The 2019 Honda Insight barely feels related to the wacky, hypermiling minnow-shaped two-seater you might remember from the year 2000. Now it’s a practical, affordable anonymous-looking, get-around-town hybrid car. But it still has enough personality to be decently enjoyable to drive.
(Full Disclosure: Jalopnik was offered a Honda Insight to drive, which I was happy to take advantage of because I had to get from New York to Western Massachusetts and back anyway.)
The Insight is back, but it may be more fair to say the name is back. It’s a far cry from the O.G. Insight (though that one scored fun points for having a manual gearbox option) and now it slots between the Civic and Accord in Honda’s sedan lineup.
With four doors, five seats, a stone-simple interface and a low price tag, the all-new Insight is designed to appeal to anyone who needs to use the road to get from point A to point B, especially those who don’t really want to.
It’s pretty easy to lose track of in a parking lot—in fact it’s easily mistaken for either of its more notable Honda sedan brothers—but it’s certainly not ugly. The face and silhouette are inoffensive, and the little sculpting over the fenders goes a long way to give the design some definition.
The car is not really designed to make a dramatic entrance or driving experience, though. This vehicle is built around ease-of-use; it’s headline features being automatic lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, collision avoiding automatic braking, traffic sign recognition and other similar features that ease the burden of driving.
When you do want the Insight to scoot out of its own way, there’s always that sport button which unlocks a slightly more responsive gas pedal.
The fully loaded Touring model we tested rang up at about $28,000 and includes all of the driver assisting features we mentioned above, plus a few basic creature comforts like a moonroof and leather-trimmed heated seats.
But even the most basic LX model has the same powertrain and “Honda Sensing” suite of tools that help the car do part of the paying attention for you.
All Insights are four-door sedans now, 183.6 inches long, and powered by a 1.5-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor making a claimed total output of 151 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission pushes that power to the front wheels. Honda says the whole car weighs about 3,000 pounds. We believe them.
Starting at about $23,000 and EPA rated to 55 MPG in the city, a base Insight is pretty inexpensive to own and operate as far as brand-new cars go. The fancy Touring trim bestowed with a few more luxury features like leather-wrapped touch points is a little more expensive as noted above, and also not quite as efficient, getting 51 MPG city rating.
Our trip was approximately 300 miles, most of which I spent in Sport mode. I was averaging about 40-ish mpg and only had to fill up once while I was in Massachusetts. (Did you know gas is $2.65 a gallon there?) It cost me only about $11 to refill half a tank.
There are technically five seats, with reasonable seating for four humans and a modest haul of luggage. Grocery runs would be no problem. Four people and their stuff might be manageable. If you’re a packrat, you might want to step up to a somewhat larger Accord or be like everybody else and get an SUV or crossover.
But then, of course, you’ll miss out on those $11 gas station stops.
I know 151 HP isn’t anything to write home about, but I have this crazy idea that when you put your foot onto the pedal, a car should move. The Insight indulged me by doing exactly this.
Actually, the car’s behavior did seem to change significantly between the Economy and Sport modes. A car like this is such a polite fuel sipper anyway I didn’t feel too guilty leaving it in Sport and putting my foot down to pass people on the highway. Which the car could do!
A few things made my trip easier, and once again, it’s amazing how these kinds of previously premium-only features have trickled down to normal cars like the Insight. The Lane Keep Assist System controls the car slightly when you step out of the lane, doing more than just giving you a warning like some cars. The Insight also uses what Honda calls “LaneWatch”, a right-side camera that comes on during turns and lane changes and is surprisingly useful.
Between that and the Adaptive Cruise Control, which can come to a complete stop, it makes a long trip pretty darn relaxing.
The Touring trim’s heated seats and remote starter, while certainly not revolutionary in 2019, made my temporary Insight ownership experience very comfortable—especially on a cold northeastern morning.
The Insight’s EV mode is quite cool—you can toggle when you want the car to run strictly off the battery, which makes it very smooth and silent. It didn’t work so well for me though, as it didn’t seem to want to activate while the cabin was being heated (or presumably cooled if you had your air conditioning on.)
I also got some complaints from my wife in the passenger seat, who didn’t like the fact that her seat seemed awkwardly low and can’t be raised.
The rear window’s also pretty small. I am not sure what it is about new cars, but rear visibility seems to shrink every time a car is redesigned. The Insight kind of makes up for with blind spot monitoring cameras and the such, but still, it would be nice to not have a rear window that didn’t make me feel like I was in a tank.
The 2000 Honda Insight was a caricature of efficiency. Memorable, but almost comically impractical. You could even say that goofy, tiny little things like that helped set eco-cars back a ways and made it so a decent amount of the population wouldn’t take them seriously. Even with the gas savings, not a lot of folks want to be seen in a toy car.
But the 2019 Honda Insight is kind of the opposite. It drives like a real car, but with the efficiency of the hybrid it actually is.
For a daily driver that can get you around comfortably while saving a ton of gas along the way, and happens to be a lot more compelling and interesting than your average boring small crossover, it definitely fits the bill.
The Insight is back in a good way. Now let’s just see if people buy it this time. Gas is still pretty cheap, after all—for now.