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2019 Honda Insight Test Drive Review
Twenty years ago, the original Honda Insight was the first hybrid to go on sale in America. It had two seats and a funky teardrop shape, but amazing fuel economy.
Honda’s next Insight was a Prius copycat, but smaller, cheaper, and less satisfying than the Toyota.
Now, this third-generation 2019 Honda Insight adopts traditional 4-door sedan design and offers plenty of interior and trunk space. Plus, it is undeniably more attractive than the Civic on which it is based.
Should consumers looking for a practical, affordable, and efficient car consider the new Insight?
Look and Feel
When you buy a Honda Insight, you have three trim levels to choose from. The base LX is priced at $22,830, the mid-level EX runs $24,060, and the top-trim Touring costs $28,090. You’ll need to add $895 to each of those prices for destination charges.
My test vehicle was the Insight Touring, and it didn’t have any dealer-installed accessories, so its window sticker read $28,985 including the destination charge.
So, what will you get for your 30 grand? Stylish 17-inch aluminum wheels, for one, and leather power-adjustable seats, for another. The Touring trim also installs dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats for winter, a power sunroof for summer, rain-sensing wipers for rainy days, and fog lights for foggy days.
You also get turn-signal indicators on the outsides of each wing mirror, a 10-speaker premium sound system, a navigation system with real-time traffic, and Honda Link subscription services with a Wi-Fi hotspot.
All this stuff is installed in an attractive car.
Often, hybrids seem to be ugly on purpose, either in order to draw attention to the fact that they’re different, or because aerodynamic requirements dictate changes that ruin styling. With the Civic-based Insight, Honda makes the hybrid version better looking than the vehicle on which it is based. It has a more tailored and grown-up style rather than a jarring and exuberant look.
Inside, the same is true. Both cars use the same basic dashboard, themes, and components. But the Civic has a more technical appearance, whereas the Insight is more upscale.
Genuinely good-looking hybrids are rare, but the new Insight gets the styling and design recipe right.
The new Insight has a 1.5-liter gasoline engine, an electric drive motor powered by a lithium-ion battery, and an electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
This is a traditional hybrid vehicle. You don’t plug it in. You gas it up and go until the fuel gauge gets close to empty. Then you gas it up again and go some more.
With a combined 151 horsepower and a robust 197 lb-ft of electric-motor torque from 0 to 3,000 rpm, the Insight can feel downright lively. As engine revs climb, however, the CVT moans and groans, and that really detracts from the driving experience. Switch to Sport mode, and the moaning and groaning transform into mumbling and grumbling.
The Insight also has a thrifty Econ mode and an electric EV mode for low-speed driving, like in traffic or in a shopping-mall parking lot. Given that the whole point of the Insight is to maximize fuel economy, you’re likely to use these modes often.
According to the EPA, the LX and EX trims are more efficient, likely due to their lighter weight and smaller 16-inch wheels and tires. They’re supposed to return 52 mpg in combined driving.
The Touring is less efficient, rated to achieve 48 mpg in combined driving. Apparently, the way to get 48 mpg is to drive with Econ mode engaged, in a flat area, using EV mode at every opportunity, and pretending an egg is under the accelerator pedal.
On my mountainous test loop, driving the car in Normal mode like a normal person, and with Sport mode engaged for the twisty bits, and with EV mode engaged for the heavy traffic on the freeway, I averaged 38.9 mpg. The last time I drove a Honda Civic Touring sedan on the same exact loop, it returned 34.1 mpg. So little difference between the two models is problematic, even if the Insight is just a couple of grand more.
As far as driving dynamics go, the Insight is a pleasure unless you can't stand road and wind noise. If those two factors are deal-breakers, driving this car will get tiring fast, especially on rougher pavement and at higher speeds. Otherwise, the ride quality is agreeable, the handling is impressive, the variable-ratio steering is enjoyable, and the regenerative brakes avoid the usual stickiness associated with hybrids.
Are you going to take this car out on a race track? No. But you might pitch it around the occasional freeway ramp to add a little spice to the daily commute.
Form and Function
With Touring trim, the Insight provides drivers with 8-way power seat adjustment. That really helps to make the car comfortable, though even with the seat raised, it still feels a bit too low in relation to the rest of the cabin.
Front-seat passengers are not as fortunate. That seat lacks height adjustment, and because the Insight is low-slung with a low hip point, this makes graceful entries and exits more difficult.
The back seat is fairly roomy and comfortable, bordering on midsize territory. Thigh support is decent, leg space is good, and my size 13s easily tuck under the front seats.
However, there are no air conditioning vents in the back, and there are no USB ports. They’re not even available as a dealer-installed accessory like they are in the Accord.
Trunk space is quite generous. The Insight LX and EX provide 15.1 cubic feet of volume, while the Touring offers 14.7 due to the premium sound system components. There’s no slot or grip for closing the lid, though, so prepare to get your fingers dirty.
Moving on to the infotainment system, the Insight’s 8-inch touchscreen display is easy to use, working similarly to a smartphone screen. A tuning knob to complement the volume and power knob would be nice, as would more main-menu shortcut buttons on either side of the screen, but this setup is better than some other recent Honda efforts.
The voice recognition system isn’t terribly sophisticated, forcing you to use specific menus and commands, so you might as well just connect your smartphone to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and use that instead. The system does provide voicemail playback and text messaging support, which is nice. And pairing a smartphone to the Bluetooth system is easy.
If you’ve selected the Insight Touring, you get a free 12-month trial to Honda Link Security service, which includes automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling. That means emergency responders will be on the scene as soon as possible after a collision. An AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot is also available for the Insight Touring.
Finally, the Touring trim includes Honda Link Remote service, but it's free only for the first three months. This package includes remote starting and remote access to the car's locks, and it also provides important teen-driver safety features related to curfew, speed, and geographic boundaries. You can also use it to find your car in case you forgot where you parked or you think it might be somewhere it shouldn’t.
When it comes to safety, every Insight is equipped with a reversing camera, automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist systems.
Upgrade to EX or Touring trim, and the Insight also has LaneWatch, which uses a camera to show what’s in the car’s right-side blind spot. You can manually activate LaneWatch using a button on the end of the turn signal stalk, and it automatically activates when you signal a lane change or turn.
Personally, I don’t find this system as useful as a traditional radar-based blind-spot monitoring system.
First, it works for only the right side of the car.
Second, it doesn’t provide a visual warning or the video-feed view of what’s in the blind spot anywhere near the mirror, where the driver naturally looks before changing lanes. Instead, the video-feed view is shown on the infotainment system screen. And that forces an extra reference point during a critical decision-making time.
Third, it doesn’t come with a rear cross-traffic alert system, which I find useful in parking lots and on my suburban street, which turns into a race track around the same time our local school bells ring.
Aside from LaneWatch, the Insight’s driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems work well. They must be using next-generation technology, because they operate in a smooth and refined manner that is uncommon for a Honda product. The adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability works beautifully in heavy traffic, too.
If you do get into an accident, know that the Insight is built to Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering structural standards, which are specifically designed for maximum occupant protection.
Guess what? They work. The Insight is a Top Safety Pick Plus according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In fact, this car gets top marks in every single assessment.
You can boil the 2019 Honda Insight Touring down to two numbers.
The first is 2,000. That’s approximately how many extra dollars you’ll spend on this car instead of an equivalent Civic. The second is 4.8. Based on my testing, that’s the number of extra miles you’ll get from each gallon of gas while driving the Insight.
Is that worth the extra money? Based purely on dollars and cents, it probably isn't.
But I’m still inclined to recommend the new Insight. Loaded with everything, it costs less than $30,000. If you drive it purposefully as a commuter vehicle, slogging through traffic day in and day out, you’re going to be happier with its fuel-economy performance (it improves in slower stop-and-go traffic driving). Additionally, it is impressively safe, it holds a family of four without any trouble, it looks good inside and out, and it offers all the technology and connectivity modern car buyers want most.
Just be prepared for an aural assault from the road noise, the wind roar, and the CVT’s groaning. Except at low speeds and driven in EV mode, a quiet car, the Insight is not.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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