A hybrid that is simply a great car. And a hybrid.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2019 Honda Insight
Base price (Touring trim): $32,490
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $34,245
I think Honda should advertise the styling of the Insight as one of the selling points. For years, hybrids have looked weird. I’m not sure why designers have felt the need to set hybrids apart with strange styling, the former Insight included, but it’s nice to see we’re out of the woods with that. At least with some vehicles. I’m looking at you, Prius – ugh!
Anyway, the Insight is a handsomely-styled sedan and that’s all there’s to it. It looks perfectly normal from all angles, including the nifty tail light signature and the interesting 17-inch wheels. The Touring trim adds a few hints of chrome.
Getting into the driver’s seat reveals a nicely crafted and styled cabin. The materials are quite nice, with stitched, soft-touch panels on the dash. Even though the cabin is a lighter colour above the dash, it is still a dark interior. That’s quite typical for vehicles in this price category.
As is common in Hondas, the steering wheel is excellent – it’s a small-diameter, fat-rimmed affair that’s a joy to hold and use. For me, a good steering wheel goes a long way! The leather-trimmed seats are heated, power adjustable and quite comfortable.
The dash houses the touchscreen – complete with a volume knob and some hard buttons. It’s a well thought-out system that handles all the phone, navigation and sound system functions nicely. Speaking of the 452-watt, 10-speaker sound system, it is excellent! There’s a dual-zone climate control system and a small sunroof overhead.
Honda’s standard suite of driver assistance technology comes with the car. You get brake assist, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and LaneWatch display (showing what’s on your passenger side on the central screen) rather than blind-spot monitoring.
The Insight’s swoopy roofline makes for a lower door frame when you’re getting into the back, and taller passengers will need to watch that they don’t whack their noggins. Once you’re in, it’s comfortable and there was enough leg and head room for me, at 5’10”, to sit behind my own driving position. With that said, it feels snug as the beltline angles up and the roofline comes down, making for a bit of a claustrophobic side window situation. Rear passengers get heated seats and that’s it – no air vents, no charging ports. There are two sets of LATCH anchors for child seats.
You’ll find a smart-phone-sized rubberized mat at the front of the console – it looks like it could be a wireless charging mat, but it isn’t. There are two USB plugs and a 12V plug just ahead of this space for charging purposes. But it’s the centre console storage that is really interesting to me. On top is an armrest, which you can slide fore and aft. Below that, you’ve got a couple of cupholders, which can also be adjusted by sliding them fore and aft as well. Under the cupholders is a deep bin with an organizer. You can also move the cupholders down into the bottom of the bin. It’s a very configurable space, and that is very cool.
The Insight has a big 416L trunk for a compact sedan, particularly a hybrid. Not only that, but the rear seats fold down with a larger-than-average pass-through space, making the expansion of the trunk more useful than many other similarly sized cargo spaces, should you need to transport larger or longer items. The rear seats can be released and folded down from the trunk.
An irritation I will never stop bringing up – there’s no inside handle in the trunk, so it requires you to put your hand on the trunk lid. That means closing it in the winter will net you dirty, grimy fingers. Pony up the 25 cents for a plastic handle, Honda!
Under the Hood
The Insight pairs a 1.5L 4-cylinder with an electric motor. As is often the case with hybrids, the manufacturer doesn’t really commit to clear power ratings – Honda says the combined horsepower total is 151, and the electric motor puts down 197 lb.ft of torque (so I assume you get more than that, combined with the engine). The power makes its way through a CVT to the front wheels. Anyway, power is secondary to efficiency here. Honda rates the Insight at 4.6/5.4/4.9 L/100 km (city/highway/combined) and we ended up seeing a stellar average of 4.6 L/100 km while making no effort to drive economically and never being in ECON mode. Very impressive.
The Insight makes enough power for every driving situation, and is actually quite sprightly off the line. You can choose from a number of drive modes – ECON, normal and sport, as well as pure EV. In a hybrid, that EV mode doesn’t last long and the car does a good job at trying to use EV mode when it can anyway. Speaking of EV mode, on the freeway I would occasionally see the Insight sailing along at over 100 km/h on electric power. Of course it won’t do it for long, but it was neat to see it try to make every driving situation efficient.
I found the car’s suspension to be quite good. First of all, the ride is spectacularly smooth and comfortable. The car’s handling is good, although I was surprised at how much body roll there is around corners. The handling is perfectly competent and it can actually be somewhat fun to drive, but it is clearly tuned toward comfort over sportiness.
The Insight’s brakes are a bit grabby and a bit mushy as we’ve come to expect from hybrids. There are a couple of levels of regenerative braking you can choose using the paddles on the steering wheel. We found the Insight to be very quiet inside at all speeds.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was quite high. She said it looks like a nice little car and drives like a more expensive one.
If you’re looking to maximize your fuel economy without paying for it with certain compromises – ugly styling, lack of cargo space, high price – the Insight might be the car for you. It’s reasonably priced, competitive when it comes to fuel economy, and you’re not asked to make sacrifices anywhere. What’s not to like? I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Insight as a very competitive hybrid car.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Honda Canada.
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