By on June 20, 2018

2019 Honda Insight

A few months ago, I wrote about the Honda Clarity PHEV, saying it’s a fine but unremarkable fuel-saver sedan and commuter car.

Prepare for déjà vu.

You see, Honda has brought forth another Insight hybrid for 2019. And my take on this Civic-related sedan is much like that of the Clarity – well-built, great for commuters, and remarkably unremarkable.

I say “Civic-related” because the Insight does share bones with the Civic, but there are key differences, especially with its skin. Yet Honda also sets it up as the “mature” compact sedan in its lineup. More on that later.

Full Disclosure: Honda flew me to Minneapolis, put me in a nice hotel, fed me several excellent meals (along with good beer), gave me a few cracks at a racing simulator (in which Jalopnik’s writer kicked my butt, although a fellow VerticalScope employee took top honors, at least before I left), gave me a 20-minute ride on the Honda Jet, and offered a hat I did not take and a portable cell-phone charger that I did.

Honda calls the Insight the more “mature” alternative to the Civic in a very reluctant admission that whatever one thinks of the Civic overall (I’m a fan), the looks are off-putting to some (they don’t bother me, but I get why others find the styling objectionable). The thinking is that Civic intenders won’t walk out of showrooms when they see that they can get a similar car with more conservative styling. Oh, and it’s priced reasonably and it will save them on gas.

On the road, the Insight isn’t a blast to drive. You want sport, stick with the Civic and deal with the looks. When I matted the throttle on I-94 east of the Twin Cities, I got a lot of sound, but not a lot of fury. I was barely even pushed back into my seat. Same when it was my co-driver’s turn.

2019 Honda Insight

So, it’s not fast. It’s not really meant to be. It has enough gumption for reasonable highway passing and merging, and that’s about it. This thing is meant to get you to work comfortably, and to increase the time between fill-ups.

It’s entirely predictable, then, that the dual-pinion, variable-ratio electric power steering is generally vague and a little numb, though not egregiously so (it has more life than the Nissan Kicks I drove a week prior, but not by a lot). It’s also predictable that using Sport mode seems to do little more than make the car louder and the throttle a tad bit jumpier.

It doesn’t take much aggression in cornering to get a singing tire and a little bit of understeer. Again, the Insight wasn’t built for that kind of driving. It can do it, but it would rather not. That’s a bit like me eating asparagus.

2019 Honda Insight

Drive it sedately, and it mostly shines. At freeway cruise or suburban speeds, the Insight is quiet, comfortable without being soft, and all-around pleasant. It’s a nice value proposition that not only compares favorably against the venerable Prius but against non-hybrids like the similarly mature and refined Volkswagen Jetta. The biggest flaw I noticed was a hood vibration (visible but not audible) on our early production model at highway speeds.

Although the Civic provides the base body, only the roof skin and rear quarter panel is shared with the Civic. The front frame structure is also different. A MacPherson setup makes up the front suspension, while the rear is a multi-link. Both have compliance bushings that are filled with fluid (the rear only has that on the Touring trim). Wheel sizes are 16-inch on the LX and EX trims, and 17-inch on the top-trim Touring I drove.

The hybrid system mates a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine to two electric motors for 151 total system horsepower and 197 lb-ft of total system torque.

There’s something missing from the Insight – a transmission. Instead, Honda has cooked up an electric-drive system that works like so: The two-mode system can be a series hybrid, a parallel hybrid, or a pure EV.

One of the electric motors is a propulsion motor, the other is starter/generator. Under most conditions, the gas engine delivers power to the generator motor, which in turn ships the juice to either battery pack or directly to the propulsion motor, as needed. Under light conditions, the gas engine shuts off and the Insight runs all EV for a bit. Drivers can use the EV drive button to select all-electric drive for up to about a mile on full charge.

Should more power be needed, the gas engine can link up to the propulsion motor. This is actually done via the generator, which is always connected to the gas engine. In this parallel hybrid operation, the generator motor links up to the propulsion motor via a lock-up clutch, allowing power from the gas motor to be used in a supplemental manner.

