2019 Honda Insight Review

Liz Kim | Oct 01, 2018

Introduction

Honda had the distinction of introducing the first hybrid to the U.S. market. It was 1999, and the original Insight hit the road just as Y2K hysteria peaked. Back then, gas was incredibly cheap and SUVs were just starting their domination of the roads. The idea of a tiny car getting 60 mpg was little more than a novelty, and the oddly shaped two-seater enjoyed but a short run as a fad.

Still, Honda was on to something and played a big role in normalizing the idea of hybrid vehicles. Since then Honda has dabbled with all sorts of non-traditional powertrains, including hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. As of now, though, the majority of consumers remain most comfortable with cars that have a gas engine.

2019 Honda Insight
2019 Honda Insight

Enter the all-new 2019 Honda Insight. It doesn’t look radical. It drives like a normal car. But it’s a hybrid that is just as roomy and commodious of cargo as a Honda Civic. In fact, the latest Insight is based on the ubiquitous and ever-friendly Honda Civic; it essentially replaces the previous Civic Hybrid.

Does this play for normalcy, especially in contrast to the rather wild-looking Toyota Prius, make sense for Honda? I spent a week with one to see if this compact sedan makes a compelling argument in favor of switching to a fuel-sipping future. My test car was a Honda Insight Touring without any options. The price came to $28,895, including the $895 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Honda Insight, it is helpful to understand who buys compact cars and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

More than half of compact car owners are men (55%), their median age is 48, and their median annual household income is $70,279. Nearly 40% identify themselves as Price Buyers, with another quarter of them calling themselves Practical Buyers.

Reliability is the most important factor for compact car buyers, with 96% of owners agreeing that it is a first consideration when buying a new vehicle. Second to that, compact car owners avoid vehicles that they believe will have high maintenance costs (92%). Quality of workmanship is the third most important factor, with 90% of compact car owners agreeing on its importance.

The least important factor is choosing a model from a domestic company, with just 42% of compact car owners claiming that preference.

Owners report that their favorite things about compact cars are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, engine/transmission, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about compact cars are (in descending order) the seats, storage and space, fuel economy, climate control system, and infotainment system.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Honda Insight measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Put the 2019 Honda Insight next to the Civic sedan and you’ll be struck at the family resemblance. Indeed, Honda stuck to a tried-and-true theme with the Insight’s design, making the hybrid’s lines leaner and less dramatic compared to the Civic. The result is a less controversial, more cohesive and handsome vehicle overall.

Up front, the Insight is reminiscent of the Honda Accord. I preferred the rear styling, though, where the tail lamps recall an Audi. The Touring trim’s 17-inch wheels are also appealing, and lend the Insight a sporty demeanor.

Compact car owners report that exterior styling is their favorite thing about their cars, and the Insight will not disappoint.

Interior

The Insight’s interior is also a step up from the Civic, both in terms of the quality of the materials and the design.

My test vehicle’s Black Mocha color scheme would have been more appealing if the Mocha portions were more distinguishable. As it stood, the dark brown surfaces lacked contrast with the otherwise black cabin. Still, the white contrast stitching was fetching, and overall the cabin felt more refined than most other vehicles in the compact car class.

Seats

Getting into and out of this car is a bit of a bear. The seating hip point is quite low, so it takes more effort to enter and exit the car. The older you are, the more likely your aging joints and withering abdominal muscles will object. Making matters worse, the front passenger’s seat lacks a height adjuster.

Once you’re situated in the car, however, the front seats themselves offer plenty of cushioning combined with a good driving position.

There’s more room than I expected to find in the rear seat. People conditioned to expect the cramped conditions common to compact cars will find the Insight’s generous shoulder space and legroom refreshing.

Climate Control System

All Insights have automatic climate control. If you want a dual-zone system, you’ll have to spring for the Touring trim level. Using the system is easy, thanks to clearly marked buttons and knobs resting well within reach.

Rear seat passengers may be unhappy that Honda doesn’t supply air conditioning vents back there. On a typically hot September week in Los Angeles, this omission led to whining from the kids about getting into a hot car with the black interior.

Infotainment System

Honda equips the Insight with all kinds of infotainment goodies, ranging from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection to a Wi-fi hotspot, a multi-angle reversing camera, and an upgraded stereo system. But the HD digital traffic information service leaves something to be desired.

In the Insight Touring, you leave the navigation map in order to view traffic data on a different screen, which is not ideal. It is always better to have that information displayed on the navigation map.

Buttons and knobs require less precision and driver distraction than trying to find the perfect spot to press on a touchscreen. Thankfully, the Insight has a power/volume knob, along with primary infotainment system menu buttons along the left side of the center screen. As a result, the infotainment system is reasonably user-friendly, at least to this driver who prefers to keep her eyes on the road rather than on a screen.

Storage and Space

Honda is thoughtful and generous when it comes to the Insight’s storage space.

