Honda's 55 mpg sedan may also be its prettiest.
One truth permeates throughout the fiber of the automotive industry - hybrid cars have to look peculiar and they have to have sloppy handling. Stick a driving enthusiast behind the wheel of Toyota Prius and you will surely hear a despondent growl as their joy is quickly dissolved into the empty void. I get it, making a car achieve over 50 miles-per-gallon cannot be easy and there are bound to be some aerodynamic and engineering concessions in order to obtain that level of efficiency. If only an automaker could package the life-changing fuel economy of the Prius into a handsome body with the driving dynamics of a normal car.
Luckily, our savior has just arrived. For the 2019 model year, Honda has revived the Insight nameplate for its third generation, ditching the frumpy Prius-style hatchback body in favor of a Civic-based sedan platform in the process. The result is a hybrid with the handsome looks of a Civic (perhaps even better looking) and the fuel economy of Prius. My only question - where has this car been all my life?
If you knew nothing about cars, you may mistake the new Insight for a run-of-the-mill Civic. That's because it is based on the same platform as the handsome 10th generation Civic. In fact, it's exterior dimensions are nearly identical. At 106.3 inches, the wheelbase is is the same size, while the Insight is around an inch wider and an inch longer.
In contrast to most hybrid models, the Insight actually became prettier during its electrified transformation. Even the base LX trim comes standard with LED headlights, which wouldn't look out of place on a premium Acura product. The rear end may be a bit less dynamic than the front fascia and the wheels may look a bit odd, but compared to almost every other affordable hybrid car on the market, the Insight is downright stunning.
As with the exterior, Honda chose to keep the Insight very conventional on the inside. Aside from the company's push-button-style shifter, there is very little in the cabin that screams "hybrid." As with most hybrids, the tachometer has been replaced with a power/charge gauge, and a battery meter sits to the left of the gauge cluster.
For 2019, Honda has learned from its mistakes and has reincorporated a physical volume knob in favor of the old touch slider. This is a welcomed change to an otherwise flawless infotainment system, a change which has yet to be implemented on the 2018 Honda Clarity.
As with the Clarity, the push-button shifter can take some time to get used to but frees up space on the center console for a large storage area on the right - perfect for even the largest smartphones. Honda has also cleared up additional space by designing a versatile center console, which also houses the massive cupholders. In fact, this is one of the most functional storage areas I've seen on a small car.
All of the materials feel fairly premium, though there are a few areas low in the cabin that feel slightly cheap to the touch - this is an inexpensive hybrid after all.
In terms of interior volume, Honda has somehow managed to avoid losing any practicality. The Insight has the exact same front and rear legroom as the Civic as well as the same amount of trunk space - 15.1 cubic feet. This is a true engineering feat which should be applauded.
Under the hood of the Insight sits a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine which works in tandem with an electric motor. By itself, the gas engine produces 107 horsepower and 99 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor brings total output to 151 hp and 197 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful in its class. Power is sent to the front wheels through Honda's eCVT, enabling a rather sprightly 7.7 seconds 0-60 mph time. For reference, the Toyota Prius takes over 10 seconds to hit 60 mph.
Keeping in mind how quick the Insight feels compared to other hybrids, its fuel economy figures are staggering. LX and EX trims achieve 55 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway, while my heavier Touring trim tester with its larger wheels manages 51 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway, and 48 mpg combined.
These numbers are impressive and I did observe close to 50 mpg when driving around town. Unfortunately, I only managed around 39 mpg on the highway, likely because the Insight had to heavily rely on its gas engine for a long period of time.
Whenever I test a hybrid car, even an expensive one, I am rarely shocked when it doesn't drive quite as well as its gasoline equivalent. After a week in the Insight, however, I'm left wondering why no other automaker seems to be able to produce a hybrid that drives this well.
The steering feels similar to a Civic - light, yet still engaging - while the handling also impresses. Chuck the Insight into a corner and it responds with the same level of grace you'd expect from a gas-engined economy car like the Civic.
Press the throttle, and the Insight responds with modest acceleration. No, the Insight isn't fast, but it doesn't suck the joy from your life like some hybrids. The 1.5-liter gas engine can be a bit noisy when pressed hard, though I found it to be extremely silent when I was light on the throttle.
Honda kept the drive modes fairly simply here - just an Econ, Sport, and EV button to the right of the shifter. Econ mode dials back the throttle response and tries to use the engine as little as possible. Sport triggers the engine to work with more immediacy and calibrates the throttle to be more responsive to inputs.
Finally, the EV button can be used to force the car to run on electric power alone - keep in mind that because this is not a plug-in hybrid it can only be driven at slow speeds for around one mile on electric power alone.
Pricing for the Insight starts at $22,830 for the base LX trim. Even for this modest price, the car still includes Bluetooth, 16-inch alloy wheels, auto high beams, automatic LED headlights and DRLs, LED taillights, push-button start, tilt/telescoping wheel, six-speakers, seven-inch information interface, and the Honda Sensing Suite of safety features, which includes collision mitigating braking, road departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, and lane-keep assist.
Honda Sensing may be the best standard safety suite in the business. It offers standard features which can sometimes cost extra on cars costing five times as much. The lane-keep assist was particularly impressive at the price level. On a long highway trip, it essentially steered the car by itself almost faultlessly. Yes, it does tell you to put your hands back on the wheel, but the system feels like it can handle the driving on its own.
Stepping up to the EX trim for $24,060 is where I see the best value and it is the trim I recommend. The EX trim adds a touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, remote engine start, smart entry with walk-away auto-lock, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, eight-speakers, Honda's lane watch camera system, Sirius and HD radio, and an additional USB port in the front console.
My top Touring trim tester starts at $28,090, making it the biggest leap in terms of price. You do get a lot for your extra $4,000, including heated leather seats, moonroof, mobile hotspot, garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power driver and passenger seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, and rain-sensing wipers. As I mentioned earlier, the Touring trim also takes a slight mpg hit due to the extra weight and larger wheels.
Up until now, the Kia Niro has been one of my favorite cars because it doesn't fall into the same trap as other hybrid vehicles - it looks like a normal car. Now, the Niro has been dethroned by the handsome Insight. I don't know why it has taken an automaker this long to build a such a sleek-looking hybrid car with the capabilities of a Prius, but I'm happy it has finally happened.
Honda deserves a lot of credit for building the hybrid car we've all been waiting for - it receives the highest score of Must Buy.