Honda has had three cracks at the Insight. The first was a small, two-door, two-seater with a “unique” shape, making its debut as a 2000 model.
The second came along in 2009 as a five-door, five-passenger hatchback on a unique platform which later housed the CR-Z.
The third-generation Insight is now on sale and it is a plain old four-door, five-passenger sedan. I say that with respect, because this new Insight is indeed plain — in looks and in operation.
Instead of crying out visually that it is a hybrid, it looks like a slightly more conventional Civic. It also drives like one, and houses a similar amount of people and packages.
Think of it as a Civic with even better fuel mileage.
The 2019 Insight uses proven technology, cleverly packaged and was developed to be practically invisible literally and figuratively.
Open the trunk and you are greeted by 428 litres of cargo space — identical to that of a Civic. Where is the big battery pack that normally robs so much space in a hybrid?
This one, a small, 1.1 kWh, lithium ion unit, is under the rear seat. Trunk size was also retained, by shrinking the fuel tank to 45 litres in capacity. There is no sacrifice, because the exceptionally thrifty Insight retains the same range on a tank of fuel, as a non-hybrid.
It is also rewarding to stop for a fill when the tank is almost empty and have the automatic shut-off kick in at less than $50.
The packaging gurus even hid the conventional 12-volt battery that usually takes up so much room in the engine compartment. It is housed inside the passenger compartment under the electrically-operated, push-button shifter. That space would normally have been used for a shift linkage.
In addition to a surprisingly large trunk, the Insight has a family-friendly rear seat. The driver faces a conventional instrument panel. There is a large multi-function display atop a two-tier centre stack with separate provision for your phone. The new infotainment system has large clear icons and, whoopee, an actual knob to control volume.
When driving the Insight you have to consciously remind yourself it is a hybrid. In almost all respects, the experience is that of a conventional car.
The main exception is the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Instead of selecting gears, they control the regenerative braking system, allowing the driver to select from three levels of harvesting the energy created while slowing.
Not only does this save wear and tear on the brake rotors and pads, it recharges the lithium-ion battery pack more quickly.
It is fun to watch the battery charge level increase while using the paddles to slow progress coming down a hill instead of riding the brakes, or when approaching a stop. You can also ignore them, and brake in a normal manner.
Here again, Honda engineers have done a great job of making the Insight feel like a conventional car. There is no grabbing as the regenerative system kicks in; it’s rather a smooth and linear feel.
The front wheels of the Insight are powered by a gasoline engine or electric motors — and sometimes by both. The engine operates on the fuel saving Atkinson cycle. The loss of torque common with this arrangement is easily replaced by that from the electric motors.
At low speeds and low load conditions, the 129-horsepower electric motor provides the power with the gas engine turning a generator to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack.
When and if more power is required, the engine is called into play. The combination provides enough motivation to pass easily or climb the steepest hill.
With lots of torque from the electric motor, getting away from a stop or merging with traffic is effortless. Commuters will appreciate the around-town efficiency without having to worry about highway performance or where the nearest plug is.
Further evidence of the conventional approach, is the same suite of safety feature found in other Hondas. That includes lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward collision warning and mitigation braking systems, lane departure warning system, road departure mitigation system and traffic sign recognition.
After several hundred kilometres of mixed driving conditions, I came to think of the third-generation Insight as a fuel-efficient, mature Civic.
- Model: 2019 Honda Insight Hybrid
- Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, 107 horsepower, 99 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel; electric motor, 120 horsepower, 197 lb.-ft. of torque; combined output, 151 horsepower
- Transmission: continuously variable automatic (CVT)
- NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 4.6 / 5.3
- Length: 4,662 mm
- Width: 2,087 mm
- Wheelbase: 2,700 mm
- Weight: 1,382 kg
- Price: $27,900 as tested, plus freight
- Competition: Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius
- Standard equipment: 17-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, lane-watch blind spot display, lane keep assist, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto dimming rear-view mirror, wireless mobile phone interface, rear-view camera, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, tilt and telescope steering column, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, eight-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Hondalink with Sirius eyes-free compatibility and SMS text functions
- Active safety: automatic high beams, forward collision warning and mitigation braking systems, lane departure warning system, road departure mitigation system, traffic-sign recognition system
- Options on test vehicle: none