What is it?
The 2009 Mk2 Honda Insight was a good idea imperfectly executed. Yes, it was the world’s cheapest hybrid at launch, undercutting the world’s best-selling hybrid Toyota Prius by several thousand pounds...but it showed. Honda is a company famous for bringing engineering brilliance to the masses. This could have been a landmark. It wasn’t.
Since launch, Honda’s been catching up. This 2012 model is the second revision for the Insight, bringing mild changes to suspension and interior and, most significantly, rectifying another glaring oversight: CO2 emissions now dip below 100g/km, so the Insight at last qualifies for free road fund licence.
What's it like?
It’s hard to tell new from old. At the front, the odd blue-tint headlights are joined by a blue-tint grille, with LED running lights adding to the fresh look. The rear has a thinner crossbar to the split-level tailgate spoiler, plus a smaller rear wiper motor, both aimed at improving rear visibility. The headlights and indicators of following cars at night are still blocked, though.
It keeps the same 1.3-litre engine with 13hp electric motor directly connected between it and the CVT gearbox. The latter is inevitably woeful, not helped by the whining engine’s screech at high revs. The IMA mild hybrid system doesn’t allow full electric-only running but does supply a useful low-speed torque boost, helping it feel quite sprightly in town. In eco mode, it turns the engine off as you roll to a halt and the motorless restart is satisfyingly instant.
Despite further revisions to the suspension, the Insight still rides stiffly and can wander at speed. It’s better damped in town though, and the taut suspension does make it quite fun, despite the steering itself being over assisted. A neatly dished Civic-style wheel is also good to grip.
The roomy interior remains plasticky but it’s solid and beautifully built, with better perceived quality than before. Alas, seats are too flat, and it’s noisy at speed. It feels like a supermini-derived car rather than a more grown up family hatchback-sector model.
Should I buy one?
Honda hybrid sales are making progress: earlier this year they hit the 800,000 mark. A quarter were sold last year alone. But Toyota is way ahead with more than 3 million sold – and, with this summer’s new Yaris Hybrid set to cost from under £15,000, it remains the eco thorn in Honda’s side. The Insight is better, but still not good enough.