Like the Accord Hybrid, the Insight has various regenerative braking modes, offering up to three different levels of regenerative braking when the throttle pedal is lifted. That pedal also has a click point at 75 percent throttle – push it past there and you should get a little more oomph for passing. Drive modes include Sport, Normal, and Econ, plus the EV drive button, which is less a drive mode and more a powertrain setting.

The interior is typical modern Honda – a mash of modernization and old-school logic. The volume knob continues to make its triumphant return, and the customizable tile infotainment screen is present. I also dug the cell-phone holder, even though it doesn’t charge wirelessly. I also like the customizable gauges, a la Accord.

I don’t like how the infotainment screen looks like a cheap tablet tacked onto the dash, but at least it’s lowered now. I also am not a fan of the push-button shifter for the “transmission” that doesn’t really exist.

There’s plenty of legroom and headroom up front, and the rear is spacious enough for most adults. Cargo space stands at 15.1 cubic feet, which is the max for Civic sedans as well. Honda achieved this by moving the battery pack beneath the rear seats.

Features-wise, there are three trims – LX, EX, and Touring. Honda Sensing – the company’s suite of safety and driver-assist tech – is standard, and it includes collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist, and road-departure mitigation. The Insight also has available traffic-sign recognition, rearview camera, driver-awareness monitor, and LaneWatch. I had thought the latter was dead but I was misinformed – it’s back.

Other available features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, remote start, 60/40 split rear seat, navigation, moonroof, fog lamps, leather steering wheel, leather seats, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and premium audio.

The base LX ($22,830) has 16-inch wheels, LED lights, Honda Sensing, and automatic high beams among its feature highlights. The EX ($24,060) nets you CarPlay/Android Auto, XM, LaneWatch, keyless entry, the split rear seats, and remote start, among other things. For nav, the moonroof, heated front seats, leather seats, fog lights, premium audio, dual climate, and automatic wipers, plus other goodies, you need to step to the Touring ($28,090). Destination is $895. You’ll notice the top-trim Prius has base price of just over $30K.

2019 Honda Insight

Fuel economy clocks in at 55 mpg city/49 mpg highway/52 mpg combined for the LX and EX trims, and 51/45/48 for the Touring.

Although most of my day was spent in a Touring, I drove the LX briefly and, outside of cheaper interior materials, didn’t notice much difference.

I asked Honda who they think the Insight buyer is. Is it someone who wants a Civic hybrid, or is someone who wants a Civic-sized Honda without Civic styling, regardless of whether it’s a hybrid or not? Is it someone who just wants a compact car with relative value (the EX fits that bill), again regardless of powertrain? Is it the commuter who wants to stretch the fuel budget?

I got PR-speak for “all of the above, really.” Which sort of fits with how I see this car’s place in the lineup. It has an uphill battle when it comes to outdueling the Prius, simply because the Toyota beats just about everyone in name recognition, if not on price or specs or style or performance. But as great as the Civic is, its styling isn’t for everyone and regardless, it can’t hurt Honda to have two solid offerings in the compact class.

The Insight isn’t an enthusiast’s car, but then again, most buyers aren’t enthusiasts. For the frugal commuter, the Insight makes a lot of sense.

Sensible and remarkable rarely go together, unless something is remarkably sensible. That descriptor sums up the Insight. It’s kind of boring, not particularly engaging, but it does what it sets out to do well. And it has looks that are handsome, if plain.

It’s a package that just works. Which will likely work out well for Honda.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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48 Comments on “2019 Honda Insight First Drive – Comfort and Value Meet Fuel Efficiency...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Man I hope they make a version, even in Acura guise, with the Accord Hybrid’s powerplant. Been on a real hybrid kick lately but the mainstream ones are too effing slow. Accord Hybrid with ~200lbs less and a shorter wheelbase sounds like responsible fun.

