view behind is seriously hampered by the horizontal metal rib dividing the hatch lid’s upper and lower glass panels.

The 2012 Insight will continue its kinship with the Honda Fit, a slightly smaller and lower-priced four-door hatchback with a conventional gas engine. The two share basic underskin structure, and have a third cousin in the Honda CR-Z, a sporty two-seat hybrid hatchback with a marginally more powerful version of Insight’s hybrid powertrain.  

Expect the 2012 Honda Insight lineup to reflect the 2011 roster, with four models that look nearly identical. The 2012 Insight base version, added for model-year 2011, should continue at the entry-level price point. Expect the 2012 Insight LX model to again occupy the middle of the line, with the Insight EX and Insight EX with Navigation at the top. All versions likely will keep the modestly sized, low-rolling-resistance 15-inch tires all Insights have always used, though Honda could decide the 2012 Insight LX deserves the same alloy wheels that have thus far been exclusive to EX versions. It might also filter the EX’s turn-signal-equipped exterior mirrors to the LX, as well. If not, base and LX Insights will continue with snap-on wheel covers and with basic, body-colored outside mirrors.

Mechanical: Unless Honda applies its plug-in hybrid technology sooner than expected -- and decides to make it available in the Insight -- the 2012 Insight is likely to be a mechanical repeat of the 2011 model. That would mean another round of acceleration that falls flat in anything but the gentlest around-town driving and electric power steering that feels artificial and disturbingly non-linear. Honda ought to find a way to at least soften ride quality and insulate this car better from the harsh mechanical noises and tire roar that make it unpleasant on long drives.

Bringing over the slightly more powerful gas-electric powertrain from Insight’s sporty spin-off, the two-seat Honda CR-Z, would liven up performance a little, but probably not enough to offset the hit to Insight’s primary mission: ultimate fuel economy.

Thus, expect the 2012 Honda Insight to return with a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine in harness with an electric motor for a net 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. This is Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system and it operates Insight primarily on gas, utilizing the electric motor as an aid to produce more power than possible with the engine alone. IMA self-charges the on-board nickel metal hydride battery pack; no plug-in is necessary.

Under ideal conditions, IMA saves gas by running the Insight on electric power at low speeds for short distances. In ideal conditions, it also shuts off the engine while the car is stopped, then automatically turns it on again when you touch the accelerator. This is in contrast to the gas-electric hybrid systems in the Prius and in some Hyundai models, which feature more extensive gas-electric sharing and can operate on battery power for longer periods than the Insight. These systems consume less gas but also are more expensive.

The CR-Z’s sporty bent makes it the only hybrid available with a manual transmission, but the 2012 Insight likely will continue with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A CVT functions as an automatic transmission but instead of a set number or gear ratios uses an internal belt system to furnish continuously variable ratios. The intent is to maximize efficiency by precisely matching engine speed against acceleration and fuel consumption. In practice, Insight’s CVT, like most of its kind, works well enough but can trigger intrusive engine groaning during acceleration as it allows rpm to elevate ahead of actual vehicle speed. Honda has thus far equipped only Insight’s EX models with steering-wheel-mounted paddles so the driver can replicate manual-type gear control programmed into the CVT. Extending the paddles to the 2012 Insight LX might improve that model’s appeal.     

The 2012 Insight will again have front-wheel drive and come with a decent array of standard safety features. Cost savings will likely dictate continuation of a front-disc/rear-drum brake setup rather than the CR-Z’s all-disc arrangement. But all 2012 Insights will return with an antilock system to enhance control in emergency stops. Beginning with model-year 2011, Honda included its Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) antiskid system as standard on all Insights, not just the EX models, and that should be the case for 2012. VSA is designed to reduce chances of sideways slides.

Features: Leather upholstery, a sunroof, and power seats are the sort of cost- and weight-adding features Honda has denied Insight buyers and that policy is apt to continue for model-year 2012. Still, the 2012 Insight should have the basics covered.

Expect every 2012 Insight to again come standard with an automatic climate-control system that includes air conditioning, plus power windows, locks, and mirrors. The rear seatbacks fold in a 60/40 split. The steering wheel with again tilt and telescope and the driver’s seat will be manually adjustable for height. Seat-mounted side airbags designed to provide torso protection are standard in conjunction with head-protecting curtain side airbags.

No Honda offers options per se. Honda instead equips each model in a lineup with a set of features that expands as you climb the price ladder. The 2012 Insight base model should again have unique seating fabric and probably will again come with just two radio speakers versus four in the LX and six in the EX models.

We’d urge Honda to continue the trend it started with the 2011 Insight by filtering important features throughout the lineup. For example, cruise control and a USB iPod interface migrated from the EX model to the LX’s standard equipment list. For the 2012 Insight, Honda would do well to make Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity available on all LX and EX models rather than again reserving it for the Insight EX with Navigation. Bluetooth is, in effect, a safety feature.    

Standard again on all 2012 Insights will be Eco Assist, formally known as Honda’s Ecological Drive Assist System. It signals wasteful driving with blue dashboard lighting. It recognizes efficient driving by transitioning to green lighting and by awarding digital plant leaves on an instrument-panel screen. The system also provides the driver with an “Econ” dashboard button that scales back the air conditioning and recalibrates the throttle to save even more gas.

