It started with Volvo.
Engine: 1.5L Atkinson Cycle 4-cyl + AC Electric Motor
Transmission: Direct drive/traction motor
Output: 107 hp, 99lb-ft 4-cyl + 129 hp, 197 lb-ft electric motor. 151 hp max output combined.
Fuel economy: 55 city, 49 highway, 51 combined (EX/LX), 51 highway, 45 city, 48 combined (Touring)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 4.6 city, 5.3 hwy, 4.9 combined
US Price: $23,725 for LX, $24,995 for EX, $28,985 for Touring
CAN Price: Starts at $27,990/$31,590 for Touring, destination not included
“Volvo Cars to go All Electric,” said the press release’s title. The Swedish automaker probably didn’t predict this, but shortly after this news was sent out, almost every single one of its rivals had committed to offering electrified versions of its vehicles sometime within the next 5 or 10 years, hoping to get similarly widespread media coverage. And while it’s more a sign of the times than anything, now it’s been confirmed — soon, there won’t be much of a point in denoting something as a hybrid car. They’ll all be that way.
Honda clearly recognizes this and enthusiastically said that the 2019 Insight is a car that just “happens to be a hybrid.” It’s mostly true, too, with the battery conveniently stuffed under the rear seats and styling that’s actually tidier than its closely related non-hybrid sibling, there’s not much about the Insight that would make it obvious it’s been electrified — save for a few odd characteristics.
People are still confused by hybrids and plug-ins, but Honda’s Two-Motor hybrid powertrain provides a relatively stress-free transition into the world of electrified vehicles. Unlike the version found in the Accord Hybrid, the Insight’s Two-Motor system uses a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder instead of a 2.0-liter. The internal combustion engine makes a peak output of 107 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque, while the electric motor is good for 129 hp and a strong 197 lb-ft of torque. The max system output is 151 hp, which moves the Insight along with enough gusto for most daily driving scenarios and returns an EPA-estimated 52 mpg (4.5 L/100 km) combined. We had no trouble replicating that fuel economy figure and even with a bit of *ahem* spirited driving, the Insight still got about 47 mpg (5 L/100 km).
The no-nonsense powertrain is representative of the rest of the car’ simplicity — there’s no charging plugs, no overly dramatic styling, no odd gear selector, no oversized display screen, and no random blue or green-colored interior trim pieces — it’s all pretty normal.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid Review
The powertrain does have some strange quirks, though. Plant the gas all the way down to pass a vehicle on the highway and you’ll hear the i-VTEC four-cylinder suddenly spike in RPM and begin buzzing away like a handheld mixer, much like a CVT-equipped vehicle might (the Insight has no transmission, using a single-speed traction motor to transfer power to the road), before quieting back down to a near-silent cruise. The 1.5-liter also sounds coarse in the Insight and is rather loud. This is admittedly not much of an issue in a vehicle like this, as most buyers won’t be matting the accelerator that often, but it may take some getting used to for the first-time hybrid buyers Honda is positioning the Insight toward. It’s also very quiet around town and under light acceleration, which are the two scenarios the Insight will most often find itself in.
Another odd but useful feature is the regenerative braking system, which is operated by using two paddle shifters that look exactly like gear select paddles. Pull the left paddle when coasting down a hill, for example, and the car will begin to seamlessly slow itself using the regenerative system. Pull it once or twice more and the stopping effect becomes even greater. The right paddle can then be used to reduce the strength of the regeneration. It’s not strong enough to drive around without the brakes, but is sort of useful when a full braking event isn’t necessary, like when you’re approaching a bend or there’s a slight change in the flow of traffic.
There’s one last notable feature, too. Because the Insight creeps around in total silence at walking speeds, it emits a sound so pedestrians know there’s a moving vehicle nearby. The sound can only be described as a heavenly aura. It’s a good idea for pedestrian safety, but it’s definitely quirky.
The Insight is the more sophisticated and upscale offering between it and the Civic with which it shares a platform. The styling is tidier, the ride is supple, wind noise is minimal and everything inside feels well bolted together. For older customers or commuters that don’t care about youthful looks and a sporty driving experience, the Insight seems to be the more appropriate proposition than the Civic. And for what it’s worth, the steering is typical Honda — solid and direct with decent feedback. It may actually inspire some buyers to have a bit of fun. Try saying that about Prius.
In mid-level EX and range-topping Touring trim, the Insight will be even more appealing to Honda’s more mature clientele. Both of these models get a crisp and responsive 8-inch color touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Touring trims also get a version with navigation. Upscale Touring models get leather upholstery as well, in addition to heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a moonroof. I quite liked the standard, easy-to-use 7-inch TFT driver’s display as well, which displays a variety of vehicle information menus that can be easily toggled using a dial on the steering wheel without having to avert your eyes from the road.
Room For One More?
Save for a buzzy 1.5-liter engine, the 2019 Honda Insight is a well-executed and easy-to-approach hybrid that seems especially “normal” when you plop it next to its two main rivals: the Toyota Prius and Hyundai Ioniq. With standard Honda Sensing active safety tech, upscale styling and solid construction, Honda shouldn’t have much trouble grabbing interest from would-be Civic buyers that may want to save a buck or two on fuel here and there.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Honda Accord Review
Honda may have a tough time properly positioning the Insight against the Accord Hybrid, though, which starts at $25,995 including destination inthe U.S. The Insight is well-priced in $23,725 LX base trim, but to get things like the 8-inch digital screen, you have to at least opt for the $24,995 EX model — and by that point, you’re sort of stepping on the toes of the base-spec $25,895 Accord Hybrid, which nets you a bigger car with some better equipment. If you want leather and a sunroof on the Insight, you’re looking at a $28,985 vehicle. Customers will have to decide which vehicle better suits their needs, but if you’re looking at an Insight, it will also be worth checking out the larger Accord Hybrid.
The Verdict: 2019 Honda Insight Review
The industry is slowly shifting toward electrified vehicles such as this and for most prospective Civic buyers, the Insight is definitely worth checking out for its potential to save them a bit at the pump in exchange for a relatively minuscule price premium. Customers will hardly notice the presence of a small lithium-ion battery and electric motor when driving and they’ll be spending less on fuel. Honda’s hybrid portfolio may seem a bit full with both the Insight and Accord Hybrid occupying similar price points, but this at least allows customers to decide which of the two is best for them.
Oh, the Insight’s also faster than a Prius, gets the same fuel economy and actually looks normal. We’ve heard enough complaints about weird-looking electrified cars to know that the arrival of a regular looking hybrid will be more than welcome.
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