2019 Honda Insight first drive review and impressions

Honda Insight 029

If you want a hybrid car but don’t want to pay upwards of $30,000, your choices are very limited. Unlike plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles, traditional hybrids don’t qualify for the same tax incentives. If you want an inexpensive hybrid car, your best bet for a new model today is the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, which has a starting retail price of $22,200.

Now, Honda is giving buyers an option with a nameplate that is sacred to their stable. The 2019 Honda Insight arrives on dealer lots on June 27 combining a top-notch fuel economy with the fit, finish, and styling of a Honda sedan. It’s starting price is slightly higher than the Ioniq Hybrid at $22,830.

However, for that cost you get a much better-appointed car than you’ll find in the Ioniq Hybrid’s base model. Moving up through the Insight’s three grades (LX, EX, and Touring), you’ll find materials and technology akin to the makings of the Accord. It is here that the Insight finds its sweet spot.

Honda has built the Insight on the same platform as the Civic and CR-V, and given it a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle DOHC v-TEC engine. It combines with two motors and a power control unit to give the car a maximum output of 151.5 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque. Both of those figures best the Ioniq Hybrid and Toyota Prius. The powertrain is quite noisy when you accelerate in Normal mode despite Honda having equipped the car with enhanced sound absorption in the front end. Putting the car in Econ mode lessens the racket but switching to Sport mode exacerbates the effect.

That being said, the Insight has good acceleration off the line and passing on the highway is easy. The Insight LX and Insight EX are slated to get 55 mpg and the Insight Touring will get 51 mpg. By Honda’s own admission, the Camry Hybrid and Accord Hybrid (with the 1.5-cylinder engine) have faster zero to 60 mph times but they sacrifice fuel economy to the tune of over 5 mpg. The Ioniq Hybrid has slightly better fuel economy than the Insight but it is much slower off the line.

Honda has taken the heralded on-point steering of the Civic and Accord and translated it to the Insight. The new car is easy to drive whether on winding backcountry roads in Minnesota and northern Wisconsin or the city streets of the Twin Cities.

Honda allows the driver to pick their level of regenerative braking in the Insight using paddles on the back of the steering wheel. The grab of the brakes, even in the highest regen setting, is not obtrusive and just takes a little driving to get used to.

There is comfortable seating for four adults and it’s easy to find your proper seating and wheel position thanks to straightforward equipment.

A 5-inch color LCD screen centers the cabin in the entry level model but EX and Touring trims get a standard 8-inch display audio touch screen, complete with a volume knob. Those upgraded models also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, along with SiriusXM and HD radio. Two USB charging ports help with connectivity in higher grades but the car does not have wireless device charging despite the large phone tray located next to the shifter. Pandora, Bluetooth, and speed sensitive volume compensation are standard in all grades.

It’s not just entertainment technology where the Insight shines. Tt comes with Honda Sensing safety technology standard. The suite of technology includes forward collision warning with braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation. The car also has traffic sign recognition, displaying the posted speed limit in the driver information display. Honda LaneWatch comes on EX and Touring grades, and a multi-angle rearview camera is standard.

Priced slightly above the base model, the midgrade Insight EX trim starts at $24,060 and the top-of-the-line Touring comes in at $28,090. Destination and handling charges are $895 per vehicle.

With its solid list of safety and connectivity technology, the Insight makes the argument that it is the best low cost compact hybrid car on the market rather effectively. It’s a good option for parents shopping for a new car for the recently licensed driver that want the best combination of fuel economy, technology, and safety features in a low-cost package from a brand they’re already familiar with.

The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations and meals for the purpose of this write-up. All opinions are our own.
Eileen Falkenberg-Hull
Eileen is the writer of the nationally syndicated column Automotive Minute in The Business Journals, which explores the automotive industry focusing on news, reviews, and interviews. She loves finding out about the business strategy, design, and drivability of vehicles. Eileen is a contributor to U.S. News & World Report Best Cars.