There are plenty of bins and cubbies in which to store belongings, including a USB-fortified tray forward of the transmission controls that is perfect for your smartphone. The center console storage bin is large for a car this size, and is configurable in different ways to suit your needs.

The trunk is surprisingly big too, although if you opt for the Touring trim, you’ll get slightly less room due to the upgraded stereo components. They reduce the measurement of 15.1 cu.-ft. in the LX and EX trim levels to 14.7 cu.-ft in the Touring. Still, that’s quite capacious for a compact car.

You can expand that space, too. In the LX, a one-piece rear seatback folds down while the EX and Touring supply a 60/40-split rear seat for greater cargo/passenger flexibility.

Visibility and Safety

The Honda Insight has fairly substantial windshield pillars, requiring a leaning peek around them before attempting to make turns in urban areas. You don’t want to miss any pedestrians that might be concealed by them. A high beltline and low seating positions magnify the impression that its hard to see out of this car.

Large side mirrors, otherwise generous glass area, and various standard and available safety systems help with visibility. Still, I’m not a fan of Honda’s LaneWatch technology because it only shows the driver what’s in the right-side blind spot and not the left side. Also, the Insight doesn’t have a rear cross-traffic alert system.

Every Insight includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, and automatic high-beam headlights. So maybe the visibility issues don’t matter as much.

If a collision does occur, rest assured that the 2019 Insight does its best to protect you and your passengers. This car receives a “Top Safety Pick+” designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. At the time of this writing, the car had yet to be tested by the federal government.

Engine/Transmission

Equipped with a 1.5-liter gas engine, two electric assist motors powered by a lithium-ion battery, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and regenerative brakes to recharge the battery, the Insight is fairly basic among modern alternative powertrain vehicles. But that doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of consideration.

Together, these components produce 151 horsepower, with the electric drive motor delivering a punch of 197 lb.-ft. of torque between 0 and 3,000 rpm. As a result, the Insight is not a fast car, but it is quick enough to lead the charge away from a stoplight and it merges onto freeways with enough pep that you won’t be gritting your teeth while saying a prayer.

The two electric motors have different functions. One starts the engine, while the other helps the car move from a dead stop. Use a light foot on the go pedal, and the car silently whooshes about at low speeds for as long as the battery has juice.

When the gas engine fires up and revs climb, the CVT makes its grand aural entrance. It’s the kind that moans and groans and drones, and putting the car into Sport mode simply changes the tone but not the quality of the racket. Every time I accelerated, I got a hankering for a smoothie because the whirring note reminded me of a blender.

I’m not a fan of the Insight’s transmission controls, either. Honda uses a row of buttons in lieu of a traditional shift lever. It’s one of those things that you do get used to, but I always wonder why engineers think this is a better approach than a traditional and familiar lever.

Fuel Economy

The primary reason for buying a hybrid is to use less fuel. Honda and the EPA tell you to expect about 48 mpg out of an Insight Touring in combined driving conditions (52 mpg for LX and EX trim). That is a lofty number, and one I never came close to seeing.

I drove this car nearly 600 miles in a mix of conditions, on city streets, suburban boulevards, fast-flowing freeways, in clogged traffic, and on scenic mountain roads. At the end of the week, the Insight had returned an average of 39.9 mpg.

Buyers of compact cars are, on average, unhappiest about their vehicle’s fuel economy. Should Insight owners experience a result similar to mine, it will no doubt prove to be a grave disappointment.

Driving Dynamics

Yep, this is a Honda. Like the Civic, the Insight’s sophisticated MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension delivers impressive handling. No doubt, the added weight of electric motors and the battery also help to snug the car down to the road.

Whenever you take corners, the Insight’s suspension expertly manages shifting weight, while the light, precise and direct electric-assist steering delivers good road feel to your fingertips. Honda also solves a common bugaboo related to regenerative braking systems, eliminating the heave and lurch common to such systems.

Paddles on the steering wheel are not for shifting. Instead, they adjust the degree of energy recuperation supplied when you lift off the gas pedal and coast. You cannot, however, employ one-pedal driving in an Insight – the paddles simply don’t introduce an aggressive enough level of regeneration. In any case, insight owners are likely to train themselves to use the paddles on a regular basis, but during my short stint with the car I tended to forget about them.

Final Impressions

Honda packs the 2019 Insight with plenty of style and value. Roomy and safe, the Insight also supplies plenty of equipment at an affordable price. As a sedan it lacks the utility provided by 5-door hatchbacks such as the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius, but the Honda’s more conventional design is more appealing to some car buyers.

However, the point of a hybrid is high fuel economy, and my experience with the Insight shows the car to fall short of expectations. Undoubtedly, it is more efficient than any Civic, effortless eclipsing that popular model’s numbers. But if you’re expecting to achieve the same numbers shown on the car’s window sticker, you’re likely to experience disappointment.

Honda supplied the vehicle used for this 2019 Insight review.

 

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