Sometimes the 2019 Honda Insight growls like a boastful lion, but mostly it goes about its business like a stealthy cheetah, all economy of movement and efficiency.
The new Insight is the heir to the original, a small two-seat hatchback coupe that Honda brags was the first hybrid in America in 1999 and which delivered 70 highway miles to the gallon. It used a hybrid system in which the gasoline engine provided the primary power, boosted by a small electric motor in the drivetrain.
It was replaced by a four-door hatchback Insight in 2009, which used the same system, regarded by many as elegant for its simplicity. But it was eclipsed by the Toyota Prius that used a more complicated setup in which the electric motor was primary.
Undeterred and determined to pursue electrified powertrains for all of its models, Honda has developed hybrids for the Civic and Accord, and also produced the Clarity, which is available as a pure electric, a fuel-cell-powered electric, and a plug-in hybrid.
The Japanese automaker introduces the newest in the lineup: the 2019 Insight, which is about the size of the company’s compact Civic and uses Honda’s state-of-the-art, two-motor hybrid system with a gasoline engine.
Most notable about this system – which uses one of the electric motors to charge the battery pack and the other to work in concert with the gasoline engine – is that it does not need a conventional automatic transmission.
Though Honda specifications describe the transmission as an e-CVT (for electronic continuously-variable automatic transmission), it works as a direct drive from the electric motor to deliver full torque, or twisting force, the instant the throttle is activated. Unlike earlier Insights, the 2019 model has no manual gearbox.
The 1.5-liter gasoline engine makes 107 horsepower and 129 lb.-ft. of torque, while the electric motor delivers 129 horsepower and 197 lb.-ft. of torque. Together, the system produces 151.5 total horsepower.
Combined with regenerative braking to help keep the battery topped off, the Insight Touring trim tested for this review came with a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 51/45/48 miles to the gallon.
The Insight is a spunky machine on the road, where the only minor annoyance is the lion-like growl under hard acceleration. It cruises serenely on the highway with good straight-line tracking and little intrusion of road or wind noise.
Though not a fully realized sport sedan, the Insight has precise steering, a supple suspension system, and capable handling on curving roads. In that respect, it is not unlike its gasoline-powered garage-mate, the Civic.
The interior space is comfortable for four people, with supportive front seats for long-distance highway cruising. Outboard back-seat occupants have generous head and knee room, though the center-rear position is compromised by a large floor hump and a high, hard cushion.
With 95 cubic feet for passengers and trunk space of 15 cubic feet, the Insight sneaks into the government’s midsize class, though it is marketed as a compact. Compacts range from a total of 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume; midsize is from 110 to 119.
Three driving modes are available: Normal, optimized for ease of driving and comfort; Econ, for balanced efficiency and fuel economy; and Sport, for sharper throttle response and a feel of strong acceleration. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration time comes up in about 8 seconds in any mode if you mash the pedal, respectable enough in modern traffic.
Three trim levels start with the LX at $23,725, EX at $24,955, and the tested top-line Touring at $28,985 (including the destination charge). All three come with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety equipment that includes collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist, and road departure mitigation.
Also standard across the trims are LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights; automatic headlight high beams; audio system; and heated door mirrors. The tested Touring’s features included a navigation system, motorized glass sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, premium audio system with 10 speakers, eight-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and automatic windshield wipers.