By on January 23, 2018

Image: Honda

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.”

 

Image: Honda

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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30 Comments on “Why Bring Back the Insight? Because a Hybrid Civic Just Isn’t Done...”


  • avatar
    pmirp1

    I have to say that is the best looking Honda in a long time.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Another attempt at a Honda hybrid.

    The vision of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick comes to mind.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Nice looking car, which I expect will be reasonably nice to drive and perhaps even fairly priced. Since it is not a truck or SUV/CUV, it won’t be attractive to the mass-market segments, and since it is not as “green” as a BEV it also won’t be attractive to the subsidized eco-weenie segment. I predict it will be 3 strikes and Honda is out for the Insight.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    That looks good and kind of upscale from the outside. Honda loves to recycle old product names, but if the interior lives up to the exterior I can’t help but think this would have made a good Acura. All of the lux and near-lux brands seem to be moving in the feelgood green direction, and it’s yet another area where Acura is lagging (MDX sport hybrid notwithstanding).

    • 0 avatar
      sgtjmack

      But Acura isn’t really a lux brand. They are settled in between, sort of a mid-line, you get a little niceties and leather, but not as upscale as Lexus and Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes etc. Sort of like Buick or Mercury.

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        Oh I know, I’d fit them into solidly near-lux, but I still think there’s an aspirational buyer mindset at the Acura price point. While I cant pretend I understand the mindset of spending another $4000 on a vehicle for less than $1000 in annual fuel savings in the era of leasing, maybe they could capture some buyers. Acura could use a few more.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I’m wondering what the dimensions are relative to the Civic. I like the Civic in theory, but it’s so LOW. At 6’2, I technically fit in the driver’s seat, but more headroom and bigger cushion would make it much more comfortable.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Having a dedicated hybrid brand isn’t a bad idea. Hopefully this time Honda gets it right. Honda is typically a smart company, but they have made some bone headed product decisions, for example:

    1) The V6 Hybrid Accord: Designed for maximum power and luxury instead of for fuel economy. Might have worked as a low volume niche Acura, but a disaster as a mass market branded Accord.

    2) Original Insight: Efficient and rational, but two passenger only. Swamped by the original Prius.

    3) 2010 era Insight: Almost as good as a Prius for slightly lower MSRP. Any product marketing person who signed off on that concept should go into a different line of work.

    If the newest Insight is at least on par, if not better than, a Prius then it has a chance to gain some market share. Think Accord vs. Camry.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      I agree with Honda’s reasoning too. The old 2010 (?) Civic had hybrid and natural gas variations, and they pretty much got lost. The Civic brand needs a consistent message and separating out the hybrid to the Insight name is a good idea.

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    This post and Honda’s response need more Clarity.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    “The Civic is lightweight”…
    Not nearly as lightweight as it would be if they made it in aluminium like the Insight1, not steel the Prius wannabe Insight2

  • avatar
    tsoden

    Reviving a failed name plate for a new model that holds a lot of promise is a terrible idea….What if Ford resurrected the PINTO name? Would it sell??? What about GM with the Citation name????

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      The PINTO name has a deep hold in America’s psyche. More than 2 million were sold and people died. The Insight never sold in large volumes (20,000 in its best year according to Google) and its worst memory is that it played second fiddle to the Prius.

      I don’t know how successful the new Insight will be, but re-using the name won’t hurt.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Off topic, I know, but this just comes to mind reading this.

    http://www.automotiveaddicts.com/39859/honda-insight-has-horrific-crash-nearing-200-mph-at-el-mirage

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    ERROR
    “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”.

    Note for future TTAC content:
    The sentence noted above is false. Hyundai IONIQ leads this class for combined MPG.

    Here’s the truth:
    2017 Ioniq Hybrid Blue: 57 City/59 Hwy/58 Combined.

    • 0 avatar
      daniel g.

      So honda is gonna spend money to proof themselves they are inferior engineering that hyundai?

      Recognize your inferiority is a good step to improve in the future.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The fact is that the Civic Hybrid was a disaster. They equipped them with crappy batteries and when they reprogrammed them in an attempt to get the battery to last until it’s warranty ended the MPG wasn’t much better than the base Civic. So on the used market a Civic Hybrid is worth less than a base ICE only version. Compare that to the Toyota and Fords that have been available in regular and Hybrid versions and not only do they get substantially better MPG because their batteries are not known for crapping out they are worth more on the used market than a similar ICE only model.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    *Decodes*

    “The CR-Z was a disaster.”

  • avatar
    jalop1991

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

    The Incicord.

  • avatar

    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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