OK, we tried an aluminum two-seat aero-lozenge, then we rolled the dice with a “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” steel hatchback, and buyers still shrugged. Ah, heck. Let’s see if an Insight with a trunk draws a crowd! That’s the product-planning discussion we imagine having taken place inside Honda HQ. When it comes to the new 2019 Honda Insight making its debut at the 2018 Detroit auto show, attracting and retaining “the Insight faithful” was clearly never going to fly as a marketing strategy—U.S. annual sales peaked at 20,962 in 2010 but averaged under 7,300 during each of the 12 model years the first two generations were offered.
Europe drove the hatchback decision on the last generation, and apparently North America was granted its sedan wish this time around. Whatever the sales, profitability should be greatly improved for this generation, thanks to far greater sharing of tooling. The second-gen car was based on the crash architecture of the Fit hatch but looked drastically different (10.7 inches longer, 3.8 inches lower), but this one represents an exterior restyle of the Civic sedan with fastback styling cues vaguely reminiscent of the Mazda6 and Buick LaCrosse. Under the skin it surely must share most of its unibody structure and door inner panel stampings plus at least some of the exterior glass with the Civic sedan, which it will be built alongside in Greensburg, Indiana. (Honda is mum on chassis specifics as of press time, but any company would be stupid to clean-sheet a car that looks this similar, and Honda ain’t stupid.)
We’re told that this time around the Insight is being positioned as a premium offering priced and equipped a step up from the Civic (which no longer gets a hybrid variant of its own). The challenge will be pricing it so as not to overlap the larger Accord Hybrid and Clarity PHEV models in the showroom. It sure seems likely that, at least if Honda continues to offer various trim grades in each of its hybrid models, there’s going to be overlap—especially with the Clarity plug-in hybrid ($34,290–$37,490) after deducting the federal and state tax credits it still qualifies for.
Motivation for the 2019 Insight comes from Honda’s latest two-motor hybrid system and multimode direct-drive transmission (the main e-motor drives the wheels through one ratio, and the engine begins to drive them via another at higher speeds). It’s basically the same system found in the larger Accord Hybrid and Clarity PHEV. The Insight will get a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine like the Clarity’s, and the Accord gets the larger 2.0-liter Atkinson engine. But without the big battery that keeps the Clarity’s gas engine switched off for 47 miles, the Insight’s driving dynamics should feel more like the Accord’s, scaled for weight-to-power.
We’re promised the Insight will deliver best-in-class fuel economy. The standard suite of Honda Sensing safety gear should position it at the head of the class in that area, as well. An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster screen, and other upscale interior fittings are expected to help justify its premium positioning. The new car’s stated sales target goal is simply to exceed the 20,000 units originally expected of the second-gen Insight. That would amount to just 6 percent of total Civic sales, so it sounds pretty doable. But we’d love to listen in on a sales training session where Honda instructs dealer personnel on which car they should direct hybrid-intending customers toward with $30,000 to spend.