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article details
Author Jeff Palmer
Categories TOV First Drive, Insight
Create Date June 20, 2018 19:16
Last Update June 24, 2018 13:23
2019 Honda Insight First Drive

You may have noticed that "Electrification" has become a trending buzzword in the automotive industry over the past few years. Honda has noticed as well, and they've launched an "Electrification" endeavor that has seen the introduction of 5 new "Electrified" vehicles in the past year.

Another trend that you may have observed is that automakers have been shifting their focus away from cars and more towards crossover vehicles and SUVs. So one would think that if Honda was one to be tracking these trends, then at least ONE of these 5 new electrified vehicles would be a crossover or SUV of some sort, right? Well, No. Honda actually introduced 5 electrified sedans. Okay, 3 of the 5 were variants of the same vehicle (Clarity), of which only one variant (the Clarity Plug-in) is offered in all 50 states. So it's really only 3 electrified cars, but still, introducing yet another car (sedan) to the lineup seems like some sort of major oversight, right? Honda doesn't seem to be too concerned, with their VP of Public Relations Sage Marie noting that Honda managed to sell over 680,000 cars in the past year. He also notes that electrified Honda light trucks are on the way soon, so please be patient.

The Insight Story
The 2019 Insight represents the 3rd generation of Honda's dedicated hybrid nameplate. It's also the third completely different take on the Insight concept since it was introduced as the first hybrid vehicle in the United States, way back in 1999 as a 2000 model. The first generation Insight was a 2-door hatchback built in Honda's special Takanezawa factory in Tochigi, Japan. Also assembled alongside the Insight in this special factory were the legendary NSX and S2000. Like the NSX, the first generation Insight featured an all-aluminum construction and its own dedicated platform. The first generation Insight's focus towards efficiency was as intense as the NSX and S2000's focus were towards driving enjoyment and performance. The original Insight was extremely light and extremely aerodynamic, yet it could only accommodate 2 passengers, and form definitely followed function. It also wasn't exactly a cheap economy car, yet with its 1.0L 3-cylinder Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) powertrain, it didn't really deliver a lot in the way of performance or comfort. This Insight served as a green halo vehicle for Honda.

The second generation Insight (model years 2010-2014 in the US market) switched things up completely. This Insight aimed to be more of a mass-market car, and as a global product, Honda wanted it to be the most affordable family-oriented hybrid on the road. As such, it was based upon the Honda Fit platform and it was built in a regular mass production factory using regular mass market steel components. The body was a 5-door hatchback style with a fast roofline, which seemed to be designed to be a friendlier version of the rival Toyota Hybrid's shape, but it was still somewhat of an unconventional design. At this stage, Hybrid tech still wasn't exactly cheap, but Honda enlarged the engine by 1 cylinder, raising the count to 4-cylinders and settling on a total displacement of 1.3L. The IMA hybrid system essentially integrated an electric motor with the engine's flywheel, and in this case the motor generated around 13hp and 58lb-ft of torque. The combined output of the engine and integrated flywheel motor produced 98hp and 123lb-ft, so it wasn't exactly quick. It was quicker and handled better than the Toyota Prius, but the fuel economy returns apparently weren't strong enough to dethrone the rival.

Now for the 2019 model year we have the latest take on the Honda Insight Concept, and Honda has COMPLETELY scrambled the formula once again. This time, Honda is aiming to deliver a "premium compact hybrid sedan" with a design that Honda describes as "universally appealing" (shouldn't that generally be the goal of most designs??). That means no more sci-fi shapes. No more aero skirts covering half of the rear wheelhouse, no more pinched butts or even skinny tires. What we have is just a good looking American-made sedan. It's also surprisingly affordable, quick, and efficient. Also, the Insight features Honda's latest 2-motor Hybrid powertrain, the 3rd generation i-MMD (Intelligent Multi Mode Drive) system.

Where does it fit?
Honda tells us that the new Insight slots in between the Civic and Accord, but when you check the specs, you'll see that it's pretty much a Civic Hybrid with an upgraded interior and completely different body panels (save for the roof and rear quarter panels). It rides on exactly the same 106.3" wheelbase as the Civic, is slightly wider and just a smidge longer. It serves as the entry point to Honda's current "electrified" lineup of vehicles, however, with a starting price point of $22,830 (plus $895 destination). For this money you get somewhat of a scaled down version of the impressive 10th generation Accord Hybrid. The Insight is about 9" shorter than the Accord and carries a wheelbase that's about 5" shorter. The Insight's powertrain is identical in concept to the Accord Hybrid's, though instead of a 2.0L 4-cylinder Atkinson engine (143hp, 129 lb-ft), the Insight gets a smaller 1.5L 4-cylinder Atkinson engine (rated at 107hp and 99 lb-ft) . And while the Accord gets a beefy 181hp/232 lb-ft electric traction motor, the Insight goes with a 129hp/197 lb-ft motor. Perhaps most importantly, the combined output of the Insight's combustion engine and electric motors rings in at 151.5hp (that POINT 5 apparently is material, here), where the Accord's powertrain is capable of delivering a combined 212hp.

