DETROIT – American Honda is taking a crack at another dedicated hybrid, reusing the Insight name and preferring not to do another hybrid variant of its Civic.
While it would have been relatively easy to do another hybrid version of its best-selling compact car – the new third-generation Insight rides on the current-gen Civic’s platform – it wouldn’t have been in keeping with the spirit of the Civic, says a top company official.
“The Civic is lightweight, sporty, fun-to-drive, and if you electrify the Civic I think you kind of take a lot of the character away, so it was a smarter idea to bring back an older nameplate from before and make it kind of a whole new vehicle,” Henio Arcangeli, senior vice president-Automobile Div. at American Honda, tells WardsAuto. Arcangeli was speaking in an interview last week during the 2018 North American International Auto Show, where Honda displayed a ’19 Insight prototype.
From his comments, it appears Honda’s new third-gen Insight has resolved the issues that made the first and second generations of the car launched in 1999 and 2009, respectively, slow sellers.
The new Insight is the biggest version of the hybrid yet, a long way from the tiny 2-seater of nearly 20 years ago. It also is much more upscale than the second-gen Insight, which was smaller than the Toyota Prius of that time and had worse fuel economy.
“The first generation was a bit of an engineering marvel,” Arcangeli says. “The first hybrid on the market. It had approximately 70 miles per gallon (3.4 L/100 km). The second Insight was I think the least expensive hybrid on the market at the time.”
In a departure from the last-gen’s value-hybrid positioning, Honda considers the new Insight a “premium compact,” placing it above the Civic in its U.S. lineup.
The new Insight also will have many of today’s creature comforts, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, as well as an 8-in. (20-cm) capacitive touchscreen with customizable app tiles.
Leather seating will be available, as will Honda’s LaneWatch technology on EX and above grades. Standard is Honda Sensing, the automaker’s suite of advanced driver-assist safety (ADAS) technologies that includes lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and collision-mitigation braking.
All this technology is packaged in a sleek sedan body style, not a stubby coupe or hatchback as were the first- and second-gen models.
Honda expects combined fuel economy “in excess of” 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km), placing it in the ballpark of the current Prius sedan, which nets 52 mpg (4.5 L/100 km) in most grades, but 56 mpg (4.2 L/100 km) in an Eco grade with low-rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic add-ons.
The automaker says the Insight will have class-leading power, although it releases no specifications. The ’18 Prius sedan puts out a total of 121 hp between its engine and two motors.
The new Honda hybrid will use the third generation of the automaker’s 2-motor hybrid system, which mates a 1.5L Atkinson-cycle gasoline 4-cyl. to two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. This propulsion system already is in use in the plug-in version of Honda’s Clarity sedan, making 212 total system horsepower in the car.
In a change from the second-gen Insight, Honda says the ’19 model will operate only on electric-power in “most conditions,” either using energy from the engine acting as a generator or the battery pack.
Honda will build the Insight at its Greensburg, IN, plant where it assembles some units of the Civic and CR-V.
The Insight, going on sale in late 2018, is important to fulfilling Honda’s goal for two-thirds of its global vehicle sales in 2030 to be electrified models, Arcangeli says.
“With North America being the largest market, that’s an area we have to invest in,” he says, adding with the Insight, the forthcoming Accord Hybrid, and Honda’s three-model Clarity lineup made up of plug-in hybrid, EV and hydrogen-fuel-cell variants, the automaker is off to a good start.
Honda releases no target for Insight sales. WardsAuto data shows the nameplate achieved its highest volume in 2010, when 20,962 copies of the second-gen Insight were sold in the U.S.