Reviewers Hurl Criticism at 2010 Honda Insight

What’s the biggest obstacle to mainstream adoption of greener cars? Cost. The new generation of super fuel-efficient high-tech vehicles—including hybrids, clean diesels and electric cars—carry a higher price tag compared to their conventional counterparts. That’s why Honda designed its latest hybrid, the 2010 Honda Insight, with affordability as the main goal. With a base MSRP of $19,800, Honda achieved its objective. The Honda Insight’s marketing tag line is, “The Hybrid for Everyone.”

When the Insight was introduced in early 2009, the automotive press gushed with praise. Reviewers claimed that the Honda Insight is more compelling and fun to drive than the quintessential gas-electric car, the Toyota Prius, which is bigger, faster, and uses a more sophisticated third-generation of hybrid technology. The Los Angeles Times’s Dan Neil described the Insight as “impeccably constructed, well planned and honeyed with high-tech surfaces and materials. Nothing feels cheap or compromised.” Road Track’s Dennis Simanaitis wrote, “The Insight will make a significant contribution to sustainable mobility.” Edmunds.com reviewers said, “Given its impressive talents and attractive price, it’s hard to fault the 2010 Honda Insight.”

But in the past few weeks, a number of critics have found it quite easy to find faults with the Insight—harshly criticizing the car for the very traits that have allowed Honda to keep down the price.

1The Honda Insight doesn’t feel solid.

David Champion, senior director of the Consumer Reports auto test center, said, “The Insight is a noisy, stiff-riding car with clumsy handling that is nothing like the Fit on which it is based.”

2The Honda Insight is underpowered.

Scott Burgess of the Detroit News, wrote, “The Insight can feel underpowered at times, especially on the highway…There are paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, which can help a driver improve the car’s pickup but can also make the engine scream like a toddler.”

3The Honda Insight’s engine is buzzy.

UK reviewer, Jeremy Clarkson, wrote, “The Honda’s petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airliner. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.”

4The Honda Insight is too small.

Edward Loh of Motor Trend explained, “While the Prius qualifies as a midsize car, the 2009 Insight is a compact: shorter by 2.7 inches overall and 5.9 inches between the wheels. The Insight is also 1.2 inches narrower, with a roof height 2.5 inches lower, which is why Honda tells you its Prius-fighter is the more similarly sized Civic Hybrid.” Dan Edmunds of Edmunds.com, wrote, “Those approaching 6 feet in height will feel the roof and wish for more legroom [in the backseat]. The Insight’s 100.4-inch wheelbase needs an additional inch or two. This, above all, reminds us that the Insight is indeed a compact car.”


Did early praise leave the Honda Insight open to hatchet jobs by contrary reviewers seeking dramatic headlines? Did the initial euphoria about an affordable hybrid wear off? Or did it just take time for the press to narrow in on the Insight’s shortcomings?

In the end, the look and feel of a car is subjective. Consumers shopping for a fuel-efficient hybrid will have to get behind the wheel and pass their own judgment on the feeling of solidity, the sound from the engine, and the ability of a compact car to provide enough space to meet their needs. Meanwhile, the hard numbers speak for themselves: $20,000, a long list of cutting-edge features, seating for five, and average city-highway mileage of 41 mpg.


  • moishe k

    A hybrid Fit would have been a simple solution

  • apiru

    i drove the insight & liked it until i drove the 2010 prius. the cost of the insight ex vs the 2010 priusII is very small so i have to go with the prius

  • Phil Kulak

    There are some reviewers that are just not satisfied with a car that has as its goal moving people from one place to the other. These guys review cars as if driving were a sport and these things where the equipment. I don’t like to drive. The only thing I’ve ever liked “driving” were my sport bikes back when I owned them. Now, though, I just want to get were I’m going comfortably.

    Clarkson at one point complains about the CVT feeling like a slipping clutch. Well, there’s a great reason never to innovate: the experience may be slightly different! The CVT in my Camry feels just fine, and it’s the first automatic transmission I’ve ever owned. Maybe I can just adapt a bit better than Clarkson?

  • Daniel O.