Overall, the 2012 Insight’s interior design should continue to reinforce the sense you’re in a car with an alternative-fuel powertrain. The dashboard design is futuristic without being gimmicky and cabin materials are slightly richer than this car’s pricing might imply.

2012 Honda Insight Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Honda Insight were not released in time for this review but are not likely to change drastically from those of the 2011 Insight. Honda probably would consider it unwise to remove features from the already-pretty-basic entry-level Insight, and knows it wouldn’t gain many sales by adding pricey amenities at the top of the line. Thus, expect a 2012 Insight price range of roughly $19,000-$25,000. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Honda’s fee for the 2011 Insight was $750.)

Following the pattern set with the 2011 Insight, expect the 2012 base model to be priced around $19,000. Figure the 2012 LX at around $21,500 and look for it to again expand on the base model by adding such features as cruise control and a center console with an armrest, floor mats, and a security system. The 2012 Insight LX should also continue to augment the standard audio system’s auxiliary jack with a USB interface for iPods and other MP3 devices.

Estimated price for the 2012 Honda Insight EX is $23,000. If Honda hews to 2011 equipment levels, expect the 2012 Insight EX to again build on the Insight LX by adding the alloy wheels, paddle shifters, and the heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals. Windshield wipers with variable intermittent control instead of just two speeds also have been an EX perk, along with cabin map lights, driver and passenger vanity mirrors and seatback storage pockets. EX’s also get lighted power window switches for both side windows, not just the driver’s.

Estimated price for the 2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation is $24,900. It should again have all the EX features, plus a voice-activated navigation system with a 6.5-inch dashboard screen, Bluetooth connectivity, and steering wheel buttons to control both.

2012 Honda Insight Fuel Economy back to top

Fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Honda Insight were not available in time for this review, but are unlikely to unchanged from 2011 Insight ratings. Expect the 2012 Insight to repeat EPA estimates of 40/43 mpg city/highway. Note that Honda’s hybrids differ from most by rating higher for highway driving than for city driving. This is because Honda hybrids use their electric motor mostly as an assist to the gas engine rather than as a fuel-conserving primary power source in low-speed driving.

2012 Honda Insight Release Date back to top

The 2012 Honda Insight should be in showrooms by autumn 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Honda Insight back to top

Insight won’t be fully redesigned before model-year 2014 or 2015, but there would seem plenty of opportunity to improve it before that. Don’t expect changes in styling beyond a possible tweak here and there to smooth aerodynamics. Adjustments to soften the ride and possibly insulate better against engine and tire noise would be advisable. 

The bigger interim change could involve introduction of a plug-in hybrid powertrain or even a pure-electric model to the Insight lineup. Honda is developing a plug-in system that would extend its hybrids’ electric-only range by initially charging the batteries from the power grid, giving the car 10-15 miles of range before the gas engine kicks in. Whether this costlier system would be applicable to the economy mission of the Insight is something Honda surely is studying.

Honda also is planning introduction of a fully electric version of its Fit subcompact wagon. Insight shares some of Fits basic engineering, and might be a candidate for this all-battery propulsion system that promises a range of 70-100 miles between charges.

2012 Honda Insight Competition back to top

Toyota Prius: A plug-in version planned for model-year 2012 should expand the appeal of what is already the world’s best-selling hybrid. The plug-in would extend Prius’s electric-only range and boost its already industry-leading fuel-economy ratings of 51/48 mpg. But it’ll cost more, too, altering the current base-price range of roughly $24,000-$30,000. No matter the powertrain, Prius will remain larger, more comfortable, and more refined than the Insight. It has its own driving quirks, but attracts buyers not only for its obvious hybrid styling, but for unique features, such as a solar-operated air circulation system, availability of leather upholstery, even the ability to automatically parallel Park.

Honda Fit: The Chevrolet Volt the Nissan Leaf offer intriguing Insight alternatives. Both are electric vehicles, though Volt’s onboard gas-engine generator gives it an ultimate range of some 400 miles compared to the battery-only Leaf’s 100 miles or between charges. But at over $40,000 for a Volt and over $30,000 for a Leaf (before government tax breaks), they’re out of Insight’s price category. Not so the Fit, which bests Insight in passenger room, shames most small cars for cargo versatility, and is downright fun to drive. Model-year 2013 or 2014 likely will see introduction of a redesigned Fit line that includes an EV version. But the conventional gas-engine 2012 Fit should again return a pleasant 27/33 mpg with manual transmission, 28/35 with automatic, and have a price range of around $16,000-$20,000.

Volkswagen Golf TDI: Don’t fear the diesel; today’s are not the smoky, oily rattlers of the past but clean powerplants packed with acceleration-enhancing torque. VW’s two- and four-door hatchback Golf TDI models are excellent Insight alternatives, earning ratings of 30/43 mpg with either a manual or automatic-type transmission. Diesel-fuel prices are a wild card, often exceeding those of gasoline, but a Golf TDI can go more than 500 miles between fill ups. It’s got real German driving character, too, and 2012 prices should start at a palatable $25,000 or so.