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ROAD TEST: Third time’s a charm for Honda Insight in 2019


Honda has had an on-again, off-again kind of relationship with hybrids over the past two decades. This year marks the manufacturer’s third attempt at making the Insight the successful model it seemingly believes it can be. They do say that the third time’s a charm.

The Insight nameplate has had a rocky history since the late ’90s. Following in the footsteps of Toyota, which set the wheels of a new era of hybrid cars in motion in 1997 with the introduction of the Prius, Honda retaliated with the Insight in 1999. Remember that sixth-gen Civic look with the closed up rear wheel wells reminiscent of a bumper car? That was Honda’s early attempts at thinking outside the box — new technology, new look.

This first generation of the model wasn’t much of a success and failed to live up to its maker’s ambitions, despite keeping its promise to deliver serious fuel economy numbers, a staggering 3.9L/100km. The Jetsons’ look and two-seater layout probably didn’t help the model’s noble cause. Globally, the first-gen Insight sold a little more than 17,000 units over the course of its six-year run on the market.

The model was brought back to life in 2009 with renewed enthusiasm from the brand and, for a while, it seemed like Honda had found a winning recipe. The sales were encouraging, at least for the following few years, before dwindling down. You’ll never guess what happened next: the model was discontinued a second time in 2014.

Fast-forward four years, in March 2018 more specifically; Honda surprisingly came to the Vancouver Auto Show stage with a new model, sporting a nameplate we were already familiar with. For 2019, Honda decided to give its hybrid yet another shot.

This time, this new brew of the Insight has some serious competition. The number of hybrid models on the market has multiplied — including at Honda, which has been banking on the hybridised versions of the Accord and the fuel-cell Clarity. Where does the Insight fit in this pretty green picture? It’s a compact and relatively affordable hybrid — the entry-level into Honda’s green family if you will. At $28,090, the Insight makes the hybrid technology more accessible in a package that doesn’t look half bad.

Looks-wise, the new model isn’t nearly as offensive to look at as its first generation. In fact, as far as Honda designs go, I would even dare to say that it looks pretty swell. I would describe it as a hint of the Civic’s quirky design, sprinkled with a pinch of the Accord frowny look for a car that without standing out is, overall, pretty easy on the eye. True to itself, Honda doesn’t do “stand out” anyway.

The comparison with the Civic doesn’t end there: The next-gen Insight also uses the same platform and ACE architecture as its best-selling sister, with a few tweaks to help shed a few pounds, including a model-specific aluminum hood. This positions the entry-level Insight at 1,382 kg, 100 kg more than the Civic LX with CVT. Integrating a battery to the design comes at a price. Interior volume is comfortable and seating at the back doesn’t come as a punishment, even for your longer-legged friends — who even get to enjoy heated seats in the Touring version.

Speaking of battery, the Insight is what we refer to as a “standard hybrid” (meaning the battery and engine work their own magic without relying on an exterior charge to help save on energy). The engine is a 1.5-litre, Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder block teamed with a Lithium-ion battery and electric motor. The hybrid pair up is rated at a combined 151 hp output and an impressive 197 lb.-ft. of torque between 0 and 3,000 rpm, courtesy of the electric powertrain. However, don’t get too excited. As sexy as this torque number sounds, the overall performance of the car isn’t that stellar. Oh, don’t get me wrong: it is perfectly sufficient and I am perfectly aware that the Insight’s mission isn’t to pull you back in your seat when you hit the accelerator, but I have to be honest and keep your expectations in check. Plus, it uses a CVT, a poor excuse for a transmission, if you ask me.

I’m in no way a hypermiler when it comes to hybrids because I suspect most people aren’t either, which resulted in a 5.1L/100 km average by the end of the week. That’s actually pretty good for a non-plug-in hybrid.

 The Insight’s interior is nicely finished. - Sabrina Giacomini
The Insight’s interior is nicely finished. - Sabrina Giacomini

Honda put some extra effort into soundproofing the cabin by adding insulation in the engine bay, in the floor, as well as in the front fenders and firewall — a notable improvement over the Civic’s road symphony which elevates the Insight and gives the driving experience a slightly more premium feel. There are two straightforward trims offered on the Insight: the basic model and the Touring version, which adds the auto-dimming rear-view mirror, complete infotainment system with navigation, satellite radio, voice recognition, and a 10-speaker sound system, front power seats, rear heated seats, and leather trimmings.

Something can be said about Honda’s ability to make hard plastic not feel cheap: the secret is in the textures. I’m also glad to see that Honda ditched the glossy, mirror-like surface of its touchscreen for a surface that’s more versatile and doesn’t become invisible in the sun.

 The Insight features Honda’s unique take on an automatic gear selector. - Sabrina Giacomini
The Insight features Honda’s unique take on an automatic gear selector. - Sabrina Giacomini

Overall, the 2019 Honda Insight is a good car. Picture eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream: it’s enjoyable, but not exciting — that’s what driving the Insight is like. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the model, but it doesn’t leave a long-lasting impression. What it does do well is deliver on its promise of fuel economy and, below the $30k mark, it’s a fair deal. Of course, the price point is a bit high compared to some really eager competitors, however, it gets you in a Honda, something some people are willing to pay for.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Honda Insight
  • Engine: 1.5-litre, Atkinson Cycle, in-line four-cylinder; 151 combined total horsepower, regular fuel
  • Transmission: continuously variable automatic, front-wheel drive
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 4.6 / 5.3
  • Length: 4,663 mm
  • Width: 2,086 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,700 mm
  • Weight: 1,382 kg
  • Price: $28,090 base, $33,838 as tested, including freight
  • Competition: Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Prius
  • Standard equipment: Adaptive Cruise Control, Honda LaneWatch blindspot detection system, Lane Keeping Assist System, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation, Active Noise Cancellation, Driver attention monitor, Dual-zone automatic climate control, HandsFreeLink smartphone interface with Bluetooth connectivity, Multi-angle rear-view camera, Power windows, Proximity key entry and pushbutton start, Steering wheel-mounted controls, Heated front seats, Apple CarPlay /Android Auto

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