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Cars 2019: Honda Insight Road Test & Review

The 2019 Honda Insight is an all-new hybrid sedan, but the name is one you may find familiar. Honda launched the first Insight back in 2000 and then followed up with a second generation in 2010. These versions of the Insight were gas-electric hybrids, too, but the fact that they’re hybrids and happen to have the same name are where the similarities end.

This new Insight is based on the Civic sedan and is set to compete against vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius, so it has some tough competition. Honda thinks it has that competition beat with the Insight’s fuel economy, powertrain, and premium cabin features. Let’s take a closer look at the 2019 Insight and see if the third time is the charm for this hybrid Honda.

Pricing and Trims

The 2019 Insight offers a choice of three trims starting with the LX at a price of $22,830. It includes a solid range of features even though it’s the base model. There are LED headlights with automatic on/off, heated power side mirrors, automatic climate control, a tilting and telescopic steering column, adaptive cruise control, one USB port, and the Honda Sensing suite of safety features. Take one step up to the EX at $24,060 and there are additional amenities including a big upgrade to the infotainment system with a larger 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and two USB ports.

At the top of the lineup is the Touring trim at $28,090 with a power moonroof, LED fog lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats with leather trim, and mobile hotspot connectivity. The Insight is priced to fit tight budgets while still offering plenty of features at every level.

Powertrain

Power for the Insight comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 107 horsepower and 99 lb-ft of torque along with an electric motor for 151 total system horsepower. These are paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT. This powertrain gives the Insight plenty of get-up and go and doesn’t remind you that you’re driving a hybrid. Instead, it feels very much like a traditional gas-only vehicle in all the best ways. Press on the accelerator and you’re rewarded with strong acceleration, especially if you choose Sport mode rather than Econ or Normal.

The only drawback to this powertrain is the CVT, which makes things a bit noisy in certain situations. City driving and highway cruising are fine, but hard acceleration, especially at higher speeds, yields an intrusive whine. It’s somewhat unavoidable in hybrids, and the Insight deserves kudos for limiting the issue to only certain drive scenarios.

Ride and Handling

Good sedans put a priority on passenger comfort, and the Insight does an impressive job of keeping the ride smooth and enjoyable. The suspension evens out the bumps and makes sure the rumble of rough pavement is muted. Honda engineers aimed for a quiet cabin and succeeded.

Handling is also quite good. The ride is confident and controlled and won’t tire the driver, even on longer trips. There’s something of a stigma with hybrids that they’re no fun to drive. You buy one because you want good fuel economy and because it’s good for the environment, not because you want to toss it through the corners, but you can do just that in the Insight. Winding country roads were no challenge, and at highway speeds, it was easy to make quick maneuvers through heavy traffic. The Insight brushes aside the notion hybrids must be boring.

Fuel Economy

Possibly the most compelling reason for buying a hybrid is fuel economy. The LX and EX get an EPA-estimated 55 mpg in the city, 49 mpg on the highway, and 52 mpg combined. The top Touring trim sees a slight drop to 51 mpg in the city, 45 mpg on the highway, and 48 mpg combined. You also have a certain amount of control over just how close you come to those estimates.

There are three drive modes activated at the press of a button on the center console. Normal is the default, and it focuses on providing a relaxed, comfortable ride. Econ prioritizes fuel economy with a less vigorous drive. Sport goes in the other direction with better responsiveness and reduced fuel economy. There’s also a gas pedal “click” you’ll feel when you push the throttle past 75 percent, so you know when you’re driving hard.

Regenerative Braking

The regenerative braking in the Insight deserves special mention. The idea of regenerative braking isn’t new. Every time you press the brakes, the system recaptures that kinetic energy and uses it to help recharge the vehicle’s battery. What’s different about how this works in the Insight is that it gives you control over how aggressively it captures that energy.

There are small paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel that let you toggle between more or less brake regeneration. The adjustment is quick, and you’ll instantly feel the difference when you remove your foot from the accelerator with the most aggressive setting. It can lean toward one-pedal driving in which you don’t really need to press on the brakes. You can change the setting at any time, and there’s even a display in the instrument cluster so you can easily see the current selection.

Interior

Here’s the thing about a lot of today’s hybrid interiors: They’re not good. It’s as if the design teams spent so much time on the hybrid technology and achieving great fuel economy, making a comfortable interior was an afterthought. Especially if you’re looking for an affordable hybrid, there’s a good chance even the top trim is going to boast a rather lackluster cabin.

The Insight, despite being an affordable hybrid, has a refreshingly pleasant interior. We spent our time in the top Touring trim and found it comfortable and spacious. Seats are supportive, and materials are higher quality than the cheap, lightweight plastics common to hybrids. The Insight, well, it looks and feels like a nice sedan rather than a sedan that’s trying to make sure you don’t forget it’s a hybrid. This is a welcome change.

Infotainment

The base infotainment system in the Insight is minimal with only a 5-inch color LCD screen, one USB port, and a six-speaker audio system. It also has Bluetooth hands-free and streaming audio as well as Pandora compatibility. The EX takes a giant leap forward with an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, eight-speaker audio system, HondaLink, text messaging, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

The top Touring trim adds even more functionality with a 450-watt premium audio system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer, navigation, HondaLink subscription services, and mobile hotspot capability. The system is intuitive and easy to use, but it is unavailable in the base LX. A 5-inch screen is very small, and the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on this trim are a big drawback. Those who put a priority on smartphone connectivity will be hard-pressed not to go right to the EX.

Safety

The 2019 Honda Insight hasn’t been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What we do know is every Insight includes standard Honda Sensing with a collision-mitigation braking system, adaptive cruise control with low-speed following, lane-keep assist, and road-departure mitigation. That’s a lot for a vehicle that starts at just under $23,000.

The EX and Touring add Honda LaneWatch, which uses the infotainment screen to display an image of what is along the right side of the vehicle whenever you activate the right turn signal. It’s particularly helpful for avoiding low objects like curbs or decorative walls, and it comes in handy in cities to make sure you don’t miss a hidden bicycle coming up fast. And to help pedestrians, there’s a vehicle alert that makes soft sounds outside the vehicle when it’s in all-electric mode so people hear you coming.

Final Thoughts

The all-new 2019 Insight brings back a familiar name, but in a whole new vehicle. It expands Honda’s growing electrified lineup and offers a smaller and more affordable option than the Clarity and Accord Hybrid models. It’s a standout for its great fuel economy and its strong powertrain. Not every hybrid at this price point is one you want to drive, so the Insight will surprise you by being a car you’ll enjoy behind the wheel.

Adding to its appeal is an exterior design that is simply an attractive sedan rather than a quirky hybrid. It carries that theme through to the interior with high-quality materials that are appealing to the eye and focused on passenger comfort. The 2019 Honda Insight expands your hybrid choices with an entry-level sedan that elevates the segment.