A history lesson…
Way back in 1999 Honda launched a coupe called the Insight. It was significant then because it was the first production hybrid car to be sold in Europe. It is odd then that over the next decade or so Honda seemed to be overtaken by its competitors on the hybrid front. Toyota in particular stormed ahead, with the Prius gaining plaudits from even the most celebrated Hollywood addresses. Honda wasn't going to stand for that of course and at the Paris motor show in October 2008 they showed an affordable family hybrid car. They called the new car the Insight, in memory of the original hybrid and the car went on sale in 2009. The Insight was originally priced from £15,490 and Honda thought this more affordable price point would attract a new type of buyer to hybrid technology and hence boost sales. Nowadays though there are far more hybrid cars available to buy and the Honda Insight no longer has a clear field. The used Honda Insight is indeed cheaper than the Prius, but other models are in turn cheaper than the Insight. This car has a lot of work to do if it is to compete in what is now a crowded and competitive market.
Bang for your buck
People who buy these cars are obviously concerned about emissions and there are many hybrids now on the market with lower CO2 emissions and better fuel economy. The car does ship with a driver education system however, designed to coach the driver into getting the best fuel economy from the car. Battery replacement on Hybrids is an expensive business but the battery in the Insight is designed to last for the lifetime of the car so that should not present a problem. Every Honda Insight has Honda's 1.3-litre SOHC aluminium-alloy i-VTEC engine with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) gearbox. This petrol engine gets an electronic hand from Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) which recaptures energy from braking and deceleration and uses it for power for acceleration when required. The cars have an excellent safety rating and you will find front, side and curtain airbags along with traction and stability control. Inside, the cabin does feel a little plastic and the fit is not quite what you would expect from Honda. There is plenty of leg room though and the flat floor adds to the usable space. Trim levels are generous, with even the base SE model coming with climate control, alloy wheels and both electric windows and door mirrors.
What you'll pay
A 2009 base model SE with a hefty 90,000 miles on the clock can be had for just shy of £6,000. At the other end of the spectrum a 2012 HS model with only 2,000 miles covered will set you back a shade under £19,000.
What to check
There have been reports of tyre problems on earlier models with apparent cracking between the treads of otherwise perfectly serviceable tyres. Other than this however there appear to be no major problems with the car, even with all that added hybrid complexity. Later cars are going to have the balance of the manufacturer's warranty so you should take this into consideration when you are making price comparisons with earlier models.
These cars shouldn't be needing many replacement parts for a while yet but if you have a minor shunt, a headlamp unit comes in around £150. Front brake pads are £40 with £35 at the rear and a radiator costs £160.
How it drives
The used Honda Insight's combination of 1.3 litre petrol engine and electric motor is sufficient around town but comes unstuck on the motorway where you will be in no danger from speed cameras. Overtaking requires patience and a long, clear stretch of road. If you push the econ switch before pulling out, you are going to need tarmac of runway proportions to get back in safely. Steering is light, which is good for low speeds around town but it does not seem to adjust for motorway cruising, where even slight touches on the wheel can cause the car to move around more than you would like. Unlike other hybrids, the petrol engines stays on at all times, so you never get that silent city motoring. The driving experience in short is adequate rather than market leading but those looking for a spacious hybrid with a decent price might find an answer in a used Honda Insight.