Subtle efficiency. The 2021 Honda Insight is exactly what the current Toyota Prius isn't: subtle to the point of anonymity. To the casual onlooker, the Insight is just another Honda Accord.

Of course, that's a false narrative. The Honda Insight might look ordinary, but its hybrid powertrain ensures this sedan can manage up to 52 miles per gallon combined, according to the EPA, making it one of the best hybrids on the market.

Thriftmaster. That 52 mpg combined figure is just the beginning of the story. Getting there requires the 107-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's mated up to a 129-hp electric motor. Combined output is 151 horsepower. Note: 107 and 129 don't add up to 151, but that's due to where each powerplant makes peak power.

In normal operation, the gas engine is there merely to drive the electric motor; only on the rare occasion does it step in to drive the front wheels. Such an arrangement means that the gas engine does need to rev up in order to generate the power required by the electric motor. This happens even when the Insight isn't moving all too quickly, resulting in a strange, disconcerting sensation of engine speed that isn't in sync with actual performance.

Move past that quirk and the Insight feels pretty ordinary, though fairly slow – our test car didn't hit 60 mph from a standstill until the nine-second mark.

The Insight offers multiple driving settings, including Sport and Eco. We couldn't discern any performance changes other than more noise in Sport and a more lethargic accelerator in Eco. The car was most acceptable and comfortable when driven in its default mode.

Most trims return an EPA-estimated 55 mpg city, 49 highway, and 52 combined. Opt for the fanciest trim with the bigger 17-inch wheels and fuel economy falls to 51/45/48 mpg (city/highway/combined).

Compared to its primary rivals, the Prius and Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, the Insight trails by a few mpgs. But no conventionally-powered car on the market will be able to measure up to any of these efficiency superstars.

Honda Insight

Safety first. How a car handles an accident or avoids one altogether has leveled the automotive field in a major way. Cheap or pricey, big or small, how safe a car is has become a major selling point. And on this front, the Honda Insight outperforms cars two or three times its price.

It starts with the right equipment. In this case, Honda gives every Insight automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and traffic sign recognition. Splurge on any of the pricier trims and blind-spot monitoring are also included.

What can't you get? Well, you won't be able to buy something like a surround-view camera. But that shouldn't be expected at this price point anyway. For the money, the safety features included with the Insight are a major win for buyers.

Along with the plentiful equipment, the Insight has also earned top scores from both the NHTSA and IIHS. The government awarded five stars for every category it tested, including multiple crash tests from various angles and offsets. The IIHS mirrored that scoring, giving the Honda top marks for its own battery of tests.

Going one step further, the IIHS also called the Insight a Top Safety Pick Plus. Even base models with the weaker headlights aced the stringent headlight tests of the IIHS. And the institute also rated the Insight's emergency braking performance as "Superior" between 12 and 25 mph.

It's an enviable resume, and one the Ioniq and Prius cannot match.

Homespun interior. The Insight isn't luxurious, and nor does it purport to be. But it is fairly comfortable, even if cheaper models lack some fancier features.

There's not much luxury here, and the design of the interior is rather dull. Base models even lack a touchscreen and get few features outside power controls and Bluetooth connectivity. However, they start at less than $23,000.

Move up a trim to the second-cheapest EX and things are much better; there's an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring, two USB ports, and split-folding seat backs. Keep moving up the ladder and soon you'll have an Insight Touring with navigation, leather, dual-zone climate control, and a moonroof.

We were also appeased by touches like the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, supportive front seats, and decent rear leg room – 37 inches in the back seats is better than both the Ioniq and Prius.

Cargo space checks in at 15.1 cubic feet, which is pretty typical for the midsize sedan class. The 24.7 cubic feet available behind the seats of the hatchback Prius leaves the Insight in the dust, though. The Ioniq, also a hatchback, measures a few cubes shy of the Prius.

Final thoughts. There's nothing too fancy about the 2021 Honda Insight, and Honda's own Accord can be outfitted more lavishly for not a lot more money. But the affordable price and huge potential savings at the pump make the Insight a force to be reckoned with. For those who want a innocuous-looking sedan that's a master of efficiency, look no further.

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