Premium? How Premium?
The Insight's list of standard equipment is quite impressive, especially considering its starting price of under $23000 and 52mpg combined fuel economy rating. Honda Sensing is standard across the board, as are LED headlights (with auto high beams), LED daytime running lights, and LED taillights. You also get automatic climate control (single zone), 16" alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a 160W 6-speaker stereo, paddle shifters (allowing you to select your desired level of regenerative braking), Honda Sensing, traffic sign recognition and many other features.

Bumping up to the EX level ($24,060 + $895 destination) adds Display Audio (with Apple Carplay/Android Auto support), another 2 speakers and 20W, an extra USB port (for a total of 2), Sirius XM and HD Radio, Lanewatch, Remote Start, Smart Entry, a 60/40 split rear fold bench, and more.

The top trim level is the Touring trim, which prices out at $28,090 (+ $895 destination). For this money you get a full navigation system with Honda's latest suite of Telematics capabilities (4G LTE Wifi Hotspot being one of them), a moonroof, 17" alloy wheels, LED foglights, leather seating and steering wheel cover, a 10-speaker 450W audio system, powered and heated 8-way driver and 4-way passenger seats, dual zone automatic climate control, a homelink remote system, automatic windshield wipers, self dimming mirror and more. The 17" alloy wheels do come at a price when it comes to the mileage, however. The standard 16" wheels are good for an EPA rating of 55mpg city, 49 mpg highway, and 52mpg combined. On the Touring's 17" wheels, these numbers drop to 51mpg city, 45 mpg highway, and 48mpg combined. We primarily drove the Touring model with the 17" wheels and saw an average of right around 48mpg, even with some fairly spirited driving stints.

How does it drive?
Honda defines the Insight as a step between the Civic and Accord, and that's pretty much how it drives. If you've driven either of those vehicles, the Insight will immediately have a familiar feel, though it's definitely closer in feel to the Civic. It's around the same size as the Civic, but it's also a little bit heavier. It's both lighter and smaller than the Accord, so it's a little easier to wheel around, but at the same time also feels more posh than the Civic. To elevate the level of "premium" feel beyond the Civic, Honda padded the car up with more acoustic insulating materials, Active Noise Cancellation and (on Touring trims) fluid filled compliance bushings.

The Insight's scaled down 1.5L version of Honda's iMMD system does a nice job of moving the car smartly at city speeds. From a stop, acceleration is reasonably brisk and cruising around in the pure electric mode it is supremely smooth. As the speeds increase and/or the small (1.1kWh) battery depletes, iMMD switches to the Hybrid drive mode, where the 1.5L Atkinson engine fires up and spins the motor-generator to provide electricity for the traction motor. This switch point is noticeable, as you can immediately feel the added grain of the long-stroke engine through the firewall and steering wheel. At light loads, the sound level doesn't change much here, but for more demanding situations, like when you're passing a truck on the highway or climbing a steep grade while maintaining speed, the mild vibrations are accompanied with a fair bit of engine noise as little engine revs up to spin the motor-generator as hard as it can go. The sound is not bad, but the powertrain tends to mimic a CVT, which means it can drone for a moment until your pass is completed. IF you select "Sport" mode by depressing the button on the center console, the effects of the Active Noise Cancellation are reduced, and you can hear a bit more engine sound. At higher speeds, for greater overall efficiency the system can engage an "engine drive" mode where a clutch locks the generator directly to the wheels, effecting direct power delivery to the road from the engine's crankshaft. In this mode (essentially a parallel hybrid mode), the electric traction motor can also provide assist if necessary.

Like the Clarity PHEV, the Insight uses a special throttle pedal with a defined "click point", which according to Honda happens at about 75% of pedal travel. If you motor around without exceeding this "click point", you can generally be assured of operating in the most efficient mode. Depressing the throttle pedal beyond this click point tells the Insight that you mean business and you want the little powerplant to focus on delivering the most power. In theory this sounds good, but in practice it felt like the click point was somewhere deeper in the travel than the claimed 75%, at least in the cars that we sampled. For whatever reason, it felt more subtle than the click point that we experienced in the Clarity PHEVs that we sampled several months ago.

