The 2020 Honda Insight is a compact hybrid sedan that earns an EPA-estimated 52 mpg in combined city and highway driving. It’s quiet about its efficiency, though; the only clues to its hybrid heart lie in a pair of small badges.
This contrasts with the original Insight, which debuted in 1999 as a two-door, two-passenger liftback from a design school that might be called futuristic funk.
It was EPA-rated at 62 mpg in combined driving and would have been right at home parked next to George Jetson’s Space Car.
Later, the Insight evolved into a five-door hatchback. It was stylistically less extreme but still carried the now-familiar hybrid haunch, those plump rear quarter-panels that signify “batteries inside.”
Then just last year, the Insight ($22,930) morphed into its latest and most conventional form, a four-door, five-passenger sedan that resembles nothing more or less than a straight-ahead four-door sedan.
The Insight is based on Honda’s Civic and is about the same size. The Insight is more softly contoured that its donor car and is topped by a coupe-like roofline.
Its cabin exudes a warmth and sophistication that borrows from Honda’s midsize Accord. It’s supremely quiet, with none of telltale wind and road noise to which hybrids are prone. Credit a host of noise-reducing measures, including an Active Noise Control system that uses the audio system’s speakers to cancel ambient noise.
Insight’s composure belies its compact dimensions. Its suspension balances passenger comfort and control of unwanted body motions. On one section of the country two-lane we regularly drive, a set of small undulations caused the Insight to bob uncertainly but it never got floaty.
While the Insight lacks the sharp responses of its non-hybrid stablemates, its steering system is nicely weighted and feels settled underhand.
Soft-touch; clever packaging
Cabin highlights include generous use of soft-touch materials, a stitched dash and supportive, well-contoured front seats. Honda’s penchant for clever packaging manifests itself in such details as a large, rubberized cellphone tray and a deep cubby that houses a removable two-cup cupholder, a small sliding tray and enough left-over space to accommodate a purse.
The base LX gets a 5.0-inch audio display, Bluetooth connectivity and Pandora radio. EX ($24,310) and Touring trims ($28,340) fetch an 8.0-inch infotainment system, with integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite and HD radio and two USB ports.
All Insights receive the Honda Sensing safety and driver-assist suite.
Honda tucks the Insight’s battery pack beneath the rear seats, lowering its center of gravity. Its placement also reduces rear-seat headroom by a small amount, though a pair of adults will be comfortable back there.
Two-motor hybrid system
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. The second motor is fed by the gas engine and helps charge the batteries.
IMA connects the drive motor directly to the front wheels, eliminating the need for a conventional transmission. At low speeds, the drive motor provides propulsion and its torquey punch produces impressive — and instantaneous — acceleration. At higher speeds, as the gas motor is blended into the mix, acceleration moderates.
The system powers the Insight from 0-60 in the mid-7-second range.
As with all hybrids, the Insight is most efficient in town, where the stop-and-go of city traffic allows the system to constantly recharge itself, as the forces of deceleration and regenerative braking produce charge-boosting energy.
Even the regenerative brakes rise to the occasion, with a smooth and linear feel and none of the uneven, grabby feel common among hybrids. Peak fuel efficiency — 52 combined (55 city/49 highway) mpg — is among the best available.
Want to reduce your carbon footprint and save money at the pump without broadcasting it? Honda has an Insight for you.
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2020 Honda Insight Touring
Vehicle base price: $22,930
Trim level base price: $28,340
As tested: $29,270 (includes destination and handling)
Options: The Insight Touring is a fully equipped model; our tester came with no options.
EPA rating: 48 combined/51 city/45 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified