January 2009

Honda Insight ES-T

Honda Insight aims to be the first affordable hybrid

January 2009

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

3.5 out of 5 stars


  • Contemporary styling
  • Refined cruiser
  • Involving driver interface
  • Decent size boot


  • Rear headroom lacking
  • CVT transmission whines under acceleration
  • Over-complicated steering wheel and display
  • Very limited feedback from steering

Already one of the select group of manufacturers to have a hybrid model on sale in the UK, Honda is upping the ante with its latest model, the Insight. Featuring an improved version of the technology present in the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Insight is an attempt to bring hybrid motoring to the masses with a family car that rivals conventional non-hybrid cars on price.

Think hybrid and the chances are that your thoughts immediately turn to the Toyota Prius. The model has become synonymous with green motoring and has been a big success, despite costing a premium when compared to the equivalent models with a standard drive-train. Honda also has also had a hybrid model on the market for some time in the shape of the Honda Civic Hybrid. Like the Prius it's more expensive than its non-hybrid competitors but, unlike the Prius, its saloon body is less well suited to the UK market.

The new Insight has been designed to right those wrongs. Honda's main objective with the model is to bring it into the reach of the average family, with a purchase price that significantly undercuts other hybrid models on the market. Having refined its IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) unit to the point that it can be mass produced cost effectively and squeezed into a car with minimal loss of space, Honda is able to offer a practical, economical and sensibly priced family hybrid.

Despite the clever packaging of the IMA system having little effect on the interior space and practicality, there's no escaping the Insight's hybrid status. The distinctive shape, highly reminiscent of its close rival, is a giveaway. As the most aerodynamic way of packaging a five-door hatchback, it's likely to become a familiar shape in the future.

Inside there are more hints. A CVT transmission offers fuel savings, but more obvious is the dash assembly with its large green Econ button. Push it, and the engine is remapped to offer greater economy, improve brake energy regeneration and limit air-con and other drains on engine power. Drive sensibly and the Insight rewards you with an increasing number of plants on the colour display. Burn too much fuel and they disappear. A colour changing speedo also helps keep track of instant fuel economy.

Our verdict on the Honda Insight ES-T

With great intentions well executed, Honda has produced what could be a ground breaking car in the Insight. Not in terms of technology, but in terms of accessibility. Practical and family friendly, the appeal is obvious. The physical driving experience is merely adequate, but the engaging ethos is excellent and the potential savings and accessible purchase price should prove it a big success.


The Insight is effectively a cost cutting exercise and, as such, offers very affordable hybrid motoring. Undercutting previous hybrid vehicles in price it brings the technology to a wider market, giving more drivers the opportunity to save on fuel in the process. Running costs should be very low, with high fuel consumption, low VED rates and London congestion charge exemption. Honda has also placed an eight-year warranty on hybrid-drive train parts, for additional peace of mind.

Space and practicality

The sore spot with the Insight is the lack of rear headroom, which will make the rear seats uncomfortable for taller adults. The rest of the interior is reasonably roomy however, although the thin transmission tunnel helps hive the impression that the front is roomier than it actually is. A good sized glovebox and plenty of trinket storage are present in the front while the well-proportioned boot boasts additional space underneath. The rear seats fold in a 60/40 pattern to provide a very respectable degree of luggage space.

Controls and display

A complicated dash assembly does a good job of disseminating a lot of information, but with so much going on it's inevitable that the dashboard is a little fussy. The steering wheel plays host to a number of controls, making it distracting to use until they become familiar. The coloured displays help, and the driver will appreciate having the audio and ventilation controls angled towards them, if not the front passenger. The split digital display means the steering wheel position may have to be compromised to avoid blocking the displays.


With reasonably plush interior, decent equipment including electric windows and air-con and luxuries on the ES-T such as auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, the Insight performs well in the comfort stakes. The CVT transmission whines under heavy acceleration, but once up to speed the transmission quiets down and the aerodynamic body aids refinement.

Car security

A perimeter alarm is standard equipment on the Insight and, combined with the engine immobiliser, should make the model difficult to steal. Naturally, there's remote central locking and deadlocks, too. Inside, there's covered storage to be found in the boot, glovebox, between the front seats and in small pockets within the dash assembly.

Car safety

Vehicle Stability Assist is standard equipment, ironing out any issues generated while cornering or through sudden manoeuvres. ABS with Emergency Brake Assist is also present as are active headrest, dual-front, seat-side and curtain airbags.

Driver appeal

The Insight's driving appeal is to be found in the engaging rewards-based system that displays an increasing number of plants on the display as the driver's style becomes more eco-friendly. The ability to review fuel consumption for previous trips means the novelty should not wear off too quickly. The Insight is well adapted to town driving, with the torque of the electric motor meaning the small engine can punch above its weight in terms of nippiness and the silent on-battery cruising supporting low fuel consumption. Excellent visibility and light steering are a boon in town, too. More spirited driving highlights the lack of steering feedback, though, and a slow response in terms of acceleration.

Family car appeal

A strong contender as a family vehicle, the Insight will transport two adults and three children safely and efficiently. Children are sure to appreciate the brightly coloured displays and large windows that allow in plenty of light and the model will leave budgets unstretched.

First car appeal

As an efficient and very simple to operate vehicle, the Insight makes sense as a small car. However, novice drivers might want to avoid being distracted by the computer game-like experience offered on the dashboard.

Quality and image

The Insight's main rival, Toyota's Prius, benefits from very positive image as a fuel saving 'green car' championed by celebs and environmentalists alike. Unfortunately, it has also become associated with 'green preachiness' in some circles, too. Honda's Insight is likely to attract similar attention, but its less exclusive asking price ought to ensure it becomes more accepted by the public as a whole. The Honda name is associated with high quality products and the Insight shows no signs of lacking build quality.


Five large doors make the Insight a reasonably easy car to access, particularly as they're light and open to a wide angle. The low roof profile might mean taller passengers have to duck when entering though, particularly in the rear.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The top of the line ES-T model gets an aftermarket sat-nav and audio system with a large touchscreen and audio controls in the steering wheel. A USB port increases the entertainment potential and a decent sound system is made up of four speakers plus extra tweeters for better sound quality.

Colours and trim

The eight vibrant colour choices work well with the Insight, highlighting the model's aerodynamic characteristics and funky shape. Trim levels inside the Insight are very good. All models get high quality fabric seats while the upper specification models benefit from a leather wheel and gear knob. Two-tone interiors work well, but the lower part of the dash feels of a lesser quality plastic.


Parking the Insight is a breeze thanks to artificially light steering and excellent visibility all round. Although the rear window is split in two, this doesn't hamper to any great extent and the flat rear and short bonnet make judging dimensions simple.

Spare wheel

Tyre repair kit fitted as standard.

Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.3-litre (87bhp). Transmission options: CVT automatic gearbox with manual paddleshift over-ride. Trim levels: SE, ES, ES-T.

Alternative cars

Toyota Prius Similar style and ethos but more expensive

Ford Focus Econetic version gets great mpg

Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion variant offers superb economy

Seat Leon Ecomotive has strong environmental credentials

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