The original Honda Insight debuted as a 2000 model and received more mockery than respect. It was a far-from-perfect, two-door subcompact that looked like a mechanical peanut on wheels.
With its unique appearance, the Insight garnered more attention as an oddity than it did for its now-important legend. It was the first mass-produced hybrid available in the United States. It was ugly, simultaneously cool and it got whooped in sales a few months later when the Toyota Prius debuted.
Two decades later, Toyota still dominates the country’s alternative fuel vehicle sales. But Honda is still an innovation leader. Beginning with the 2019 edition, the Insight is now a midsize, four-door sedan. The hatchback configuration has been dispatched for a mainstream design. Honda’s innovation to boldly go beyond includes the hydrogen-propelled Clarity.
The original Insight was discontinued in 2006 but a new-look model returned in 2010. Honda hoped to infiltrate Prius sales offering the base model at less than $20,000 and as the country’s cheapest hybrid. Toyota still dominated.
Plenty of other hybrids are now available. Nearly every manufacturer offers an alternative fuel vehicle its lineup. But the new Insight joins a select group of hybrids that don’t look like science experiments.
Nothing’s better for a carmaker selling a hybrid than a compliment from an onlooker who didn’t know the vehicle was a hybrid. It’s another Insight strength. It’s far more attractive than either of its predecessors.
Available in LX, EX and Touring trims, the Insight is powered by a hybrid powertrain composed of a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. It provides power to an electric motor that drives the front wheels. Combined, there’s 151 horsepower, with a 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery located under the rear seats.
Like all Hondas, the Insight has a strong standard features list, even the base LX. Automatic LED headlights, heated mirrors, keyless ignition, automatic climate control, active noise cancellation, Bluetooth, a multi-angle rearview camera comprise worthy selection. A 5-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker audio system with a USB port and Pandora internet streaming radio are also included.
Standard advanced safety features include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and mitigation, lane keeping assist, automatic high beams, a traffic sign reader, and a driver attention monitor.
Keyless entry, a rear-seat center armrest, 60/40-split folding rear seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, HondaLink smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration are upgrades on the EX trim. The upgrade also includes an additional USB port, eight-speaker audio system with satellite and HD radio and blind-spot camera system.
The reviewed Touring trim adds plenty: LED foglights, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, power-adjustable front seats and an auto-dimming rearview. Plus, there’s a universal garage door opener, a navigation system, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a 10-speaker premium audio system.
The Insight’s driving characteristics are classic Honda. It has a tight turning radius and a confident feel on the road. Braking is solid with no hesitation or mushy feeling like you’re pushing the pedal through the floorboard. Acceleration is satisfactory, and the Insight only has difficulty on steep inclines when the engine noticeably struggles and does so loudly.
When the Insight was introduced, Honda touted fuel efficiency in city driving as more than 60 miles per gallon. The EPA calculations have been amended through the years, with 2019 rating posted as 51 miles per gallon in city driving and 45 miles per gallon on the highway. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $28,090.
Nearly 20 years after Honda debuted its hybrid lineup, it’s still trying to deflate the success of Toyota’s family of alternative fuel vehicles. The new Insight may or may not emerge as a serious challenger. But there’s plenty to say for healthy competition.