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Third time’s the charm for Honda’s Insight hybrid

From my perch in the Peanut Gallery, it’s easy to suggest that the 2019 Honda Insight is the Insight Honda should have been building all along.

Insight has been Honda’s pure-hybrid play since its 1999 debut. However, both of its earlier iterations were prematurely discontinued after failing to electrify buyers.

The third-gen Insight ($22,830) could be the charm. Honda has reimagined its flagship hybrid as a conventional sedan, albeit one powered by what may be the industry’s best hybrid powertrain.

Cabin exudes warmth and restraint 

The Insight is based on Honda’s proven Civic platform and closely replicates its dimensions. The pair of compacts share little sheet metal, though; the Insight is more softly contoured and sports a coupe-like roofline.

Inside, its five-passenger cabin exudes a warmth and restraint that reflects the sophisticated aesthetic of the midsize Accord.

And its peak fuel efficiency — 52 combined (55 city/49 highway) mpg — is among the market’s best.

A few moments behind the wheel reveals the Insight’s mainstream appeal. Its cabin is supremely quiet, with none of telltale wind and road noise to which hybrids are prone. Credit goes to a host of noise-reducing measures, including an Active Noise Control system that uses the audio system’s speakers to cancel ambient noises.

Excellent ride quality; clever cabin storage 

Ride quality is very good and Insight’s all-independent suspension system curbs unwanted body motions. On one section of the country two-lane we regularly drive, a set of small undulations caused the Insight to bob momentarily but it never got floaty.

Cabin highlights include generous use of soft-touch materials, a stitched dash and supportive, well-contoured front seats. Honda’s penchant for clever packaging shows itself is here in full force. A rubberized cellphone tray is large enough for the new oversized phones. A removable two-cup cupholder and a small sliding tray add flexibility to a deep and lidded storage bin. 

Gratuitous techie folderol is mercifully absent. To the left of the speedometer, a single, circular gauge tracks the status of the hybrid system. It’s the only visible indicator of the electrons spinning deep within. A more detail look can be viewed on the touchscreen.

The 5.0-inch audio display screen in the base LX accesses Bluetooth and Pandora. EX ($24,060) and Touring trims ($28,090) fetch an 8.0-inch infotainment system, with integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus satellite and HD radio, two USB ports, and a volume knob.

Touring models add navigation, voice recognition, digital traffic alerts and a 450-watt, 10-speaker audio system.

All Insights receive the Honda Sensing safety and driver-assist suite. 

Battery pack tucked beneath rear seats

Honda tucks the Insight’s battery pack beneath the rear seats, which lowers the center of gravity and spares the trunk but reduces rear-seat headroom by a small amount.The LX gets a one-piece folding rear seatback; EX and Touring share a 60/40-split seatback. 

Underway, Insight’s composure and big-car ride quality bely its compact size. And, while it’s no paradigm of responsiveness, the steering system is nicely weighted and feels settled underhand.

Even the regenerative brakes rise to the occasion, with a smooth and linear feel and none of the uneven, grabby feel common to the hybrid breed.

Instantaneous acceleration in city traffic

Power is by the third generation of Honda's two-motor Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. A 107-horsepower, 1.5-liter gasoline engine pairs with one of the system’s two electric motors to produce 151 horsepower and 197 lb-ft of electric motor torque. Fed by the gas engine, the second motor helps charge the battery pack.

As with all pure hybrids, as opposed to the plug-in variety with their rechargeable batteries, the Insight is best in town, where the stop-and-go of city traffic allows the system to continuously recharge itself. At low speeds, the drive motor’s torquey punch produces impressive — and instantaneous — acceleration.

As with any pure hybrid, driving long distances — especially in mountainous terrain — depletes the batteries, forcing the gas engine to go it alone.

Honda doesn’t normally need three tries to get things right; where the Insight is concerned, though, the extra effort plays big dividends. 

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2019 Honda Insight Touring
Vehicle base price: $22,830
Trim level base price: $28,090
As tested: $28,985 (includes destination and handling)
EPA ratings: 48 combined/51 city/45 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.