    Also worth repeating how amazing this looks compared to the Civic. I wonder if the bumpers swap between the cars.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    I like this for an everyday commuter. Would be fine for me if I could get it with a sunroof and without nav and without leather seats.
    Touring is $29K!!! Forget about it.
    I’d buy an Accord EX for $25k and change.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      There is also an Insight EX if you want this and can forego nav and heated seats.

    • 0 avatar
      mchan1

      Looks decent for a daily driver.

      But typical Honda… if you want the good stuff, you have to pay extra for the next trim up even for stuff you Do NOT want! Any wonder why some people Hate Honda!

      Would be nice with a decent infotainment center that doesn’t appear to have visibility issues in direct sunlight, no sunroof or heated seats in the EX which is typical in other models and no AWD.

      The engine power seems a bit weak especially for highway driving which many people do on a daily basis.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Finally a legitimate alternative to the Prius. More powerful, looks like a car, isn’t a 7/8ths sized me-too with plenty of drawbacks but no advantages.

    Honda really bucked the trend of gluing an iPad on top of the dash…by gluing it to the dash face instead. Why not integrate it cleanly into the center stack instead of floating it out into space like an aftermarket Garmin GPS on a dash mount?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I don’t really care about how the screen is mounted as long as it’s close or there are some closer means to control it. My Kia is an integrated double DIN radio and it’s a reach. Thank God for steering wheel controls.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Big meh for me.

    I still want a good explanation why Honda has 3 “hybrid” sedans (clarity, insight, accord) in a cratering sedan market that doesn’t care about hybrids. I really don’t understand it.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      The manufacturers must believe that sedans will make a comeback because it is an easy way to satisfy mileage regulations. Convincing people that they want to drive sedans again will lower the value of the fleet of suv’s and will boost sales of sedans as people switch back.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        50mpg is, even in the age of Earth Dreams and Skyactiv CUVs, pretty darned compelling for commuters, Uber drivers and other high-milers. CUVs sell, largely on fashion. Their sales have grown fast enough, from a low enough base, that there aren’t a lot of dilapidated, used ones running around yet. Which is another way of saying there aren’t that many driven by “those” unfashionable people yet.

        Once that changes, a big part of their attraction, the “we the upwardly mobile, responsible, practical, active lifestyled” part, will fade. Not saying that is their only attraction, but it is part of it. Nothing that looks like what 75% of the inventory at cut rate used lots looks like, stays fashionable for long.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Honda’s biffed it several times in this segment, but I think they may have a winner here. If nothing else, it may steal quite a few Prius buyers who actually have taste.

    • 0 avatar
      Middcore

      So it won’t steal any Prius buyers then is what you’re saying?

      Prius drivers buy the Prius brand because they like what they think it says about them. It doesn’t matter if someone makes a car better than the Prius because they don’t buy based on the car’s merits.

      Same with the Tesla. It’s a social signalling device.

      And for the record I’m not saying either the Prius or the Tesla are bad cars.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        you’re right – it is a signaling device. When you see smoke, it’s Tesla signaling to you – take a detour. Or, if you see one, it tells you – I will ram you, if you drive in front of me

      • 0 avatar
        srh

        Meh. For some, sure.

        But for others the Prius is a good car with great fuel economy and a reasonable price. It’s ugly, but if you care more about its merits than its demerits, a little ugly might be OK.

        And for those people the Insight seems like a great alternative. The merits without the ugly stick.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    I hope you enjoyed your visit to our fair state! Where exactly did you take the photos? I see St. Paul in the background, & at first I thought it was Ft. Snelling, but I don’t recognize that part of the airport….

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    “I don’t like how the infotainment screen looks like a cheap tablet tacked onto the dash, but at least it’s lowered now.”

    That’s the worst of both worlds! The tacked-on look might not be great, but at least it allowed the screen to be mounted up high (slightly less distracting to look at in motion) while keeping the overall dash low and unintrusive.

