New or used, Honda’s hybrid Insight offers impressive efficiency. But which is the better overall value?
The original intent of the Honda Insight was to compete with Toyota’s Prius for those early adopter dollars in the hybrid car segment. The first two generations followed the Prius formula fairly closely with a practical hatchback design and impressive fuel economy but with the added twist of a lower sticker price. That bargain hybrid approach wasn’t proving profitable, and in 2014 the Insight was dropped from Honda’s lineup.
Jump to 2019 and Honda decides to give the Insight another chance. This time the Insight borrows some Civic architecture and Accord styling to produce a handsome and highly efficient hybrid that competes ably against the likes of the Prius, Elantra Hybrid, and the rest of the hybrid segment.
Though it may not have the profile of a Prius or the pedigree of an Accord, the Insight deserves to be under consideration for anyone looking at hybrid passenger cars. When considering whether to buy one new or used the question prove more stark than usual. That five-year hiatus and jump from compact hatchback to full-on small sedan make the second and third generation Insights fairly different vehicles. And this is before we even consider the gaps in technology. The question is this: are the savings inherent in buying used enough to make up this gulf? Let’s find out.
The 2014 Honda Insight came equipped with a 1.3L four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor producing 98 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. of torque. The mild hybrid assist system allowed the Insight to get a respectable 41 city and 44 highway mpg.
The 2021 Insight features a 1.5L four-cylinder engine in consort with an electric motor together producing 152 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy varies with the two lower trims netting 55 city and 49 highway mpg while the top Touring trim dips to 51/45 mpg.
The 2014 Insight is a mixed bag in terms of performance. Despite the low horsepower numbers, the Insight still provides decent acceleration for a hybrid. The flipside of this is an obnoxious engine note at higher speeds. Steering is evenly weighted and responsive. The suspension is actually on the firmer side, making the Insight nimbler than something like the ungainly Prius. Perhaps the biggest detraction is the start-stop feature which shuts off the engine at every stoplight and leads to a lagging, herky-jerky start.
While the second-generation Insight was built on the same architecture as the CR-V and the Fit, the new, third-generation Insight shared DNA from the Civic. This change improves the driving characteristics of the Insight. Acceleration is a bit better, though the new 1.5L is still a little rough sounding at higher rpms. The suspension is a bit softer this go around but doesn’t’ detract from the handling which is as competent as before. The new powertrain alleviates the old one’s chief weakness as the Insight’s present hybrid system transitions seamlessly between electric and gas power.
Even more stark than the differences in powertrains are the interiors of the 2014 and 2021 Insights. The 2014 Insight evidences here Honda was cost cutting in order to offer the car below the price of a Prius. Hard plastics abound, design isn’t particularly inspired, and function takes obvious precedent over form. Because of the hybrid battery pack’s positioning, rear seat legroom is fairly constricted at just 33 inches. The 2014 Insight does, however, benefit from its hatchback design with 15.9 cu. ft. of cargo space and a grand total of 35 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded down. (For what it’s worth, this is still well below a Prius of the same period.)
The 2021 Insight feels like it’s farther removed from its prior generation than just five years. It’s clear that Honda decided to invest more in the quality here which matches or, arguably, exceeds that of a comparably priced Civic. And like the Civic and Accord, the Honda Insight does an admirable job providing great functionality alongside a modern-feeling aesthetic. The seats are comfortable, the center console spacious, and legroom is more than ample fore and aft. Rear seat legroom measures 37.4 inches and cargo ranges from 14.7 to 15.1 cu. ft. depending on trim level.
The 2014 Insight came in three trims: base, LX, and EX. The base was a pretty bare-bones affair with a 2-speaker stereo, CD player and auxiliary jack, automatic climate control, and an adjustable steering wheel. The LX trim added a 4-speaker stereo, a USB port, and cruise control. The top EX trim offered heated mirrors, Bluetooth, a 6-speaker stereo, paddle shifters, as well as options for navigation (complete with a touchscreen interface) and rearview camera. Aside from this last item, the Insight is devoid of modern safety technology features.
Conversely, the 2021 Insight is a thoroughly modern car equipped with a bevy of standard safety features that includes lane departure warnings, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, forward collision warning, and driver attention monitor.
The 2021 Insight also comes in three trim levels: LX, EX, and Touring. The LX starts with a 6-speaker stereo, USB port, 5-inch infotainment screen, LED ambient lighting, and LED head and taillights. The EX has an 8-speaker stereo, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio, blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic alerts. The Touring trim features a 10-speaker premium stereo, WiFi hotspot, navigation, moonroof, leather trimmed interior and steering wheel, heated front seats, and dual-zone climate control.
It’s necessary to mention that, generally speaking, modern cars are impressive machines. The technology, the efficiency, the comfort, drivability, and reliability are leaps ahead of where they were ten or twenty years ago. Yes, they cost more (considerably in some cases), but darn if the average F-150 isn’t a whole lotta truck for the money. This is the one saving grace of new cars versus used ones. Avoiding that depreciation hit is almost always worth a slightly less impressive vehicle, until it isn’t.
Enter the 2021 Honda Insight. Starting at $23,130, a new Insight is a reasonably affordable small sedan even before you start looking to its impressive fuel economy and generous list of standard safety features. Normally a used 2014 Insight runs anywhere from $6,000-$12,000 depending on mileage and that gap in price would be commensurate with attendant depreciation, mileage, and age. However, the vast differences in refinement, safety, and technology put further distance between a used versus a new Insight.
If you’re looking for an affordable, comfortable hybrid sedan, the 2021 Insight is a top choice. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a used hybrid for around $10,000 the 2014 Insight might not even crack our top five suggestions. Apples to apples and dollar-for-dollar, a new 2021 Insight offers a considerably better bargain compared to a used Insight.