Executive Wheels: Best Feature Ever

The 2019 Honda Insight 4DR Touring

This is an odd car – odd because I loved it, but I simply don’t understand why Honda makes it.

The original Insight, which has no relation to this one except being a hybrid, debuted in the year 2000 as a subcompact, 3-door weird looking oddball of a car that featured only two seats. Honda ran it through the 2006 model year and back in those days it was the most fuel efficient gas-powered vehicle on the market with 61 mpg/highway and a 53 mpg combined city/highway. But it looked like George Jetson’s car and just didn’t sell. The main reason for not selling was that competitor Toyota was then making the Prius (it still does) and it was a regular 5-passenger, relatively normal looking hybrid vehicle.

So Honda discontinued the Insight – for four years. For the 2010 model year Honda brought the name back, but this time as a 5-door, 5-passenger hybrid model that looked, well, normal. That first year Honda managed to sell more than 20,000 of them in the U.S., but it fell off to just under 5,000 by 2013 and was then discontinued again. Pat of its problem in that 2nd generation was that its gas mileage was only a combined 42 mpg, quite a bit below the Prius at 50 mpg.

Now, Honda has decided to bring back the Insight, once again as a 5-passenger sedan, with much improved mileage: 51 mpg city/45 mpg highway/48 mpg combined. Plus it is a handsome vehicle. What’s odd is that the Insight is now built on the 10th-generation Honda Civic platform. Why not just call it the Honda Civic Hybrid? After all the company has an Accord Hybrid version of that popular, larger sedan. Why saddle this Insight with a nameplate that has basically failed twice? Makes no sense.

Ah, but what a wonderful car. And – this is key – it has my all-time favorite feature, but I’m going to make you wait for the details.

First thing in my notes on the Insight was about gas mileage. I took a trip to an office building right around Mile High Stadium from my home in South Denver, and the onboard computer said the trip averaged 53.7 mpg. The Insight is rated at 51 mpg city/45 mpg highway/48 mpg combined, and subsequent trips on the highway and in the city revealed about the same: at or near, a few points up or down, 50 mpg all the time. I drove this car all over the place, put it through its paces as it were, and after 7 days behind the wheel, I used just barely more than ¼ tank of gas. Very impressive, all the more so in that in the many Prii (the accepted plural form of Prius) I have driven over the years I have never achieved more than 45 mpg under the best conditions.

This Insight had a ton a features standard, for a great price (we’ll get to that), but it seems these days that car companies just have to mess with a good thing. For instance, the Insight has a perfectly fine, and fine sounding radio/sound system with a touch screen for apps and navigation. There are 10 speakers and it’s all good – except there is a regular knob for volume, but you have to tune the radio on the touch screen. What a pain – and a distraction.

Then there’s the climate control, which thankfully isn’t operated through the touch screen. It works fine, but it is situated on the front of the dash, looks just like a radio – with two knobs adjusting temperature and fan speed – so every time I went to change the radio station, I altered the temperature. This is a design flaw.

And, of course, design affectation. Just about every Honda I have ever driven with an automatic transmission drives well. They make a good transmission. But for whatever reason, for the last several years they have decided to go with a push-button linkage/gear shift that I just don’t like. They only do it to be different, but my lizard brain works a gear shifter with such intuitiveness that no matter how often I drive a Honda (or a Lincoln, for that matter) I just can’t get used to it. I haven’t noticed any more console space, which might at least be a reason, so I think push-button transmission is just a Honda thing. It’s not my thing.

The engine/motor powerplant in this Insight is a wonder. A 1.5-liter in-line 4 cylinder gas engine, featuring some 107 hp, coupled with an electric motor for the hybrid system that, supposedly, boosts the overall horsepower to 129 hp. I say supposedly because this cars feels like it has twice that much power – and I’ve already mentioned the amazing gas mileage. This car is very zippy, as are most hybrids, and I found it powerful and responsive on both city streets and the highway. I feel compelled to mention that it also has an electric continuously variable transmission (CVT) that is usually something I don’t like, but lately CVTs in many cars seem quite improved. The performance is admirable. The handling is also great – this is a fun car to drive.

The interior of the car is nicely designed. The console has a very good shelf for a smartphone with USB and Power hookups – out of the way, but easily accessible. There are also easily accessible cup holders, however there is a too small armrest cubby that slides and blocks one of the cup holders. The leather seating surfaces arte beautiful and the seats quite comfortable. There is plenty of room in the rear seat for three adults, even with long legs, and the trunk is quite large for a car of this size, especially since hybrids used to have small trunks due to the batteries, but now they put the batteries in the floor and save trunk space.

Of course, these days most cars – including this one – have all of the requisite safety equipment, here with what Honda calls Honda Sensing. This includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist, and what they refer to as Road Departure Mitigation – fortunately I didn’t have to find out first-hand what that means, but one assumes it stops the car should you drift off the road.

Before I get to BEST FEATURE EVER, let’s talk money. This Insight, the Touring Trim, is top-of-the-line for Insight, and it carries a base price of $28,090. As I have noted it is very well equipped, and I am happy to report that the base price is the price – everything was standard on the Touring Insight. The only cost-add was Destination and Handling of $895, so the bottom line is $28,985 on the sticker. That’s a very good and competitive price for a vehicle of this type and quality.

So now my BEST FEATURE EVER: When you turn on the right turn signal a camera view appears in the rather large dash touch screen, just like the rear-view camera view, but here the camera displays a wide view of the right side of the vehicle. Forget blind spot monitoring – this is blind spot visualization, in HD. I loved it and found the system to be among the best safety features I have ever seen.

This is a very nice car, with the exceptions of the small things I didn’t like mentioned here. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this car, and I’m sure buyers will have no remorse. However, I feel like it is my civic duty to say that this Insight should be called, well, a Honda Civic. I think that would resonate more with the public.


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation