Saturday, November 16, 2019

Third Time’s the Charm?

The 2019 Honda Insight is brand new, but it’s not a new model name for Honda. The original Insight, the first hybrid in America, was a tiny two-seater with skirted rear wheels that got 70 miles per gallon (old rating). Despite its charm and peerless fuel economy, the Insight was overwhelmed by the larger four-seat Toyota Prius. With the now ubiquitous 2004 model, the Prius clinched the deal.

Honda tried again in 2008, with a Prius-like Insight four-door hatchback that offered fewer miles per gallon and less interior room than the Prius and less of the quality that Honda had been known for. It disappeared after a few slow years.

2019 Honda Insight

Honda’s latest Insight is that hybrids shouldn’t look too different

Now, Honda is offering something nobody can complain about. The all-new 2019 Insight is based closely on the Honda Civic, saving development costs and providing a very nice sedan with excellent fuel economy. The styling is less polarizing than the Civic, as well as being more attractive than the current iterations of the Prius.

The Difference Between Toyota & Honda

As always, Honda’s notion of hybrid is different from Toyota’s. The Prius is a parallel hybrid, using the gasoline engine or the electric motor (or both) to power the front wheels and drive the car, as decided by its electronic brain. The plug-in Prius, known now as the Prime, enables just under 30 miles of all-electric range. Honda doesn’t offer a plug-in Insight (though it does offer that technology in its Clarity).

2019 Honda Insight

Under the hood the electric motor boosts the output

The Insight’s 1.5-liter gas engine puts out just 107 horsepower (hp) and a mere 99 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. Luckily, the main electric motor adds 129 hp and a hefty 197 lb.-ft. of torque for 151.5 total system horsepower. The driving experience never feels short of pep, but there will not be a race series created for 2019 Honda Insights.

Three Ways to Drive

The Insight provides three modes of driving. All-electric EV Drive mode works in gentle, in-town driving and braking. The gas engine is off and disconnected from the drivetrain entirely. It lets you cruise silently for a mile or so, slowly, under level conditions.

2019 Honda Insight

It’s a classic Honda cockpit; gadget add-ons reflect the trim package

The Hybrid Drive mode is what you’ll use mostly in town, where the electric propulsion motor powers the front wheels directly while the decoupled gas engine charges the second, electric-generator motor, which sends power to the battery pack. If you need a lot of power, the electric-generator motor can send it directly to the electric-propulsion motor. This is known as a series hybrid.

When you’re zooming down the freeway in Engine Drive mode, the gas engine and the electric-propulsion motor are both connected to the front wheels and moving the car along. This a parallel hybrid method, like the Prius.

In each driving mode, you can select Econ, Sport, or EV. These settings adjust the driving qualities to help you achieve a little more economy or a little more fun. The car’s computer sorts it out to provide EPA fuel economy numbers of 55 city/49 highway/52 combined. I got 45.7 mpg during my test week.

The Trim Levels

Like other Hondas, the Insight comes in multiple trim grades: LX, EX, and Touring. There are the expected differences as you climb up from the base LX to the Touring. The Touring has lower fuel economy numbers—51 city/45 highway/48 combined, and I’m not sure why. The Touring weighs only 91 pounds more than the LX.

2019 Honda Insight

The rule this time is comfort & fuel economy

My tester was a Touring, in lovely Aegean Blue Metallic. It flaunted heated leather-trimmed seats (eight-way power adjustment for the driver), a one-touch power moonroof, mobile hotspot, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, navigation system, 17-inch alloy wheels and much more.

All models use the same drivetrain, but the audio systems are stairsteps. The LX gets a 140-watt system with six speakers. The EX has 180 watts and eight speakers, and the Touring gets a big jump to 450 watts and 10 speakers, including a subwoofer. The screen to interact with the car is easy-to-use and understand.

A More Restrained Look

While the Civic has the right look for young people looking for an in-your-face image, the Insight is more like the Accord, restrained inside and out, and the high-quality interior pieces give it a pleasant, comfortable feel. Although the rear doors slam with a cheap-sounding clang, the overall impression is of a well designed and built ride.

Pricing starts at $23,725 for the LX, $24,955 for the EX and $28,985 for the Touring, including shipping.

2019 Honda Insight

We’ve come a long way, baby

I was pleased to be able to stash my bass guitar in the trunk when I went out for a beer with my friends. Trunks are handy sometimes. This new Insight should bring in folks who want higher fuel economy with zero effort to charge their car (the range is more than 500 miles, too). While today’s Prius and Civic push the design envelope, the Insight looks like an old friend.

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

Steve Schaefer, a Contributing Editor and EV specialist at Smarticd, has written a weekly automotive column for 26 years, testing more than 1,250 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Recently, Steve became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore, and is focused on moving to EVs and 100% renewable energy. Currently he is working at a start-up dedicated to Read his EV/hybrid blog at

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