Full 2011 Honda Insight Review
What's New for 2011
There is a new base model for the 2011 Honda Insight, which drops the base price along with several features. The previous LX base model lives on as a midgrade trim and gains standard cruise control, a center armrest storage console and an iPod/USB audio interface. All Insights now come standard with stability control.
When it debuted last year, the Honda Insight took on the Toyota Prius. It, too, was a hybrid, looked the way Americans think hybrids should look and got better fuel economy than anything else on the road. On top of this, the Insight promised a cheaper price and a driving experience that didn't isolate one to the point of falling asleep. The formula seemed like a winner. But one year of lackluster consumer interest and a 20,000-mile Edmunds long-term test have us thinking of the Insight as an incomplete copycat, not a challenger.
In terms of fuel economy, the 2011 Honda Insight is certainly no laggard, since its EPA-rated 41 mpg on the city cycle is pretty darned thrifty. At the same time, the Insight's hybrid system is a so-called "mild hybrid," which means it can't propel the car on electricity alone. This makes it less complex and expensive, but it also means the Insight's low-speed, urban driving isn't quite as fuel efficient as full hybrids like the 2011 Toyota Prius. This is a big deal to hybrid owners, who love the sensation of all-electric motoring. It also means that the air-conditioner shuts off along with the engine when the car comes to a stop. (Be warned, desert dwellers: You'll be choosing between fuel economy and sweating.)
Next comes the driving experience. It's true that the Insight is more engaging to drive than a Prius, but the downside is a relatively unsophisticated ride. The amount of road noise entering the cabin is substantial, even at the Insight's modest price. By comparison, the Prius feels like a step above in terms of ride comfort and refinement. The Insight's backseat also lacks adult-rated headroom, which compromises its utility as an all-around vehicle.
Certainly, there are some upsides to the 2011 Honda Insight. During our one-year 20,000-mile test, it was absolutely bulletproof in terms of reliability, and the fit and finish was impressive. The Insight is also cheaper than the Prius, with a new base trim level for 2011 that cuts the cost even further. Given this, the Insight could be a good choice if you're mainly looking for a basic set of wheels that gets great fuel economy. But for most shoppers we recommend the Prius, as its higher cost is more than offset by a more refined experience.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Honda Insight is available in three trim levels: base, LX and EX.
Standard equipment includes 15-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver seat height adjustment, a trip computer and a two-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The LX adds cruise control, a front center armrest and storage bin, floor mats, four speakers for the sound system and an iPod/USB audio interface. The EX adds 15-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, steering wheel shift paddles, steering wheel audio controls, vanity mirrors and six speakers. The EX can also be equipped with a navigation system, which includes a touchscreen interface, voice controls, Bluetooth and a digital audio card reader.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Honda Insight's hybrid system consists of a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor paired with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The gas engine is good for 88 horsepower and 88 pound-feet of torque, while the electric motor chips in 13 hp and 58 lb-ft. Due to varying power peaks, the maximum combined output is 98 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque.
At our test track, the Insight accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds -- a few tenths slower than the Prius, but a substantial 2.6 seconds quicker than the glacial Civic Hybrid. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 40 mpg city/43 mpg highway and 41 mpg combined.
Every 2011 Honda Insight comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), brake assist, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, the Insight came to a stop from 60 mph in 125 feet -- a good distance for a compact hybrid.
The Insight has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) were a perfect five stars for the driver in head-on collisions and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact tests, the Insight received five stars for the driver and four stars for rear passengers. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Insight received the best possible rating of "Good" in frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Insight's cabin has interesting architecture, but it is utilitarian in spirit very much in the characteristic fashion of Honda as a whole. This is particularly noticeable in the base model, which lacks a front armrest and has just two speakers for the stereo. Regardless of trim level, the Insight lacks rear seat headroom; it's tight even for those of average height.
On the positive side, the Insight's controls are quite simple to use and the standard automatic climate control is a nice touch. Also, the Insight has a couple neat visual aids (the changing background color of the speedometer and little cartoon trees in the trip computer that grow or wilt as your long-term fuel economy improves or declines) to help the driver optimize the efficiency of his or her driving style.
As a hybrid, the 2011 Honda Insight delivers on the promise of miserly fuel economy. There is no transition between electric and gasoline modes since the Insight's engine is assisted by its electric motor rather than working in tandem with it. This makes it seem like a more normal car when driving than the Prius, and some folks might like that.
Thanks to responsive steering and relatively sporty suspension tuning, the Honda Insight is more fun and responsive to drive that a Prius. But the overall experience is still noticeably less engaging than what you'll get out of other fuel-efficient cars like the Ford Fiesta, Honda CR-Z or Mini Cooper. The ride also leaves much to be desired, as you feel even minuscule bumps, and the suspension noticeably registers pavement imperfections. There's a lot of wind noise at highway speeds as well.