    Making it look tacked-on while mounting it way down low like it is just… bizarre.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      Also bizarre is the perfectly-sized-and-placed cell phone tray that doesn’t support wireless charging. Qi has become my favorite ‘surprise and delight’ feature in my Kia, even though it’s buried somewhat under the dash.

  • avatar
    aquaticko

    This might’ve been an option for me in a few years. However, it’s not a hatchback; that’s a major drawback. I’ve gotten to used to the versatility of a hatchback body style in my ’06 Forester, and to lose that–even if I only occasionally use it–is a big ask. I’d do it for something more luxurious, like the Accord hybrid, but not for what is basically a slightly-nice economy car.

    Instead, I’ll likely be somewhere in the constellation of Ioniq or new Veloster, new Corolla hatchback, or the redesigned, Skyactiv-X’d Mazda 3.

  • avatar
    cammark

    “…push-button shifter for the “transmission” that doesn’t really exist.”

    By description of function, this uses the same drive configuration/hardware as the previous gen Accord hybrid. So it does have a transmission, it’s just a “1-speed” (which looks bad on a brochure/spec sheet) or “eCVT” (which may be copyrighted) depending on mode and conditions.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    That should have been the Civic body.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      With a +1 upsize for the 2018 Accord.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Ever since I saw this as the concept a couple months back, the thing that stuck out to me is the hood cut..DOESN’T! Whereas the Accord’s looks like a wart on a supermodel’s face!

        The rest of this is exactly what the Civic should have been! Even the Civic Sedan has too many fake scoops and weird things going on with it. (Not to mention that interior fitment and appointments are a step below the Accord, as has been the case for the past 25 years I’ve driven Hondas; I suspect that this Insight will be a touch better inside, but still topped by the Accord.)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I really like this, and am interested. I’m disappointed about a couple of things

    a) that they didn’t give it a liftgate, a la Volt. The concept showed a rear liftgate.
    b) that they didn’t use the nicer infotainment system in the ’18 Accord.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I would choose this over the Civic sedan or hatch (and I generally like hatches) based on styling alone. The rear styling in particular is a vast improvement, IMO.

    However, I’d swallow my disgust for the Civic’s rear end and get an Si coupe, given the chocie. The front of the Si looks fine to me, but I’m like sportyaccordy in that I’d be interested in swapping rear bumpers with this.

    If a sedan (or two pedals) was required, I’d take this.

  • avatar
    Prado

    Looks good. I think this will do well for Honda. A few thoughts… I think this may pull in more Accord shoppers than Civic intendor. While the Civic stlying may be poloraizing, the Accord is just ugly. This looks way better than the Accord. The large gap in trim levels between EX and Touring seems odd. Is that to keep it from stealing too many Accord shoppers? The center consol area is too much form over function. While at first glance the dedicated place for your phone seems cool, Cup holders are more functional. They can hold (and tilt) your phone or hold a drink, or hold whatever you want. I find the best placement for ‘multipurpose cupholdhers’ from a functionality standpoint is as far forward as possible in the console.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Haven’t looked on the Honda Web site, but I suspect a wireless charger might be an add-on at the dealer. (Probably meaning that installation will require practically gutting the center stack, with rattles galore and more a side consequence once things (hopefully) go back together in one piece.)

  • avatar
    TW5

    The new Insight is a nice car, but Honda have sort of created a branding catastrophe. The Insight chassis should have been the new Civic. It’s conservatively styled and relatively handsome, which has been part of Honda’s brand identity in the US for 40 years. This new Insight; therefore, should have been the Civic Hybrid.

    Honda have somehow managed to create a product mix in which the Civic is ugly, and the Civic Hybrid doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the Insight brand, which was wrecked by the ugly, inferior, Gen II Prius clone, is now responsible for carrying the company’s CAFE banner in the compact/midsize sedan segment.

    Besides the tack-on screen stuck awkwardly in the middle of the center console, there isn’t much wrong with the vehicle, but the branding and product positioning is so confused, I’m not sure Americans will respond.

