- Familiar styling, inside and out
- Seamless powertrain integration
- Fuel economy
- Engine is noisy under load
- Price premium in Canada
- Irritating walk-away auto lock
The Honda Insight is back for a third generation, but the auto maker’s original hybrid nameplate now adorns a familiar-looking, Civic-based sedan rather than an aerodynamics-obsessed machine that screams ‘eco-warrior’.
The new Insight Hybrid takes its place as the so-far smallest member of an expanding range of electrified Honda models that now includes the Accord Hybrid, Clarity Plug-In Hybrid (reviewed here) and US-only Clarity Electric and Clarity Fuel Cell.
2019 Honda Insight Hybrid pricing
We spent a week with an Insight Hybrid Touring, which sits atop the lineup in both the US (US$28,190) and Canada (C$31,990). US buyers can also choose from an entry-level LX (US$22,930) or mid-range EX; the only other model in Canada is a straight ‘Hybrid’ (C$28,090).
All versions share the same hybrid drivetrain, but the Touring’s extra creature comforts add mass and have a small impact on its fuel economy numbers.
If you’re shopping for a hybrid or electric car, check out all our reviews here.
Putting the range-topping Insight Touring to the test
Structure and exterior styling
The Insight Hybrid is the same as, or very close to, a Civic sedan in all its major dimensions. You’d be forgiven for mistaking one for the other, despite the numerous detail changes that have been made to the Insight in the name of improved aerodynamic performance.
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In contrast to the Clarity and earlier Insights, Honda has taken the approach that more conventional looks are likely to appeal to a wider crowd than a no-compromise but ultimately less attractive silhouette. Given that the Civic remains the number-one selling car in Canada and number-two in the US, that seems a sensible approach. The flush-fitting but easily curbed 17in alloys are one visible concession to aerodynamic performance.
Beneath the sheet metal, the biggest change to the 10th-generation Civic’s structure is one you can’t see. The Insight has a new rear floor structure to support and protect the hybrid battery pack, which is located under the rear seats. What’s said to be the flattest underbody of any Honda production vehicle features a number of panels that smooth the airflow under the car, further reducing drag and cutting cabin noise.
Insight interior and equipment
The Insight Hybrid’s interior also has a familiar look, with quirky Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius-style controls kept to a minimum. The well-equipped cabin feels solid and plush, not lightweight like a Clarity’s, and fits Honda’s positioning of the vehicle as a “premium compact sedan”.
The Touring spec brings niceties like heated rear seats, a wifi hotspot and several infotainment upgrades for the 7in colour display. The seats are comfortable and adjust well for different drivers. Visibility is generally adequate, but we could have used a wider range of adjustment for the door mirrors. The handy LaneWatch blind spot display is some compensation.
Trunk space is the same as the Civic’s at 15.1 cu.ft. The trunk floor is flat (albeit without a spare underneath) and the loading flexibility better than the Clarity’s thanks to a bigger opening when you flatten the rear seats. When you open the trunk lid, the sill is low, but the aperture isn’t the widest – a large cooler is a tight squeeze – and the omission of a grab handle on the inside of the trunk lid is an odd one.
We could live without the over-zealous Walk Away Auto Lock, which regularly locked our test car before we’d finished unloading. Fortunately, it can be disabled through a menu option.
Engine and hybrid system
The Insight Hybrid is fitted with the third generation of Honda’s i-MMD multi-mode hybrid drive system, which integrates two electric motors with a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder. The setup combines for a system output of 151 hp and 197 lb-ft of electric motor torque.
There’s no automatic transmission or CVT – axle drive always comes direct from the electric drive motor. That motor is either driven in series-hybrid mode by electricity created by the combustion engine and generator motor and stored in the lithium-ion battery pack, or, at full load, driven directly by the combustion engine.
The integration of the complex drivetrain is very well executed and you’re not always aware of which configuration is in operation. The gasoline motor is usually quiet but at full load – uphill on the highway, for example – it’s noisy. In the same scenario you might find yourself reaching for Sport mode; we felt that Normal and Eco were very similar, and fine in town driving, but didn’t always deliver enough response at higher speeds.
We recorded a creditable average over the week’s driving of 5.1L/100km (46mpg), with the car deciding to spend about one-third of the time in EV mode. The official combined consumption figure for the Touring is 4.9L/100km (48mpg).
Driving impressions: How is Honda’s 4-door hybrid on the road?
Leaving aside the engine’s thrashiness at high speed, the Insight Hybrid is a quiet, well-riding car. The cabin feels very well insulated from whatever the road surface is doing, which is particularly important when running in EV mode. Note that when operating as an EV at very low speeds, the Insight emits a synthetic noise to warn nearby pedestrians of its presence.
The body control over long undulations is good, despite the additional mass of the battery pack…
Surface bumps and lumps are well suppressed by the sensibly sized 17in wheels, 215/50 Continental tires and all-independent suspension with (on the Touring) fluid-filled bushings front and rear. But happily, the Insight isn’t soft. The body control over long undulations is good, despite the additional mass of the battery pack, and on a suitable road the nicely weighted, accurate steering helps it to feel more dynamic than you might expect.
Takeaway: Our final thoughts on the battery-powered “premium compact sedan”
The Insight Hybrid’s fuel economy benefits are clear, but with about a 28% improvement over a Civic sedan Touring and fuel prices stubbornly low, you’ll want to think carefully about your decision if saving money is the goal. In the US, the Insight Touring is priced much closer to a comparably specced Civic sedan Touring than in Canada, making it easier to recoup the extra initial outlay.
If you’re making the decision to buy an Insight Hybrid based on the vehicle as a package, then the news is good. Honda’s strategy of dialing down the weirdness works a treat – it’s good looking, well-appointed and most importantly, quiet and easy to drive around town. This first Insight in five years is the most convincing yet and should attract customers well beyond the early-adopter set.
In the long term, it’s easy to see cars like the Insight Hybrid becoming the new norm in the sedan market as auto makers strive to meet tighter emissions standards. In that sense, Honda is ahead of the game.
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