Test Drive: 2012 Honda Insight LX car test drives hybrids honda
2012 Honda Insight LX. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2012 Honda Insight

When Honda introduced its second generation Insight in 2010 with a base price of $23,900, it was the least expensive hybrid in Canada. The Insight, being a “mild” hybrid, didn’t have all the gee-whiz technology or quite the fuel mileage of the $4000 dearer Toyota Prius, but Honda’s hope was that this five-door, five-seat hatchback would bring hybrid technology to a wider audience.
Didn’t quite work out that way.

The Insight has been a slow seller. In 2011, Honda moved only 242 units in Canada—that’s against 1585 Toyota Priuses and 533 Toyota Prius Vs. What’s the problem?
You could point your finger at the Insight’s somewhat homely countenance, or the fact that as a driving device there is precious little joy to be found behind the wheel. But in all fairness, the Prius doesn’t fare much better on either count. And if part of the motivation for buying a hybrid is economics, you’d think the Insight’s lower sticker would have greenies coming in droves.

Test Drive: 2012 Honda Insight LX car test drives hybrids honda
2012 Honda Insight LX. Click image to enlarge

Two years on, some changes have come the Insight’s way, most noticeably a price reduction to $21,990. The upper level EX model is dropped, and now the LX is equipped with Bluetooth and electronic stability control. The front and rear styling is revised and the interior gets a noticeable refresh with upgraded materials. Through enhanced aerodynamics, more energy efficient tires and reduced engine friction, the 2012 Insight ekes out a couple of more points in fuel efficiency—4.7 L/100 km city and 4.4 highway versus 4.8 and 4.5.

This is one of the rare times when the Canada Transport numbers lined up with my experience. Over about 700 km of mostly highway driving the 2012 Insight LX rewarded me with 4.4 L/100 km.

That was really the only reward, as this hatch largely adheres to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy when it comes to fuel mileage. As with the first Insight I drove in 2010, the ride is choppy, the steering numb on centre, the hybrid drivetrain is uneven and it gets shoved around by crosswinds on the highway. Like all small Hondas, the Insight is nimble and feels light on its feet, but get too enthusiastic in the corners and it pushes like Kirsty Alley at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Those skinny 15-inch eco tires can take most of the blame.

Test Drive: 2012 Honda Insight LX car test drives hybrids honda
2012 Honda Insight; photo by Haney Louka. Click image to enlarge

Additionally, when looking for meaningful acceleration, the continuously variable transmission has the 1.3L four moaning away at about 4,500 rpm while the car slowly plays catch-up.

But again, I must point out, this is how these super fuel misers roll, as the Toyota Prius is pretty much the same.

The biggest difference between the two, and perhaps one reason for the Insight’s slow sales, is the Honda’s inability to motor along in full electric mode, which for many hybrid buyers is the Holy Grail. Silent, 100-percent emissions-free driving is the real hybrid deal in many buyers’ eyes, no matter how brief the experience.

The Insight can’t do that because it is a “mild” hybrid—the IMA (integrated motor assist) is there to help the gas engine along. That said, it is a relatively simple and cost effective system, unlike the dizzyingly complex Hybrid Synergy Drive in the Toyota Prius.

The Insight uses an 88-hp 1.3L four-cylinder engine supplemented by a 13-hp electric motor/generator that lives between the engine and transmission. As the two power sources don’t peak at the same time, maximum output is 98 hp at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque from 1,000 to 1,500 rpm. A 22-kg nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is located in an armoured box between the rear wheels.

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