2019 Honda Insight

PHOENIX — It comes as a surprise to most people that Toyota Prius wasn’t the first hybrid electric vehicle sold in the U.S. Rather, it was the Honda Insight, an odd looking three-door, two passenger hatchback that arrived in 1999 as a 2000 model, seven months earlier than the Prius. Fuel economy estimates under then-current EPA standards were 61 mpg city, 70 mpg highway, and 65 mpg combined.

Total global sales for that first-generation Insight (2000-2006) were 17,020 units. Honda had originally planned to sell 6,500 Insights each year. Thus, falling far short of its goal, Honda discontinued the vehicle.

Three years later, in 2010, Honda introduced its second-generation Insight. It was an all-new five-door, five-passenger model on a dedicated hybrid platform – and a significant departure from the first-generation two-seat configuration.

But by 2010 there were a number of hybrid vehicles on the market. Honda marketed Insight as an excellent hybrid (with 43 mpg highway mileage), starting at $19,995 making it the least expensive hybrid offered.

But the numbers that mattered most were the sales numbers, and the vehicle never caught on with the public. Honda sold just 20,572 units its first year while Toyota sold just a tick under 140,000 in the same time period. By 2013, just 4,802 were sold while Prius sales were 145,172. By November 2014, Honda informed dealers the vehicle was being discontinued.

Now, for 2019, Honda is giving the Insight another shot with its third-generation offering. And I’ll begin by declaring that the new Insight isn’t just another hybrid;  it’s a fantastic hybrid vehicle and an even better compact car.

I recently spent a week with a new Insight Touring, a very well equipped four-door sedan with a sticker price of $28,985. It has an interior the size of a mid-sized family sedan and averaged 51 mpg in combined city, suburban and highway driving, in a manner like I would any other car. That’s exceptional for a pure, non-plug-in hybrid vehicle and some of the best mileage numbers in the market.

Among the many things we were impressed with is how normal looking the new Insight is. You see, for some reason, automakers seem to be under the impression that hybrid vehicles must be markedly unusual in appearance, involving incongruously unexpected exterior design elements. Not so with Honda’s newest Insight, which foregoes the aero-chiseled formula in favor of a decent looking vehicle that easily passes as a mini-me Accord. That’s a humongous departure from Honda’s first Insight, with its cartoonish look that wouldn’t seem out of place circuitously traversing the electrified deck of a carnival’s dodgem cars ride.

That contemporary look also extends to the inside as well. Unlike current offerings of other electrified hybrid cars, the Insight looks spectacularly normal, and again mimics that of traditional family sedan, absent the riot of weird instrumentation that feels the need to continuously update you with instantaneous fuel economy, where the power is coming from, and other information.

We were also blown away with the roomy mid-sized-sedan-like cabin. Even the trunk is normal sized, thanks to the hybrid batteries located under the rear seats rather than invasively in the trunk as with some competitors.

The third-generation hybrid is powered by a variant of the two-motor HEV system that powers the current Honda Accord Hybrid, but with a smaller 1.5-liter gasoline engine making 107 horsepower. Combined with the electric motor, its combined 152 horsepower and 197 lb-ft of torque delivered more than capable performance and in no way felt slow or underpowered. The gasoline engine is used mainly as a generator to supplement what’s in the battery and is disconnected from the wheels. It works exceptionally well.

It all adds up to the “third time’s a charm” Insight with little, if anything, to fault. Still, we have to wonder why Honda didn’t bring back the third-generation Insight as a crossover utility vehicle? With the price of gas just under $3 a gallon in most parts of the country, current new vehicle buyers have an insatiable appetite for anything CUV, SUV or pickup while completely ignoring some excellent four-door passenger sedans.

We think an Insight CUV that averages 50-mpg would be an absolute smash hit.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $22,830
Price as Tested: $28,985
Powertrain: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline and electric hybrid with 151-horsepower with an electric continuously variable transmission.
Fuel Economy: 51-MPG City – 45-MPG Highway – 48-MPG Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: Highest possible NHTSA 5-Star rating and highest possible Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Final Assembly Plant: Greensburg, Indiana

Competes With:
Hyundai Ioniq
Kia Niro
Toyota Prius

Fab Features:
Excellent fuel economy
Roomy interior
Attractive exterior styling

— Jim Prueter