    It was a lil small for my taste and i went with the honda civic non hybrid instead but everyone is diff and it is a compact just like the civic but the civic felt bigger thats why i went for it and still some of my friend complain about the back row..what a bunch of fat butts they are lol

  • Jeddy

    Prius 2010 owner and proud of it. I’m getting 4.7L/100km in a mixed terrain of hills and flat areas.

    Having owned my Prius for 2 weeks now, I’m ecstatic with its performance.

    Honda’s playing catch up and not very well …

  • IMAMike

    Ive had my 2010 Insight EX/navi for 2 months now, and I’m very happy with it. It doesn’t handle like a Civic SI, and it’s lack of a 3rd stage VTEC is notable on the highway at times when accelerating, though I’ve been pleased to average 46-50 mpg based on tank averages over 2300 miles (I just had 56 mpg driving 21 miles to work yesterday).
    The I2 is not a Prius, and it’s not an accurate comparison since they’re not even in the same class. I don’t need another midsize (I already have a 2006 Civic hybrid), but I like the versatility the hatch has offered.
    Overall, I like it, I’ve been pleased and I just don’t understand the lack of handling complaints or the lack of solid build quality. Mine is solidly built with no rattles or squeaks and is quieter than my Civic.

  • Papio

    I drove both, and bought the Prius III w/Navigation Pkg. that inckudes the back-up camera system. Compared to the Prius the Insight left me just wanting more. The exterior was sharp and sporty, but actual driving is where that 1.3 liter engine paired with the sewing machine electric motor really didn’t impress. It’s noisy, and a little jerky during stop and go due to the engine shutting-down and re-starting. A real sore spot at least for me, is that the Insight comes with Front Disc Brakes, but has Drum Rear Breaks, and that’s on the EX model! The interior is something else! Too many cubby holes that adds tacky to the already exaggerated knobby martian dashboard. There is one good thing that the Insight has going for it, and that’s PRICE! But if you are a veteran car buyer, you immediately start to realize why the Insight is priced so low, and will end-up with a Prius like me.

    The Prius with the larger 1.8 liter engine, and the substantial torque provided by the electric motor makes for decent acceleration. It’s by no means a pocket rocket, and the selectabe driving modes work really well. Select Power, and you have a reairly responsive throttle, select Economy, and the throttle response fades to make the most of the Synergy System. You can also select to run on batteries only, but that can only be done for short runs depending on charge level. The ride and compfort is excellent for a vehicle of this size, and it’s a lot quieter than my 07 Civic EX. The interior is really a dream… it’s smooth, solid, and well organized unlike Insight’s chaotic cluster of knobs.

    The Prius will yeild a true 50 plus MPG due to the A/C compressor running electrically as opposed to engine driven, the Insight should average out in the low 40′s due to the tandem electric/gas engine application so fuel economy is good in both. Overall I think the Insight is equally stunning in appearance as the Prius, but the Prius wins in all other areas, especially when comparing interior design.

    If you are looking for a Hybrid, I reccomend test driving them all… wait a few weeks and do more research, and check-out the owners comments. Then test drive the vechicle you favor again, and go from there to decide model, trim level, and packages or options.

  • tom gray

    The Honda IS cheaply made and at $20K, the gas savings are laughably meager – it you want to save gas, avoid this hybrid,
    unless you spend all your time in slow moving (or stopped traffic).
    It’s way too much inconvenience and Sparteny to put up with just to save a few gallons of gas. If you want to do that get an plug-in hybrid – they can easily knock down over 220MPG with a 40 miles electric driving range and the Chevy Volt experience is miles ahead of the Insight or the aging obsolete, homely Prius.
    The Chinese BYD coming ashore will get 60 miles of electric driving, looks better than either the Insight or the Prius (not a major accomplishment, I’ll admit) and cost LESS than a Prius.
    It’s easily knock down over 300MPG, no sweat. THAT’s the way to make a dent in our gas consumption. Plain hybrids just don’t hack it – too complicated and no payoff. No wonder all the automakers are talking electric and plug-in for their future green cars. Nobody wants to waste their time with old timey hybrids.
    They’re passe’ Amazing that Honda and Toyota really believe they can resist innovation and still be viable companies.

  • Minnesota Mad Man

    I am glad Honda thought to make an affordable hybrid. The dilemma is the same for everyone. Spend a few bucks more and a much better Prius is to be had. Spend much less and well… by a dang Fit or a Corolla or Civic and just get a better car that gets respectable mileage and costs less to own over the life of the vehicle.

