As with all hybrids, kinetic energy is captured while braking and coasting, stored in the batteries and then used to help you on your way. And of course, the Insight’s gas engine shuts down when you come to a stop, firing up when the brake pedal is released.

2012 Honda Insight LX
2012 Honda Insight LX
2012 Honda Insight LX
2012 Honda Insight LX
2012 Honda Insight LX. Click image to enlarge

The Insight will apparently slip into EV (Electric Vehicle) mode at crawl speeds, wherein fuel is shut off to the engine leaving the electric motor to provide motivation. Still, driving the Insight in stop-and-go traffic is a jerky affair, as the IMA cycles between generation, EV, and auto-stop mode. This is when most full hybrids will operate smoothly and silently on electric power alone.

Aerodynamic principles dictate the Insight’s flying wedge profile, and it closely resembles that of the Prius, although the Honda, which uses the front structure of the Fit, is 7.5 cm shorter and 2.5 cm narrower. Front seat room is generous, the back seats are a little tight on headroom, and the hatch offers a healthy 450 L behind the back seats. The seats fold flat, opening up a big cargo space.

The interior features Honda’s two-tiered, asymmetrical design theme that first saw the light of day in the previous-gen Civic. It all makes ergonomic sense, featuring large, easily deciphered controls and lots of useful cubbies. It’s a much more cheerful place to be than in the Prius’s sombre cabin; very colourful at night, too.

Two options worth considering would be the cargo cover ($252) and the USB interface ($467.91).

The seats are comfortable—certainly better than those in the Fit. The digital speedo readout in the upper display has a sweep of colour that glows either green, aqua, or dark blue, depending on how aggressive you are with the gas pedal. It effectively “coaches” smooth driving, which is key to efficient motoring.

The ECO button to the left of the steering wheel reduces power by about four percent, reduces throttle sensitivity, and puts the HVAC in a more efficient mode for further fuel savings.

If you want to dig deeper, toggling through the MID (Multi-Information Display) calls up the real-time ECO guide (a bar graph with suggested thresholds for acceleration and braking), the current drive cycle’s economy compared to the previous three trips, average and real time fuel economy, and a graphic display that shows IMA power flow and battery status.

And it doesn’t stop there. At the completion of a drive cycle when the ignition is turned off, your green score is momentarily displayed, ranging from one to five leafy icons. Trophy icons pop up after a number of earth-friendly trips.

So you’ll be either whistling “The Hills Are Alive” or hanging your head in eco-shame at the end of the day.

If you’re in the market for a highly efficient and functional family vehicle, the 2012 Honda Insight LX with its new lower price is hard to ignore. Granted, I have been a bit hard on this parsimonious hatch for its somewhat compromised driving experience, but after a week I got used to its quirks. After all, hyper-hybrids aren’t about driving pleasure in the traditional sense. One takes comfort from the glacial movement of the fuel gauge and the notion that you are less of a burden on Mother Earth.

Pricing: 2012 Honda Insight
  • Base price: $21,990
  • Options: None
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1395
  • Price as tested: $23,485

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Honda Insight

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Toyota Prius
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • Connect with