2019 Honda Insight Touring Group Review: The Hybrid for People Who Don't Brag About Composting

Honda's third-generation Insight proves itself to be a capable, entertaining, fuel-efficient car—that just happens to be a hybrid.

Two of The Drive’s staffers—Erica Lourd and Will Sabel Courtneyrecently spent time with the 2019 Honda Insight in Touring trim. They discussed the finer merits and detractors of this hybrid car via Slack, an instant message program with a fun ability to summon random gifs based on what users type. The following is a partial transcript of that conversation.

willscourtney
Hello, Eureka. So, let's chat about the all-new Honda Insight.

eureka
oh hai will

willscourtney
As we both drove it for a weekend, since Honda was nice enough to give it to us for TWO weeks

eureka
yes, i had her for a WHILE

and i wasn't mad about it! shes a lovely vehicle

Honda

willscourtney
It's really not bad at all. (I have a thing about giving cars genders, hence why I'm sticking with "it.")

eureka
yeah, but she was "Susan" for something like 10 days while I had her. you know how I feel about giving cars names, hence, my car is Layla

willscourtney
Did you name her Susan because she came into your life suddenly?

/giphy suddenly susan

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willscourtney
Wow, that GIF has nothing to do with the TV show.

eureka
it felt right. she's friendly to everyone, but also grey. and reliable! because honda.

willscourtney
Exactly. In fact, "Because Honda" could kind of sum up a lot of the 2019 Insight's character traits

Fuel efficient, because Honda

eureka
sturdy, because Honda

willscourtney
Decent-looking, in a conservative-yet-funky Japanese way, because Honda. Nice to drive, because Honda

eureka
a hidden cupholder, because Honda

willscourtney
Haha

You can tell that it's based on the same platform as the Civic, because it feels similar in a lot of ways from behind the wheel. A little tinny, but that's not out of place in a car at this price. But decent steering, reasonably peppy acceleration, and dare I say it, almost a bit of sportiness in the suspension. It's not gonna whup a Type R on a race track or anything, but for an inexpensive hybrid destined for urban and suburban commuting, it's pretty entertaining.

eureka
funny you say that because i did both urban AND suburban driving (i brought her up to connecticut before the drive to philadelphia) and i can say that is absolutely true! i almost got carried away on the backroads. the sport mode is fun, and the steering is surprisingly nice. i say surprising because so so many new cars feel so damn loose.

willscourtney
True. Honda has always done a good job at making their cars feeling buttoned-up from a driver's perspective, and the Insight holds true to that.

eureka
for sure. i was a very happy camper. i actually found myself wanting to drive her home from work everyday. sometimes i surprise myself.

willscourtney
/giphy beats the subway

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eureka
/giphy driving rocks

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willscourtney
It's peppy, too, thanks to that little gas/electric setup under the hood. The total system output is actually about on par with an entry-level Honda Civic, IIRC. So it doesn't feel eco-car wimpy like some cheap hybrids do.

[After-the-Fact Check: The Honda Insight combines a 1.50-liter Atkinson cycle DOHC inline-four (with VTEC, yo) with dual-motor electric drive for a peak system output of 151 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque.]

eureka
yeah. i remember asking you before you handed me the keys if i would like it more than the Prius C and without hesitation you said yes. because yeah, the Prius C was not my favorite for short highway merges...

willscourtney
Noooooope.

Honda

eureka
but Susan took them like a champ

willscourtney
/giphy you go glen coco

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eureka
and she was great for my passengers too. i had two in the back and one in the front and everyone seemed really comfortable.

also, i love you for using a mean girls gif. thank you.

willscourtney
It's pretty roomy in there, much like the Civic. I managed to fit a giant awkward mountain bike inside pretty easily with the back seats folded down.

eureka
trying really hard to picture a "giant awkward mountain bike" right now

but yeah, i can't even imagine how much more room that frees up with the seats down. with the seats up, the trunk alone is still substantial.

lets talk about some weird stuff though... like Honda's safety features

willscourtney
Well, before we do that, I wanted to talk a bit about the fuel economy. As it is a hybrid, and we're on the subject of the powertrain

The car's trip computer was telling me I was getting in the low-to-mid 40s around the city, I believe. But I drove it with the A/C on a lot of the time, because it was hot as heck. You drove it way farther. How'd you do?

eureka
i think i got 49-50 mpg! i felt so eco friendly. i was constantly watching where the power was coming from and where it was going. i almost made it a game (safely) to try and make it use the electric engine a lot.

