Auto review: A good-looking hybrid? Thank you, Honda

It's not merely the best-looking sedan in the Honda line-up; it's the best-looking hybrid on the market.

2019 Honda Insight
The 2019 Honda Insight. –Honda

Doesn’t it seem as if you’re always being told what to do?

When you’re growing up, your parents tell you what to do. So do your teacher, your preacher, your high school coach, your scout leader, and any number of authority figures. Then you grow up, only to discover that your boss and spouse tell you what do. And technology has only made this worse.

Your computer nags you to upgrade it, your mobile phone hounds you to answer it, your email demands that you read it, while Alexa chides you to do your chores. And now, even cars are correcting your behavior by correcting your driving while scolding you with a flurry of flashing lights and annoying beeps.

The 2019 Honda Insight. —Honda
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Even the federal government tells you what to do by insisting automakers build cars that meet hundreds of different requirements, and it’s why cars like the new 2019 Honda Insight Hybrid exist: to meet federal fuel economy mandates that dictate that an automakers fleet average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But this is one case where being told what’s good for us is actually good for us.

Slotting between the Civic and Accord, the new Insight doesn’t look dorky or odd like most other hybrids. Its eloquent elegance is striking. It’s not merely the best-looking sedan in the Honda line-up; it’s the best-looking hybrid on the market, wearing a sophistication that was once common on all Hondas.

Similarly, the Insight delivers enough power to tackle the Pokey Parkway Grand Prix, but not so much as to make a Middle Eastern oil minister happy. Honda’s two-motor hybrid system, similar to the one used in the Accord Hybrid, employs a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors. One motor drives the front wheels while another produces electricity. The result generates 151 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque while returning an EPA-rated 55 miles per gallon city, 49 miles per gallon highway, on base LX and mid grade EX models, 51 miles per gallon city, 45 miles per gallon highway on top-level Touring models. In a mix of heavy-footed suburban and highway driving, the Insight returned 43 miles per gallon.

The 2019 Honda Insight. —Honda
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Obviously, your mileage will be better if you listen to the Insight scolding you to drive efficiently.

Uniquely, the Insight doesn’t use a conventional transmission or a continuously variable transmission. Instead, a clutch connects the gas engine and electric generator motor to the electric propulsion motor. This results in power being supplied directly to the front wheels without a conventional transmission, saving weight and space.

As with any electric vehicle, throttle response is strong off the line, feeling sprightly, yet delivering a driveline response. But release your inner Andretti, and/or increase your speed, and you’ll find the gas engine starts droning unpleasantly. Once it does, you’ll find the Insight does not like being pushed around; smooth gradual inputs are rewarded. The regenerative braking, which captures energy during deceleration, is satisfactory, and the amount can be adjusted through paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

The Insight offers selectable driving modes, with Sport providing more punch thanks to extra battery assist, and the throttle seems more responsive. But it doesn’t make the Insight a corner carver. Instead, you’ll find driving it to be akin to a well-engineered mainstream sedan, with a quiet cabin, roomy interior _ even in the rear seat _ and the usual array of technology.

The roominess is especially notable. Unlike other hybrids, engineers placed the Insight’s hybrid 60-cell lithium ion battery pack under the rear seats rather than in the trunk, allowing for a generous 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space and a folding rear seat back. What’s also notable is the car’s incredibly low seating position, which makes getting in and out of the car a test of core strength.

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As you’d expect, the Insight comes with Honda’s suite of driver assistance and safety features, which includes Collision Mitigation Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist System, Road Departure Mitigation, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Traffic Sign Recognition.

Of course, the technology most drivers care about is the infotainment package. The bottom line? If you want the larger eight-inch touchscreen, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you’ll need to pop for the EX or Touring. Bluetooth and USB ports are offered on all models. Similar to the system used on the Honda Accord, there’s a power/volume knob but no tuning knob, and while user interface looks more sophisticated, in reality it’s not. And Honda’s infotainment software issues continue, with Apple CarPlay freezing and the car unable to locate my iPhone 8 via Bluetooth; it had to be plugged in.

Is it a deal breaker? It depends your priorities. Nevertheless, the third-generation remains the best one Honda has yet produced, with handsome styling, a beautiful interior and quiet demeanor that lent it the aura of a car that belies its price.

And that’s something you’d never say about a Toyota Prius.

Stats

Engine: Atkinson-Cycle 1.5-litre four-cylinder

Motors: AC Synchronous Permanent-Magnet

Horsepower: 151

Torque: 197 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 5\5

Observed fuel economy: 42 miles per gallon

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 183.6 inches

Cargo capacity: 15.1 cubic feet

Curb weight: 2,987-3,078 pounds