  • Seren

    I was going to ‘boink’ Honda but after reading all the neg comments I felt sorry for Honda :(……….the ARE trying to compete, they ARE making some progress in hybrid field, they ARE coming out with Hybrid FIT in about 9 months or less(ok with options it will also go for $19500 :( ,,,,,but thats better than less hybrid options for everyone.

    I agree Hyundai, Chinese Dealers and Toyota will be THE ones to beat and will turn world upside down in around one year or so!

    Someday Honda will make a come back Im sure of it …they are still fairly financially sound as well …………

  • MotorMouths

    Yep, the Insight has suffered some nasty dings in reviews of late. It’s still averaging an 84 from the country’s top critics, but that’s down 3 points in the last month:

    http://motormouths.com/car/honda/insight

    The Prius, by the way, is averaging an 87.

  • Chicken poop coupe

    I say let’s all go to Hooters!

  • MauryXman

    David, Scott, Jeremy, Edward, y say……no comment…..these gentlemen are perfect ….. BAD BAD BAD JURISDICTION stop.

  • qqRockyBeans

    They should’ve put a sunroof in the EX

    They need to release a DX model with black door handles, manual windows, no AC, etc. It would probably sell for about $17-18000 the way Honda prices their cars

    Another good idea they left out was the manual transmission. This would further lower the price by about $1000, by looking at Honda’s normal price difference between manual and automatic transmissions

    Such a transmission would also get better fuel economy AND be quicker!!!!

  • Luc

    Honda confirmed earlier Fit Hybrid is coming. Whether it will be as good as the regular Fit I’ll leave up to to Jeremy and consumer reports to decide. I’m sure they’ll love it:-). The CR-Z Hybrid will come first and should look more like a regular Civic hatchback.

    One thing not to forget is that Honda wanted to price the Insight at $19K but due to the strong dollar they increased it to $20K. Then Toyota came and lowered the price of the Prius III in US and Japan to compete better (but not in Europe). Good thing there’s some competition now…

  • RKRB

    -The Top Gear comments you quoted are rather understated, given Jeremy Clarkson’s terrible review (found at timesonline.co.uk, then search for the May 17 issue). On the other hand, Honda builds decent cars for the satisficer, and as the article said, many people will indeed find the Insight to their liking (and the price and availability may be quite superior to the Prius III).

    -We should all be thankful that Honda and Toyota introduced the first hybrids. They established reputations for dependability and solid build quality for the hybrid concept. If General Motors had been the first on the market, they’d have found some way to botch up the design and construction so badly that people would be unlikely to trust hybrids.

  • wfolta

    I think the Insight got initially good reviews because prices were not set. If you could get a reasonably-equipped Insight for $18,000 and the base Prius was $24,000+, the Insight looks pretty good. But when you’re looking at something more like a $20,000 Insight versus a $22,000 Prius, suddenly the Insight does not look so great.

    Toyota, for one, realized that the Insight was getting strong reviews based mostly on price spread, so they re-jiggered their packages to hold the price line, and it’s worked. Both in terms of reviews, and also my own purchase.

  • usbseawolf2000

    Volt was build for image, not common sense.

    Volt is trying to save a few gallon of gas with the battery pack that cost 4x more than gasoline.

    In regard to the Prius, every gallon of gas the Volt would displace will cost $13 (due to the expensive battery pack). There will be very limited number of people who would pay $13 to save a gallon of gas.

    It makes more sense to drive a well designed hybrid to save 3,000 gallon of gas (25 MPG vs. 50 MPG).

    Remember, Volt use Lithium battery that costs 3-4 times more than NiMH in the Prius. Volt’s battery pack also has 12 times capacity than the Prius. You are looking at 36x to 48x more cost. The question is not if the cost will come down. The question is … is Lithium fully understood that it is reliable and rock solid?

    NiMH was used in EV1 and RAV4EV. The knowledge gained from it was used to design the Prius. NiMH has been well proven that it is very durable. Volt will be the first to use Lithium for automobile. The greater concern is that they would “beta test” in public.