[After-the-Fact Check: The Honda Insight Touring is EPA-rated for 51 miles per gallon city, 45 miles per gallon highway. The LX and EX trims do better, at 55 city/49 highway.]

willscourtney
Haha, I know what you mean. There's a way to display on the dashboard where the power is coming from (and going to, when you're braking). I got so into monitoring it, I had to turn it off to keep from being distracted.

(On a quick side note: I love that the Insight uses the instrument panel and infotainment screen from the Accord, instead of the Civic. It's a big enough improvement that I might buy this over a Civic for that alone.)

But yeah. 40-50 miles per gallon with a total system output of around 150 hp and 200 pound-feet? That's pretty awesome.

eureka
total win.

willscourtney
I did find the paddle shifter-implemented brake regen system a disappointment, though.

eureka
oh yeah?

Honda

willscourtney
First off, it took a loooooong time to figure out how it worked. And then once I did, the effect was barely noticeable.

eureka
sad!

willscourtney
Yeah. And there are three settings you can click through, none of which seemed to make much of a difference. Setting #1 should have been as aggressive as the maximum setting was.

Regen braking is one of the cool features of hybrids and EVs that a) helps save energy and B) makes them feel more futuristic. I'm all for giving people the choice whether to use it or not, but if you're gonna offer it, make it worthwhile

Okay, that's my powertrain stuff out of the way. You wanted to talk about the safety systems?

eureka
so, yeah, the thing i wasn't big on, under the umbrella of honda's safety technology, is their blind spot warning system, Honda LaneWatch. i know this can be filed under first world problems but if you're going to have it, have it on both sides.

and i recognize you can turn it off, but the camera doesn't need to turn on to show you what is on your right per use of your right turn signal, *every time*

[After-the-Fact Check: Honda LaneWatch, which projects the feed from a wide-angle camera under the right-hand side view mirror onto the infotainment screen, made its debut in 2012.]

willscourtney
I believe the reason they offer it only on the right side is that because it would screw with people if they had it on the left. You'd go to turn left...then have to look to your right at the infotainment screen. Whereas it's easier (in theory) than looking over to the right-side mirror.

eureka
right, ok, but i counter with, "just have the little dot on the side mirror"

willscourtney
What was your beef with it specifically? Was it distracting?

eureka
it was just that...IMO, there should've just been the little side mirror blind spot warning dots like every other new car that has blind spot warning. the camera on the screen is fine for the right side, but i would only find it useful for parallel parking, not switching lanes. i don't need to see who i'm merging in front of. just to know if someone is there or not there.

willscourtney
Fair point. When the side radar exists, the camera does seem like a solution in search of a problem.

eureka
i like your point about it, but i'm just a believer in both sides having equal opportunity to alert you to a car beside you, when the car is long enough to give you a blind spot warning at all.

willscourtney
Beyond that, though: Any other notable issues with the car?

eureka
no bass for my music, but maybe i have high standards

honestly i can't think of a whole lot of cons. like i said earlier, i came to really appreciate susan. it was scorching hot that week, and the A/C works super well.

willscourtney
YOU AND YOUR BASS FIXATION

eureka
my dad didn't like that the power button glowed red once the engine was on, which i found hilarious

Honda

willscourtney
haha, well, that's a specific grievance.

My biggest complaint with the car, honestly, is less with the Insight overall and more with the trim level we had: the top-tier Touring

eureka
oooh, go on

willscourtney
It was nice, sure...but the whole "trying to be luxurious" just seemed out of character for the car. if not a bit disingenuous. You can slap leather seats in a car all you want, but if it's based on an economy car platform—even one as well-executed as the Civic—it'll never feel luxurious. All the frippery on the Touring, like the leather, the bigger wheels, the power driver's seat, the bigger stereo, all just seems extraneous.

eureka
*scoffs at bigger stereo*

oh, and rain-sensing windshield wipers, oooooh

willscourtney
Exactly. The "better" stereo still isn't that great. The leather isn't exactly all that fancy. And those 17-inch wheels are probably a big part of the reason the Touring gets worse mileage than the other two trims.

