Why Bring Back the Insight? Because a Hybrid Civic Just Isn't Done

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
why bring back the insight because a hybrid civic just isnt done

Honda raised a few eyebrows by announcing the return of the Insight hybrid for 2019, this time as a larger and plusher four-door sedan. While the model holds the title of America’s first hybrid car, its groundbreaking status didn’t carry over into the model’s second generation, which, despite selling better than the two-seater first-gen model, quietly (and slowly) disappeared from the market after its 2014 discontinuation.

The automaker sold three “new” 2014 Insights last year, and 67 the year before.

Throughout the second Insight’s run, and continuing through 2015, the Civic Hybrid was also available to lower-end electrified car shoppers. Which begs the question: why didn’t Honda just make a hybrid version of its wildly popular 10th-generation Civic?

Oh no, Honda couldn’t do that.

Speaking to Wards Auto at last week’s Detroit auto show, Henio Arcangeli, senior vice president of American Honda’s automotive division, said a new Civic Hybrid just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, it created a new model based on the Civic’s generously sized platform.

“The Civic is lightweight, sporty, fun-to-drive, and if you electrify the Civic I think you kind of take a lot of the character away,” said Arcangeli, “so it was a smarter idea to bring back an older nameplate from before and make it kind of a whole new vehicle.”

There’s no question the Civic lineup is the most diverse in the Honda stable. Three bodystyles. Four engines ranging from tepid to bonkers. It’s possible a variant that doesn’t beat the competition in green specs — and even one that does — could become lost in the noise of all those revving ICEs. Honda’s hoping for 50 mpg-plus combined fuel economy for its latest Insight, a rating that might not best that of the class-leading Toyota Prius.

So, rather than have the Civic Si and Type R hog all the limelight, the automaker figured a standalone model, one outfitted as a premium compact, would serve it best. The Insight’s standard features includes an 8-inch touchscreen and the Honda Sensing suite of driver aids, with upgrades in electronics and interior finishings available on the options list.

Interestingly, Arcangeli’s memory of the second-gen Insight doesn’t seem all that crisp. “The second Insight was I think the least expensive hybrid on the market at the time,” he told Wards. Well, was it? (Note: it was, though reviewers of the day compared it unfavorably to the Prius.)

We’ve seen that hybrids, plug-ins and battery electric vehicles are easier to sell to the affluent, making Honda’s upscaling of the Insight appear a rational choice. There’s little point in chasing the cheapest entry price if the end result is something with a lacklustre reputation. For future “premium” Insight buyers, Honda promises class-leading passenger space — a perk more likely to sway well-heeled green car buyers than 1 mpg or an MSRP slightly lower than a model with far greater name recognition.

Besides, with Hyundai and Kia getting into the compact hybrid game, there’s less chance of capturing the bottom end of the market. Why not put an existing platform to use on a higher margin model?

[Image: Honda]

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  • Jalop1991 Jalop1991 on Jan 23, 2018

    So, Honda makes pretty much one 4 door car now. The Incicord.

    • Ernest Ernest on Jan 23, 2018

      haha. That's pretty much what I'm getting out of all this.

  • Insightman Insightman on Jan 24, 2018

    Honda doesn't believe in this age of cheap gas that hybrid customers are comparison-shopping for the ultimate fuel economy. The company is hoping that a fast, green-cred Insight with upscale amenities will appeal to more customers than the gen-1 "science experiment" (which I'm still happily driving) or the gen-2 "near-Prius" (which my wife is still happily driving). This new Insight looks really good--better than the Civic and way better than the competing Prius and Ioniq hybrids in my opinion (but, of course, I'm an Insight fanatic). I'll go even further to claim it is the best-looking Honda, hybrid or not, since the S2000. To power this Insight, Honda has specified the 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine from the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid (we have one of those, too). If the Insight also gets the Clarity PHEV's 181-hp electric motor, the 212-hp combo will make the Insight the most powerful compact car in Honda's stable, except for the 306-hp Civic Type R. Honda has conservatively guaranteed more than 50 mpg combined for the 3rd-generation Insight. If this spacious 5-passenger sedan can achieve 53 mpg, it will match the 53-mpg rating the EPA now calculates for the original 1,850-lb, ultra-aerodynamic, 2-seat Insight! That will be very impressive, indeed. More analysis at insightman.com/2018_NAIAS/

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