The problem for hybrids right now is that gas is cheaper than bottled water again. This makes it harder to sell a hybrid based mostly on how little gas it uses.
Which probably explains why the new Honda Insight hybrid focuses on things other than gas mileage, such as how much unlike a hybrid it looks and how unlike a hybrid it moves. That it also gets 55 miles to the gallon in the city and 49 on the highway is what you might call a bonus.
What It Is
The Insight is Honda’s newest hybrid sedan.
It’s about the same size as the compact-size Civic, and the two cars share a common chassis, but the Insight has its own unique (hybrid) powertrain, as well as a unique exterior and interior look.
Another difference from other hybrids is the acceleration.
The 2019 Insight can get from zero to 60 mph in about eight seconds — about two seconds quicker than other hybrids in this class, like the Toyota Prius and the Hyundai Ioniq; and about the same as most non-hybrid economy cars, none of which even approach the Insight’s 55 mpg capability.
It doesn’t get quite as far as the Ioniq, which leads the class with an EPA rating of 59 mpg on the highway and 57 in the city. (The Prius gets 58 mpg city and 53 highway.)
But with unleaded regular hovering around $2.25 nationally, that’s a difference that may not matter as much to buyers as the Insight’s other differences.
Prices start at $22,930 for the LX trim and top out at $28,190 for a Touring trim with a premium 10-speaker audio system and an 8-inch high-resolution LCD touch screen.
The 2019 Insight is an all-new model.
The much-better-than-economy car mileage.
The performance is better than hybrid rivals’.
There’s much more room for legs in the second row than in the Prius and Ioniq.
What’s Not So Good
There’s not as much room for cargo as rivals’.
There’s no plug-in option, which lets a hybrid recharge its batteries without burning any gas and enables the car to be driven farther (and faster) on just its batteries. Both the Prius and the Ioniq are available as plug-ins.
The highway mileage is noticeably lower than rivals’.
Under the Hood
As in other hybrids, the Insight gas engine — 1.5 liters — cycles on and off to conserve fuel, with the battery/motor taking over when the gas engine isn’t running, as well as supplementing the power of the gas engine when extra acceleration is needed.
But the Insight hybrid gas-electric powertrain has more power than the hybrid drivetrains offered by its rivals, 151 horsepower vs. the Prius’ 121 horsepower and the Ioniq’s 139 horsepower. Which is why the Insight can get to 60 mph in about 8 seconds while its rivals need closer to 10 seconds.
On the Road
It’s not just that it’s quicker than the competition; the Insight is more relaxed than its competition because it has that extra margin of power in reserve. It’s not necessary to put the accelerator pedal through the floorboard to get this hybrid to accelerate.
It’s quieter, too, on account of this.
The engine (and standard CVT automatic transmission) doesn’t have to work as hard to get the Insight going, so there’s less noise when it’s getting going.
The Insight, like other hybrids, has a regenerative braking system, which converts braking force that would otherwise be lost as heat into electricity during deceleration. It’s a way to scrounge free electricity — or at least get some without burning gas.
But Honda’s regenerative system is noticeably quieter than most. There’s also less obvious drag, and the pedal feel is normal, while other hybrids’ can be grabby or abrupt.
That’s the key difference between the Insight and its rivals: It’s easy to forget that it’s a hybrid.
At the Curb
The Insight is a more passenger-friendly car than other models in this class, like the Prius and Ioniq, because it has significantly more back-seat legroom: 37.4 inches versus 33.4 inches in the Prius and 35.7 inches in the Ioniq.
But the Insight is also a sedan, so it’s a bit less cargo-friendly than hatchback models like the Prius and Ioniq.
While it has a good-sized trunk for a compact sedan, its 15.1 cubic feet of space is much less than the 27.3 cubic feet behind the back seats in the Prius and the 23 cubic feet in the Ioniq.
The absence — for now — of a plug-in version may disappoint some buyers, but the added cost would probably be a hard sell while gas remains as cheap as it currently is. That may change, of course, and if it does, a plug-in version will likely appear.
The Bottom Line
Honda’s decision to offer more than just mileage could prove to be a very smart decision.
If gas prices go up, the Insight still appeals.
And if they don’t go up … the Insight will still appeal.