It's especially notable when the lower models come as well-equipped as they do.

eureka
right.

willscourtney
Even the LX comes with Bluetooth, LED lights, and the Honda Sensing package of active safety features that includes adaptive cruise control. And for about $1,400 more than that, you get the EX, which I'd say is the pick of the litter

[After-the-Fact Check: The Insight LX starts at $23,725, including destination, while the Insight EX begins at $24,995, and the Insight Touring costs $28,985.]

eureka
and the EX has apple carplay, and i mean who doesn't love that

willscourtney
and satellite radio, a real USB charger, an eight-speaker stereo, and remote engine start

Exaaactly.

eureka
i had never used [CarPlay] before my week with Susan and now i'm kinda hooked.

willscourtney
Really?

eureka
i know, i'm a bad milennial

willscourtney
/giphy sad

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eureka
although why don't they have Waze on there yet, tragic

willscourtney
They're working on it, I believe

[After-the-Fact Check: Apple will begin allowing Waze (which is owned by its arch-rival Google) to integrate with CarPlay starting later this year, with the roll-out of the iOS 12 operating system for iPhones.)

Honda

willscourtney
Okay, final thoughts?

eureka
i think the Honda Insight is a really good hybrid. its skilled at what it is supposed to do—fit four people, save gas money, and have cool "hip" features and technology. i weirdly ended up loving it, in a way, like a sister (although i've only ever had a brother...). everything just felt easy with that car. i still can't get over how comfortable and solid the drive was. i liked how the safety tech worked (except the blind spot warning), because it all worked really well. i think i would've liked the style much more if the model we tested wasn't grey, which is my least favorite car color of all time, because the lines on the car are nice and i don't totally hate the new front end that honda has adapted to its sedans. all in all, two thumbs up for susan. just needs better bass.

willscourtney
I'm gonna start calling you billy bass

/giphy billy big-mouth bass

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eureka
i just like my dubstep, is that SO WRONG?!

willscourtney
Uh...yes. In so many ways, yes.

eureka
/giphy nobody understands me

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willscourtney
Getting back to the car, though:

I think Honda finally got it right with this third-gen Insight. It's attractive—I think it may be the best-looking sedan in the Honda lineup, regardless of powertrain—fuel-efficient, and most importantly, a great deal. The idea of a $24,000 car that gets 50 mpg yet still has all the newest safety features and comes from a company with solid reliability? That's pretty amazing.

And it does all that without being "weird" in really any way. The driving experience is basically like any regular car: Climb in, press "drive," and go. "Eco" and "Sport" modes are pretty self-explanatory. Fill it up at the gas pump, no plugging in required.  I wish the regen paddles were better, but if Honda's courting the mainstream market—which it seems like it is—I get why you'd try to keep from freaking out average folks with aggressive regen.

The Insight isn't the car I'd buy personally, since I like driving too much. But I could see myself driving it, which surprised me. If I already had a fun car and needed a four-door commuter to drive to and from work in...I could totally go for it. And I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who isn't as keen on The Act of Driving™ as I am.

eureka
exactly, because i like driving too much too. but 100 percent.

Honda

willscourtney 
It could be a serious game-changer. But it's not a crossover, so who knows if anyone will care.

eureka
because i think my non-car people friends would get a kick out of this as a daily driver. like my friends that deal with my car loving personality but don't quite share it.

you're damn right, will sabel courtney.

willscourtney
/giphy epic nod

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Well, on that note, let's end this as I always like to:

/giphy honda insight

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eureka
wow how did you find that gif of me as a child? #OGbarbiejeepdriver

The 2019 Honda Insight Touring, By the Numbers

Base Price (Price as Tested): $28,985 ($28,985)

Powertrain: 1.5-liter inline-four, 107 horsepower, 99 pound-feet of torque, two-motor electric drive, 129 hp, 197 lb-ft of torque, for a max system output of 151 hp and 197 lb-ft; multi-mode direct drive transmission; front-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 51 city, 45 highway (EPA figures)

0-60 MPH: Faster than Erica's Prius C, that's for sure.