Not your normal hybrid
Honda’s third iteration of the Insight hybrid is stunning compared to the first- and second-generation models, but looks are just the beginning. Although the 2019 Insight is based on the Civic, the car is much more than a Civic with a hybrid powertrain. We called the Insight a “Swiss army knife of a car” in our First Drive review because the well-rounded sedan offers advantages beyond good fuel economy and value. Find out what distinguishes the 2019 Insight from other fuel sippers and why it will likely compete well against the most successful hybrid to date, the Toyota Prius.
A Powerful and Efficient Powertrain
With 151 net horsepower, the 2019 Insight is more powerful than its closest rivals, the 121-hp Toyota Prius and the 139-hp Hyundai Ioniq, yet the Honda still delivers competitive fuel economy. The 2019 Insight LX and EX trims have an EPA rating of 55/49 mpg (4.3/4.8 L/100km) city/highway, while the top Touring trim has a lower rating of 51/45 mpg (4.6/5.2 L/100km). The 2018 Prius has an almost identical rating to the Insight’s LX and EX trims, delivering 54/50 mpg (4.4/4.7 L/100km), but the Prius Eco (one of the lower trims) increases efficiency to 58/53 mpg (4.1/4.4 L/100km). The base 2019 Ioniq Blue trim tops all at 57/59 mpg (4.1/4 L/100km), and the higher trims are rated at 55/54 mpg (4.3/4.4 L/100km).
The Insight’s hybrid system consists of a 1.5-liter I-4 that produces 107 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque, a propulsion electric motor that makes 129 hp and 197 lb-ft of torque, a generator motor, and a 60-cell lithium-ion battery pack.
Packaging a hybrid vehicle without eating up interior space and functionality is not easy, but Honda has figured it out with some clever techniques. The battery pack and small 10.6-gallon fuel tank are housed under the rear seats, allowing the trunk to maintain the Civic sedan’s cargo capacity of 14.7 to 15.1 cubic feet as well as the ability to fold down the rear seats. The back seat is just as spacious as the Civic’s and offers more legroom than the Prius and Ioniq. The Prius and Ioniq are hatchbacks and naturally provide more cargo room, but the Insight has more passenger volume and looks sharper inside and out. One more neat trick: The Insight’s battery (not the battery pack) is not located under the hood or in the trunk but inside the cabin, under the push-button shifter.
Oozing with Tech and Value
The Insight already sports a high-tech hybrid powertrain but also comes loaded with tech features. The standard Honda Sensing package includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, and traffic sign recognition. The base LX trim also includes automatic high-beams, automatic LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED taillights and brake lights, push-start ignition, one USB port, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster screen, and a 5.0-inch infotainment screen. This comes out to a starting price of $23,725 USD, less than the 2018 Prius’ starting price of $24,395 USD and a little higher than the 2018 Ioniq’s $23,085 USD. But with the base-model Hyundai, you miss out on those great driver-assist features found in Honda Sensing.
The Insight’s midlevel EX trim adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, remote engine start, a proximity key, Honda LaneWatch, and an additional USB port. The top Touring trim will get you leather-trimmed seats, power-adjustable and heated front seats, a moonroof, mobile hotspot capability, an upgraded 10-speaker audio system, a navigation system, LED foglights, and a Honda Link subscription that can remotely lock/unlock the car, help you find your car, and check the fuel and range status.
A Premium Interior
If you opt for the top Touring trim, you might forget that you’re in an economical hybrid as soon as you sit down on the perforated leather-trimmed seats and grip the thick, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. The door panels and passenger-side dashboard feature soft-touch, leatherlike surfaces with contrast double stitching. Unlike most vehicles, the Insight has a dedicated area for cell phones right next to the electronic shift-by-wire gear selector and two USB ports.
The Insight’s instrument cluster also looks good with a 7.0-inch screen on the left side and an analog speedometer on the right. At the corners of the display is a small strip of lighting that changes color depending on drive mode. The center stack’s 8.0-inch touchscreen is sharp and responsive and is neighbored by a volume knob that has fortunately found its way into the Insight. The Touring trim’s standard 10-speaker (including subwoofer), 450-watt audio system sounds as premium as many name-brand systems. Additionally, most of the exterior lighting uses LEDs, which looks neat at night.
Fun to Drive
You read that right: This hybrid is fun to drive when the road gets twisty. Honda’s 10th-generation Civic platform already provides great driving dynamics, but Honda further improved it with upgraded front lower L-arms and an E-shaped multilink rear suspension (three lateral links instead of two). The standard Agile Handling Assist feature improves cornering prowess with the use of brake torque vectoring.
The Insight’s torquey electric motor gives the sedan a quick takeoff for a hybrid and instant initial power when needed. At slower, street-level speeds, the Insight feels plenty quick (especially in Sport mode), but on the highway, I’d recommend stomping on the accelerator pedal past the click point at about three-quarter pedal travel when merging or passing. Much to my enjoyment, the low rolling resistance tires aren’t that noisy when pushed, unlike most hybrids and EVs. All of this equates to plenty of back-road smiles.
Different Drive Modes
Under regular driving conditions, the Normal driving mode offers a good combination of power and efficiency. Econ mode maximizes fuel efficiency by reducing throttle response, and Sport mode increases throttle response and draws more energy from the battery for maximum power output. Sport mode also adjusts the Active Sound Control feature for a more aggressive engine note. EV mode only uses power from the electric motor but only for short distances and at lower speeds.
With a fully charged battery, Econ mode on, and a very light foot, I was able to drive in EV mode for about 2.5 miles (4 km) going between 20 and 25 mph (32 and 40 km/h) on a mostly flat street. Not bad for a hybrid. The amount of regenerative braking can be adjusted with the standard paddle shifters, but in Normal mode, the computer quickly defaults back to the normal level of regen. Sport mode, on the other hand, holds the regen level until you change it.