Ride comfort in the Insight is quite good and the car handles very nicely, though you're likely to never confuse it for a sport sedan, nor a luxury sedan. It feels like it's tuned to provide a bit of a softer ride than the Civic, and generally we're okay with that, but if we were to start picking nits, we'd actually like to see slightly stiffer damping rates to help alleviate the mildly springy feel that the car exhibits. Overall the car is athletic enough to be fun to drive, but it still delivers a comfortable ride. By Honda EPS (electric power steering) standards, the Insight's steering feel is actually pretty good, with a just-right weighting. It helps that the Insight has a very nice sport steering wheel which is contoured in all the right places. We didn't get the opportunity to work the brakes very hard, and from the specs they appear to be rather modestly sized (11.1" rotors with single-piston calipers up front, 10.2" rotors in the rear), but we did pay attention to the feel and we can report that Honda has again done a great job juggling the handoff between regenerative braking and friction braking. The operation happens, yet it's essentially imperceptible to the driver. Speaking of regenerative braking, the Insight (all trim levels) includes steering wheel mounted "paddle shifters" which allow the driver to select between 3 levels of regen braking effect. This is great in theory, but we'd love to see a 4th level of regen added with much more braking force than the current maximum level.

Honda claims that the Insight is the quickest vehicle in its category, a category which includes the Toyota Prius and Hyundai Ioniq. For competitive drives, Honda had several Prius on hand and we can confirm that the Insight indeed feels quicker overall, though both cars felt pretty close in the 0-30mph sprint. The Prius' acceleration falls off quite noticeably above the 30-35mph range while the Insight continues to pull on up to around the 45mph, at which point the Insight's electric traction motor's rapidly tapering torque curve starts to become evident. At higher speeds, the Insight can deliver acceptable passing power but depending upon the situation you may need to plan for it, as it takes a moment for the 1.5L engine to spin up to its max power range and start delivering sufficient juice to the traction motor to make things happen.

So, how quick is the Insight? We didn't use any timing gear, but from the seat of the pants it felt like it was probably good for a 0-60 time in the 8.0 to 8.5 second range, and going even further out on a limb we're going to guess it will show a mile time falling somewhere in the mid 16s@85ish.

If you are in the market for a great looking hybrid with stellar fuel economy and solid performance, it's hard to beat the value of the Insight. We briefly drove the $22,830 Insight LX and came away extremely impressed with the value proposition when all things are considered. The interior and feature set are a little bit spartan, but the drive is almost exactly the same as the $28000 Touring model, and the LX boasts a 55mpg City label. In the two trim levels that we were able to see, the interior materials are clearly a step up from the Civic, with the LX having a very nice cloth interior.

Is this the car for me?
As we drove the Insight, we liked it a lot, but we couldn't help but think about the regular Civic sedan or even the Civic Si, both of which are capable of delivering better than 40MPG on the highway and considerably better acceleration and performance than the Insight. In our humble opinion, the Insight is the best looking sedan that Honda currently offers, but looks only go so far. If you spend a lot of time puttering along in the city, it's hard to argue with the virtues of the Insight's incredible >50mpg fuel economy and EV grace. But if your driving patterns include a good mix of open road travel and/or twisty 2-lane thrill rides, then perhaps something like the Civic Si or standard Civic Sedan would be a better fit. The good news is that Honda has given us some fantastic options, so the chances of finding the best fit for your exact needs are quite high.

Fun fact
For packaging reasons(?) the Insight's 12V battery is located somewhere inside the center tunnel of the car. So if you ever need to jumpstart the car, Honda has provided a special terminal inside a small black box under the hood. You can see this in a sequence of photos towards the end of the photo gallery below.

2019 Honda Insight Pricing & EPA Ratings



MSRP including $895 Destination1

EPA Fuel Economy Ratings (city / highway / combined)2

Insight LX

$22,830 $23,72555 / 49 / 52

Insight EX

$24,060$24,99555 / 49 / 52

Insight Touring

$28,090$28,98551 / 45 / 48

1 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) excluding tax, license, registration, $895 destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
2 Based on 2019 model-year EPA ratings for LX/EX models. Use for comparison purposes only. Your MPG will vary depending on driving conditions, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, lithium-ion battery pack age/condition and other factors.

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