    Hopefully the public will one day learn who is responsible for this situation. American marketers seem like a possible culprit. Spinning some elaborate overwrought tale about how Americans no longer want hybrid branding; therefore, the hybrid Civic must become a stand alone product. Japanese executives also seem to be the driving force because the Honda board and executive teams, in recent years, have become notorious for committing vehicular faux pas via detached, autocratic decision-making. Maybe they are all guilty.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Ever since the rollout of the 9th-Gen Accord in 2013 — a home run by any metric, Honda’s stubbed their toes:

      1. Questionable Civic styling, and neutered Si in order to support the Type-R. (Infotainment bugs also marred the launch.)
      2. Disastrous ZF 9-speed automatic transmissions in the highest-trim Pilots.
      3. Uglification of the 9th-Gen Accord MMC.
      4. More infotainment bugs on Odyssey rollout.
      5. Fuel blowby into CR-V crankcases, and seemingly no remedy in sight. (Head in sand, a-la 2000-ish Accord V6 transmissions.)
      6. Following the rest of the lemmings with undersized turbocharged engines in the Accord, while its closest competition keeps the simpler N/A path going. (Results on paper show the Accord ahead, but what happens when they have to start keeping up with the dwindling segment?)

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Not quite my cup of tea but it’s a handsome car, especially compared to the current Civic.

    I was at the local Honda dealer – Sunday visit! – and checked out several Civic models. It’s just ungainly looking, as much as I do like the price on the Si.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Honda is SOB company. Again, split folding seat only on higher trim

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Third time’s the charm for the Insight name? Maybe?

    Styling being subjective, I can say this is better than the Civic. However, I wonder if that chrome unibrow can be body colored as is an option for the Civic. There’s something about how it cuts off the headlight allowing bits to glow above and below that doesn’t make sense to me. I’m also not quite sure what to make of the taillights, but it seems they’re trying to avoid the “boring” styling of the early 90s.

    I wish them well and hope that the companies who still try with sedans succeed. I’ve gone the crossover route before and wasn’t all that impressed.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Can we dispense with the “it’s not an enthusiast’s car” crap? No sh*t! And neither is the Prius, its main competitor. This car was purpose built for economy and comfort and provides just that. It’s reasonably priced (LX) and will be on my radar when I upgrade soon. This constant comparing everything to enthusiast’s standards kills reviews of such cars for me. If it did 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, pulled .87 on the skid pad, 12.6 in the 1/4 while still giving 50 mpg average, enthusiast’s still would not buy it. “Not enough character for me..” so please..

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      You DO know that this is an enthusiasts’ site, don’t you? I think the author’s observations are correct and appropriate in describing the new Insight’s strengths and weaknesses. If that bothers you, might I suggest you move over to Edmund’s?

  • avatar
    ajla

    This looks so much better than everything else Honda makes. I’m hoping it bodes well for future designs.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    This car doesn’t signal virtue the way a Pious can, it hides in plain sight, I don’t see it poaching too many Toyota sales.

  • avatar
    300zx_guy

    Inquiring minds want to know… How does it compare to many of the B&B’s favorite hybrid, the mighty C-max? (or not so favorite, but not yet cancelled Fusion hybrid?) Yeah, the Honda has them covered handily on mpg, but the ride and drive, and how the hybrid system works?

  • avatar
    fIEtser

    So now Honda has the Insight, Accord Hybrid, and Clarity PHEV all within spitting distance of each other? I know I’m not the only one confused. They could move a LOT more product by putting the PHEV system into the CR-V, Pilot, Ridgeline, or Odyssey. Better yet, offer it on all four before that market segment gets flooded and they’re left playing catch-up again.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Can we get a review of your 20-min ride in the Honda Jet though?

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Handsome styling compare to Civic. Great colour! Useless trunk opening! Why not a liftback!? Why the tablet is glued to the dash and not integrated?

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