How Honda Made a Cooler Hybrid

2019 Honda Insight
2019 Honda Insight Courtesy Honda

Hybrid cars have tended, thus far, to exhibit a virtue-signaling styling that looks about as cool as orthodontic headgear. The 2019 Honda Insight is here to change that. From tip to tail, hatchback-like contours—as well as design touches like the minimalist headlights—give the sedan an athletic look. Especially considering its thriftiness on fuel: The Insight makes an impressive 52 miles per gallon (combined highway and city).

 

 

While part of its efficiency comes from an impressively slippery aerodynamic program, like the abrupt cutoff of the rear deck, and an underbody that Honda claims is the flattest of any of its production vehicles, the lion’s share comes from a pretty geeky powertrain hidden under the hood. The two-mode hybrid system relies on a 1.5-liter inline-four gas engine, a propulsion electric motor, and a generator/starter motor. All told, the system makes 151 horsepower.

Depending on how demanding you are on the throttle, the Insight can either drive as a pure electric vehicle, a series hybrid, where the electric motor turns the wheels while being powered by the engine, or a parallel hybrid, where both the gas engine and electric motor turn the wheels. Not that you will notice the Insight’s internal calculus—press the pedal and you get power.

During two extended drives in Texas, the Insight exhibited much of the pluck and caffeinated handling of its stable-mate, the tenth-generation Civic, which is based on the same platform, and delivered a drive that’s far more dialed–in than the Prius—a slower, duller, pricier car. Aside from some feeling some brake regen when coming to a stop, you rarely think about the fact that you’re driving a hybrid.

There’s plenty of safety tech, too: Forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, and adaptive cruise come standard. Opt for the EX or Touring model for “LaneWatch,” where, when you hit a turn signal, the infotainment screen displays what’s in the blind spot of the direction you’re turning. Sounds like a distraction until you try it, and see a cyclist or electric scooter riders seemingly appear out of nowhere. Then it seems essential.

Buy it because it’s a great car for the price—not because it’s a hybrid. If you need to show off your eco-cred, a few bumper stickers can fix that.

[From $22,830; honda.com]