  • Anonymous

    Ha ha these arguments are laughable by all. Seriously guys come on we should appreciate both toyota and honda for the hybrids they are making. We all know the prius and insight are in tow different classes. We also know that toyota has a good lead on hybrid technology. I have a friend who picked up an insight and is averaging close to 50 mpg that’s awesome. You have some people comparing a loaded insight to the basic prius (compact to midsize). Not fair for either. Then we have these guys try to stir things up comparing accelaerationa and speed. Come on guys if we wanted these things we all would have purchased non-hybrid V6 cars. We are all supporting better fuel economy. Our battle is not with toyota or honda hybrids. It should be with Exxon, Cheveron, etc. I got rid of my gas guzzlers for that reason. Go hybrids is all I can say – lol

  • German*

    Here in Germany, the Insight and the Prius are more expensive than everywhere else I think. The base models cost 19,550 Euro (27,370$) and 24,950 Euro (34,930$). With such a big difference the Insight is the better car for me.

  • Mr.Bear

    I looked at the $20k starting price for the base and $22k price for the EX and I thought for another $3k I could get a much nicer car with either the Civic or the Prius.

    If the base price had been closer to the originally rumored $17.5k, I would have gotten the Insight.

  • Papio

    Although I bought the Prius, I always previously bought Honda vehicles. The Prius is better period, and Honda needed to have their butt handed to them because everything they previously touched turned to gold. I really wanted to continue my Honda spree, but since I decided it was time to get a hybrid, I wanted the best. What I would really like to see in two to 4 years (which is when I usually opt for a new car) is for Honda to re-design the Insight, but use the Civic platform. and although in my opinion the Toyota Synergy System is superior to the Intergrated Motor Assist (IMA), a larger PM Motor coupled with a larger gas engine… say 1.8 to 2.0 would cure the noise and power issue, and perhaps be tuned to SI standards. I wouldn’t expect this vehicle to get 50 mpg, but if it got 40, and could hit 0 to 60 in 8 seconds or less, I’d trade-in the Prius for the first model out, and be willing to pay the price of a premium Prius. Honda I DARE YOU!!!!!

  • E

    I wasn’t even planning to get a hybrid. For me the decision was between a Fit, Corolla, or Civic. Then the Insight came out and I realized for about $2,000 more than the Fit model I wanted, I could get an Insight.
    For me, a jump to $4,000 to get a Prius was just too much.
    I love my Insight. I have no complaints, and I enjoy driving it every day.
    The Insight just might be winning over people who weren’t even planning to buy a hybrid, which I think was it’s intent.

  • two-hybrids

    I agree that it makes no sense to bash one or the other. I own two hybrids, a Civic (I) and Prius (II). They are both great cars, get roughly the same mileage, and are of exceptionally high quality.

    Rather than slagging off one against the other, or against the new Insight II in this case, I would have thought it would be best to celebrate more new hybrid choices. If the Insight is a bit lower on the scale than Civic or Prius, so be it, but I’m still glad it is there to provide an affordable choice for those buyers in the sub-20K range.

    As for Jeremy Clarkson — I love Top Gear, it is my favorite show on TV, but the guy is an absolute blowhard, that’s kind of his endearing trait. He is also rantingly mad against the Prius. You just have to take him with a grain of salt.

    And regarding the other negative reviews, it is like the hybridcars.com article says — tastes are going to vary. I say, hats off to you Insight owners, may you enjoy your hybrid for many happy, gas-sipping years.

  • Brian Fisher

    Our 2001 Prius is still going great. Its price at the time was $20,000 USD. I haven’t driven the insight but I will say that the Prius classic also makes a bit of noise when you force it. It’s still a fabulous car however. I find the visibility is superior to the newer models.
    For those of you who complain about the cost of hybrids, I figure my premium has been paid by now with over 125,00 miles on the clock and just one set of front brake discs replaced. The pads on the rear drums are still in great shape. The 12 volt battery was replaced for the second time this winter. The first battery was too small and a newer and lager gel battery was installed about 2 years after we bought our Prius. I hit a big pothole a few years back and had to replace the McPherson struts on the front end as well as the left front wheel bearing. The muffler has yet to go and the body is still in great shape. During this time we have been averaging well over 40 mpg.
    I would be interested to hear about any conventional vehicle that can match this.

  • rw

    I test-drove the Insight when it first came out. I really wanted to like it (and wanted to buy one). But I didn’t.

