No silly hybrid styling or complicated cabin – the Honda Insight is a solid, straightforward product.
Honda's electric onslaught is coming. The company plans to make two-third of its cars either electrified or fully electric by the year 2030. But this electric shift has been long in the making; Honda debuted its first electric vehicle – the EV Plus – in 1997, and followed up shortly thereafter with the Insight in 1999.
Now there's a new Insight, and although it forgoes the extreme styling cues that made the original such an… unusual vehicle, this 2019 Insight is the ideal compromise between the purely gas-powered Civic and the larger Accord, and is the straightforward hybrid option naysayers may be willing to compromise on.
At first glance, you might not even recognize the Insight as a hybrid vehicle at all. It was designed to be “a beautiful car that just happens to be a hybrid,” said Honda product planner Chris Hand.
A sort of step-up from the Civic on which it's based, the Insight gets sleeker headlight styling with a more pronounced silver accent piece, aggressively sculpted vents, and a larger “flying wing” grille (of which only a small portion is functional). The new look definitely separates the two vehicles, and unlike the Toyota Prius, the Insight is conventionally attractive, not just quirky for the sake.
That same simple styling translates to the interior, too. The Prius opts for an outrageous, over-the-top infotainment system relative to the rest of the Toyota range, but the Insight adopts the same tech setup as the Civic (thankfully). The eight-inch infotainment screen is sleek and simple to navigate, and doesn't feature any forceful reminders that you're driving a hybrid vehicle. It also has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and standard Honda Sensing safety technology, all welcomed and all standard.
Without paying extra, the Insight’s Honda Sensing system offers forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and road departure mitigation (just like on other Honda products). And it's a wonderful system, per usual. It's proactive and steady on the road, doesn't forcefully slow the car when another vehicle pulls out in front of it, and avoids ping ponging the from side to side in the lane. You might be tempted to remove your hands from the wheel in a highway setting because it's that good (but don't, warnings will pop up.)
Honda based the Insight on the Civic, so naturally, it drives like one.
The Insight, like the Civic, doesn’t offer a traditional blind-spot monitoring system, although the EX and Touring trims gain Honda LaneWatch. LaneWatch uses a camera mounted on the underside of the mirror housing on the passenger’s side door to give drivers a view of their blind spot when they activate the turn signal. Not only does it show video of what’s sitting behind you you, it encourages drivers to use the turn signal.
Honda based the Insight on the Civic, so naturally, it drives like one. Compared to Honda's entry level sedan, though, the Insight employs a unique front frame, a new rear underfloor (for the battery, of course), and a slightly softer suspension, because hybrid. But that doesn't mean it lacks some of the same characteristics.
The Insight is smooth and comfortable on the highway, and flat, composed, and well balanced in corners. The steering provides a good approximation of what the vehicle is doing at all times, without being too heavy or too light, and though the suspension setup is far from sporty, it's perfectly suitable for a hybrid-powered compact sedan.
Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to twin electric motors and a 1.3-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack. It’s an updated version of the two-motor hybrid tech Honda introduced on the Accord in 2014, and delivers 151 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque. Three different driving modes – Normal, Econ, and Sport – give the Insight either improved efficiency or added oomph.
The Insight can return an EPA-estimated 55 miles per gallon on the highway, 49 in the city, and 52 combined.
Sport mode improves throttle response, giving the Insight’s powertrain similar characteristics to the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter Civic – but it still feels a bit less enthusiastic than some of its competitors; the Toyota Prius is a much punchier product. Suspension and steering stay the same, though, and the Active Sound Control (ASC) system pumps an unruly amount of noise through the speakers and into the cabin.
The Insight can return an EPA-estimated 55 miles per gallon on the highway, 49 in the city, and 52 combined (with a pure EV mode returning about one mile of range). Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters control a regenerative braking system that helps it achieve that efficiency, but the impact is mild compared to other regen systems, even in the most aggressive of its three settings. Don't expect the same one-pedal driving style seen on full-on EVs, like the BMW i3, Jaguar I-Pace, or Nissan Leaf.
My time spent behind the wheel, though, was a bit more vigorous. Tossing the Insight around in the hills near Minneapolis and sprinting down highways yielded an average of just over 46 miles per gallon after more than 90 miles of driving. Thanks to a few downhill sections with regenerative braking equipped, I was able to recoup some of the range lost after regularly pushing the vehicle past its “Click Point ” – more than 75-percent pedal travel, which Honda suggests will be used mostly for passing on the highway.
Don't look at that mileage figure and worry, though. With less of a lead foot and a more liberal use of Econ mode, I would have undoubtedly seen better numbers. In regular driving situations, owners should see that figure jump closer to 50 mpg on average – Honda said some vehicles on the media launch returned as much as 60 miles per gallon on the same route, so it varies depending on the driver.
Tossing the Insight around in the hills near Minneapolis and sprinting down highways yielded an average of just over 46 miles per gallon after more than 90 miles of driving.
With an entry price of $22,830, the Honda Insight LX is as attractively priced as it is just plain attractive. It undercuts the Toyota Prius ($23,475), and comes in just $630 more expensive than the Hyundai Ioniq ($22,200). Opt for the next-up EX trim, and the Insight is just $24,060. The most-expensive setup, the range-topping Touring trim, comes in at $28,090, and adds on features like navigation, a moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, and eight-way power adjustable seats.
What will really draw buyers to the Insight, though, is the simplicity of it. It doesn't need any of the unnecessary fluff typically associated with hybrid vehicles – whether it be dramatic exterior styling or an over-the-top cabin – it's just a straightforward, stylish, fuel-efficient sedan, simple as that.