Better than ever and ready to take on the Prius.
It’s a case of third time lucky for Honda, having launched the Insight for a third time now in as many different bodystyles since its inception. Of course, it’s important to remember that Honda was the first manufacturer in the US to attempt a gas-electric hybrid with the first Insight back in 1999. That fell flat though, with American citizens opting instead for the Toyota Prius, which, if you’ll believe it, was the better looking of the two eco oddballs.
However, things have changed for 2019, and the third-gen Insight is now not only a sedan – based on the Civic – but it’s a mighty good looking one too; back to take on the big boys in the hybrid game.
The exterior looks set an impressive tone for the 2019 Insight, but it’s the interior scheme that puts it in a more premium light than the Prius it wishes to beat. Though 1.5-inches longer than a Civic, it shares the same wheelbase, which bodes well for a roomy interior. Unlike many a battery-equipped commuter, the Insight’s battery is hidden compactly in the floor pan with no sacrifice in either passenger or cargo space compared to the Civic sedan.
This results in an impressive 15.1 cubic feet of cargo volume, with 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks on higher trims to accommodate larger items. But while ergonomically and practically sound, Honda has targeted higher aspirations than just practicality. The material quality is high – as high as that of an Accord – with soft-touch materials abundant throughout, leather upholstery (Touring trim), and tactile instrumentation centered around a touchscreen infotainment system.
Basing the Insight upon a vehicle as wholesome as the Civic has paid dividends for Honda. This shines through particularly in the way the Insight drives. The electric steering is light, yet responsive, and the suspension is equally on point. One wouldn’t describe it as ‘sporty’, but it’s enjoyable to thread through corners smoothly, with agile support from the suspension. The Prius, by comparison, is a rolling couch – not to say it’s comfortable, but that it has the handling attributes of a sofa.
The Insight strikes a fine balance between composure, comfort, and capability, riding most unassumingly like any other well-engineered car – nothing out of the ordinary, which is perhaps what the best hybrids should be in this regard. The multi-link rear suspension and McPherson strut front setup beautifully purse out not only road imperfections but their accompanying vibrations too, resulting in a refined ride, devoid of extra road noise and jitters.
Unlike some rivals, the Honda Insight makes do with a smaller combustion engine – just 1.5-liters in displacement and generating a meager 107 horsepower and 99 lb-ft of torque from its Atkinson-cycle engineering. But it’s paired with a two-motor hybrid system – utilizing the industry’s first permanent-magnet driver motors devoid of heavy rare-earth metals.
The primary electric traction motor generates 129 hp and 197 lb-ft directly linked to the front-axle differential, while a secondary electric motor operates as the starter and generator on the engine. Total system horsepower is 151 hp. Consumption is rated by the EPA at 55 mpg and 49 mpg for the city and highway respectively.
Three trims are on offer for the 2019 Insight, LX, EX, and Touring. Even on the basic EX model, items like climate control, adaptive cruise control, and a 6-speaker audio system come standard. Up the spec, and features such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a larger 8-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, dual USB ports, and even heated 8-way power adjustable driver’s and 4-way power adjustable front passenger seats are available.
In the vein of safety, even the LX model offers traffic sign recognition, lane keeping assistant, auto high-beam headlights, a rear-view camera, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and a road departure mitigation system. Safety agencies are yet to evaluate the Insight but expect high scores all round.
The Honda Insight was the first of its ilk, but its insistence on being overtly different was to its detriment. However, with the turn of the third generation, Honda has once again leaped to the fore, overtaking its arch nemesis, the Prius, in one fell swoop. The Insight is for those who would usually buy a Prius, but wish to look at their car without barfing.