    Why? Because it’s slower than the 2009 Prius and gets worse gas mileage. And I was disappointed with the skinny tires and drum brakes. Plus, due to the regenerative braking, the brakes feel funny— something I haven’t noticed with the Prius.

  • W. Falicoff

    We got our EX Insight several weeks before the official release date. We have put several thousand miles on the car, in all kinds of road conditions. The highest mileage we achieved was 60.4 mpg in a trip from Santa Clarita to Ventura, CA (speed 55 to 65 mph). In longer trips (to San Diego and Santa Barbara) we typical get 50 mpg. This is with the econo mode turned off. The mileage is very sensitive to driving style especially in city driving. We have seen the city mpg go from the high 30s to nearly 50, depending on the nature of the drive (lots of stops) and how you feel like driving the car. It has three driving settings (actually there is a fourth rarely used): econo mode, drive and sport. In econo mode one obtains the best city mileage but at a cost of air conditioning comfort in lots of stop and go. Acceleration is very slow in econo mode but acceptable starting with the drive mode. The sport mode seems quite responsive on relatively flat terrain. Actually, from what I have read the acceleration numbers for the 2010 Insight are slightly better than the Prius. The car is built quite solid with no rattles. The sound level is slightly worse than our 2006 Accord (perhaps 2 to 3 dba at most). Sound level is reduced by installing the floor mats (it doesn’t come with them), rear cargo tray and cover. Honda cut corners in a couple of places but not many that I can see. (One example is the latch which frees the hood. It is very flimsy)

    The handling is acceptable and certainly better than the 2009 Prius, and marginally worse than the 2010 Prius (skid test difference is perhaps 0.02). Most of the handling issues with the car are as a consequence of the Dunlop tires. By the way you cannot judge the handling and feel of this car if it has less than 500 miles on the tires, as the car rides much worse in the beginning on the Dunlops. At around 1000 miles the car road smoother than my 2009 Subaru. Most reviewers agree that the front seats in the Insight are more comfortable than the Prius. I can only comment that the front seats are comfortable on even very long trips of 500 miles in a day. The rear seats are not that comfortable and have one of the worst headrests on them I have owned.

    I think the fuel tank could be a bit larger, perhaps 1 to 2 gallons more. My big complaint is the optical distortion on the rear window of the hatchback. This probably is a problem just with this car. On the other hand the comments above concerning the startup of the engine at a stop is not the case with our car. It starts up in an instant and is very smooth.

    Personally I like the dashboard design with the unusual gauges (digital speedometer).

    We are very happy with the car and would recommend it to others. I think the best value is the EX model, which adds electronic stability and cruise control, together with other useful features.

  • jwhenry

    You can either Lease or buy a new car to use the cash for clunkers program. It has to be new vehicles and not used ones.

    jwhenry
    Blogger
    http://www.cashforclunkersfacts.info
    http://www.cashforclunkersfacts.info

  • Alan R

    Honda makes the best cars in the world bar none – we are talking reliability, affordability and resale-ability. We own a 2010 Insight. Our only criticisms are pickup (I didn’t expect a Mustang, but it could use a bit more pep), the lack of an auto door lock button on the passenger side and the amount of blind spots due to aerodynamic body design. I should note that I found the same blind spot problem when sitting in a Prius.

    Honda has comitted to an all Hybrid/alternative fuel fleet in the near future, we think the new Insight is a good start, we trust Honda and like the 43+ mpg we get vs the 25+ MPG our 2001 Accord gave us. Green cars are still a new industry, you have to give it some time.

  • B

    I have driven my 2010 Honda Insight for more than 40,000 miles, and it is, hands-down the best car I have ever owned. It has vertical stability assist which is great in the ice & snow. It is more spacious than you would think, and it is made for the iPhone user. I have averaged 43 mpg’s that vary on what I think is atmospheric pressure. I have driven all over the country. Once you are used to it, you can drive any road condition. I used to drive a convertible BMW, and I hated it for the low gas mileage & repairs, although it was fun to drive and had great pickup. I’ve had no problems with this vehicle & my kids love to ride in it. My big tall husband complains about legroom, but that is the only negative imho. If you want to pay more & get more car, then the Prius is the best, but for those of us who want something inexpensive and practical, the Insight is fantastic!!!!!