Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 22, 2020
Honda’s hybrid lineup is constantly changing, conjuring up new nameplates that may confuse potential buyers. Currently in the stable are the Insight Hybrid, Accord Hybrid, and Clarity. The former two are your standard combustion engine plus electric motor hybrids, while the Clarity is a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can actually plug it into your wall socket and run on electricity alone for up to 76 kms. The Insight sits at the bottom of the pyramid and is essentially a Civic Hybrid based on its size and shared platform. The Insight is a tad longer than the Civic, and is a traditional sedan with four doors and a proper trunk. We are not sure why Honda chose the Insight name instead of Civic Hybrid, as the latter carries a certain cult following and attraction. That said, the Insight itself does have a storied past, and was the first hybrid model available in North America when it debuted in 1999. It was a wacky, two-door coupe with wheel covers on the rears, giving it a futuristic, although controversial aesthetic. It was discontinued in 2004 after slowing sales.
Wrapped in conventional styling that belies its hybrid and fuel-saving intentions, I wouldn’t call the new Insight pretty or visually arresting, and there isn’t enough visual flair or distinction for it to stand out from the concrete jungle. That’s not exactly a bad thing. Anonymous looks are sometimes a prominent purchasing factor for vehicles, especially ones with small footprints like this compact Honda. Still, there are LED lights front and back, and snazzy 17-inch wheels to seal the deal.
Under the hood is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor and lithium-ion battery, delivering a total of 151 hp. When running by itself, the engine will only make 107 hp, while the electric motor pushes out 129 hp. This powertrain is mated exclusively to a noisy, buzzing, and bland Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that routes power strictly to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is not an option.
The tag team between combustion and electricity is fluid and polished, though not as seamless as a Prius. That said, the coarse whine of the CVT and buzzing engine at higher speeds do little to combat the fact that this is one efficiently smooth operator. The Insight drives like a conventional combustion vehicle, and only when you’re paying attention to the audible and physical cues do you notice the transitions between the modes of propulsion. The brakes are linear as well and don’t suffer from the spongy springboard pedals commonly found in hybrids. Further, the Insight can run on electricity alone during low power demands, though not for very long distances. This full EV mode can be manually triggered by pushing the EV button on the center console. The gasoline engine will still kick in if you’re too trigger happy with your right foot, though. That said, driving around town becomes an entertaining game of how much throttle you can apply without the engine tagging in. Honda has implemented paddle shifters onto this hybrid as well but instead of controlling gears, these paddles control the amount of regenerative braking applied, and must be pressed each time you desire to slow down. There are three strengths available, but even the strongest mode won’t halt the Insight quick enough to warrant one-pedal driving. Stick with using both pedals, not paddles.
The interior of the Insight is a familiar and sober affair, carrying much of what we loved from the tenth-generation Civic. Overall, the cabin is well-finished and is not as quirky as a Prius’. The steering wheel with its Fruit Gusher-shaped airbag cover is slightly different from the Civic’s, but we are all familiar with Honda’s new infotainment unit, which is a huge step up from the unit they still use in the 2019 Civics. While the menu screens are cluttered with an overabundance of prompts, it’s fairly intuitive to use, though not segment-leading - I really enjoy using the new Chevrolet and Jeep interfaces. At least Honda has listened to customer (and journalist) complaints and implemented a real volume and tuning dial on each side of the display.
The configurable center console is one of my favourite features in these new Hondas. It utilizes a sliding cup holder row that can be manually removed, and a deep well for storing larger items - even my SLR camera fits in there. The armrest can also be slid fore and aft, as well as lifted up for easier access to the cubby. In front is a push-button gear selector that replaces a traditional gear stalk, and flanking to the right is a rectangular pad designed for storing smaller items like your phone and wallet, and the rubbery texture of the pad ensures they sit securely. Japanese ergonomics does not get much better than this. Furthermore, the Insight may just be a Civic Hybrid but it’s actually a bit larger than a Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. That pays dividends for its spacious rear accommodations, and is large enough to fit three of my six-foot buddies in the back. Honda also claims that the battery does not impede with rear trunk space, and remains the exact same as non-hybrid Civics.
The Insight is available in two trims: Base and Touring. The base model is loaded up with a fair amount of standard features off the bat like remote engine start, push-button start, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also standard are Honda’s impressive suite of safety and driver assistance features like blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning. Upgrading to the Touring trim adds heated rear seats, navigation, auto-dimming mirror, Sirius XM, power adjustable passenger’s seat, and a sunroof. Soft, slippery leather padding can also be found on high-traffic surfaces and the cozy supportive seats.
If you are looking to minimize your carbon footprint and an SUV does not tickle your fancy, then there really is no better way to go than a hybrid sedan. The Insight highlights the peak of hybrid technological advancement in efficiency, and it combines stellar fuel economy with an inoffensive, subtle, and undeniably ergonomic family sedan package.
Model: 2020 Honda Insight Touring
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,663 / 1,878 / 1,341
Curb weight (kg): 1,399
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, electric motor, lithium ion battery
Horsepower: 151 combined hp @ 6,000 rpm
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 4.6 / 5.3 / 4.9
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 4.7