With the 2019 Insight, Honda is hoping that the third time’s the charm for this nameplate, which promises the future but hasn’t always been in tune with it. Nearly 20 years after the introduction of the original high-mpg featherweight Honda Insight—the first hybrid sold in the United States—hybrids comprise roughly 2 percent of the new-passenger-vehicle market, yet they didn’t account for much more than 1 percent of Honda’s U.S. sales last year.
The Insight is one of several vehicles on the way from Honda that aim to bring more eco-conscious shoppers back to the brand. This Insight employs a version of Honda’s latest two-motor hybrid (Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive, or i-MMD) system, functioning much as it does in the Accord hybrid and the Clarity plug-in hybrid. It earns what Honda anticipates will be EPA estimates of up to 55 mpg city and 50 mpg combined once those ratings are finalized. The numbers Honda is touting for this new Insight would rank it behind its more successful archrival, the Toyota Prius, as well as the newest mileage champ, the Hyundai Ioniq.
More than MPG
Clearly, Honda isn’t making fuel economy the sole focus of the Insight this time, instead aiming for a broader appeal as a stylish, well-equipped sedan aimed at American consumers. It’s U.S. built—including even the engine and battery pack, for those keeping score—and will be positioned between the Civic and the Accord in Honda’s sedan lineup. It’s based on the Civic platform, and while its relation to one of C/D’s 10Best Cars is encouraging, Honda emphasizes that it’s not simply a Civic hybrid. The likeness is there, but the sheetmetal is different, and the Insight gets an aluminum hood plus a more Accord-like grille. The Civic’s chassis goodness should be on hand, though, with essentially the same suspension, consisting of struts in front and a multilink layout at the rear. Aiming to provide a quiet, refined interior, Honda has given the top Touring trim liquid-filled compliance bushings, and all versions have added insulation for the engine bay and the firewall, doors, and floor.
The Insight shares the Civic’s 106.3-inch wheelbase, and while we expect the interior space to parallel that of the Civic, Honda has worked to make the Insight significantly more plush. It notes that the cabin appointments include real stitching for the soft instrument-panel trim, while a 7.0-inch TFT display is part of the instrument cluster. Heated seats and leather upholstery are available. A folding rear seat, standard across the model line, opens up space for items too long for the 15-cubic-foot trunk.
In Honda’s two-motor hybrid system, one motor is geared directly to the gasoline engine with a clutch connecting the two to the transaxle, while another motor (the traction motor for most conditions) is geared to the differential. Under some highway-driving conditions, the gasoline engine is clutched in at a fixed (tall) ratio, while most of the time it revs up and down on its own to generate electricity to move the Insight effectively as an electric car—a strategy that, based on our experience in other models using the system, results in better responsiveness than the Prius. Honda hasn’t yet revealed the size of the lithium-ion battery pack in the Insight or the power rating of the individual powertrain components, but the automaker said it can run with the gasoline engine off in some conditions for about a mile. Like the Clarity PHEV, it uses an Atkinson-cycle 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Total system output is a bit lower than the Clarity PHEV, at 151 horsepower and 197 lb-ft of torque; however, Honda boasts that the Insight has the best power-to-weight ratio in its class.
All trim levels of the 2019 Insight (LX, EX, and Touring) get the Honda Sensing suite of active-safety systems, encompassing everything from forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking to lane-departure warning, road-departure mitigation, and traffic-sign recognition. The LX will come with a multi-angle rearview camera, while EX and Touring models add Honda’s Lane Watch system for a wider view when changing lanes.
Convenience features are another way Honda is trying to make the Insight a distinct step up from the Civic. Base LX models come with 16-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, and LED headlamps and running lamps. Although the LX sound system is Pandora compatible, connectivity tech is one of the differentiators as you move up the Insight range: EX models add a larger, app-compatible 8.0-inch infotainment display. Touring models come with perforated leather seats that are heated in front and power adjustable for the driver, plus dual-zone climate control, a power sunroof, premium audio, and other extras. Touring models have 4G LTE mobile hotspot compatibility for over-the-air system updates (not yet detailed by Honda) and the latest generation of HondaLink subscription services.
The 2019 Honda Insight arrives at dealerships starting in early summer. Will it deliver on the promise to make high-mileage driving more bearable (and maybe even fun) compared to its uninspiring 2010–2014 predecessor, let alone the Ioniq and the Prius?