Honda Insight concept car hybrid abandons science-experiment looks

Honda Insight concept car hybrid abandons science-experiment looks

A thinly disguised version of a car going on sale this year, the Insight will be a premium compact hybrid.

January 12, 2018
By Robert Schoenberger
Cars/Light trucks Design Electric vehicles Powertrain

Cleveland, Ohio – Offering the most dramatic example of how radical designs in the auto industry change throughout time, Honda will unveil a new version of its Insight hybrid car next week at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

The Insight Prototype is a thinly disguised version of the 2019 Insight that will go on sale late this year. What’s striking about images released by the automaker is the radical evolution of the historically important vehicle.

Launched in 1999 as a 2000 model, the Insight was the first gas-electric hybrid offered to buyers in the United States. Odd-looking and small, it was a bit too strange for the market, and it never moved beyond being a niche player.

A few years later, Toyota’s Prius managed to do what Honda’s Insight didn’t – convince buyers that a vehicle capable of double the fuel efficiency of its rivals wasn’t a science experiment or an exercise in uncomfortably small designs.

The next-generation Insight looks, for back of a better description, like a normal car. The covered rear wheels are gone, and the Prius-inspired, wedge-like shape of the second-generation Insight from 2012 is gone as well. The concept car looks more like an Acura attempt at a premium compact car.

That’s sort of what Honda has in mind – positioning the Insight as an upscale alternative to the Civic compact.

"The new 2019 Honda Insight signals we are entering a new era of electrification with a new generation of Honda products that offer customers the benefits of advanced powertrain technology without the traditional trade-offs in design, premium features, or packaging," says Henio Arcangeli Jr., senior vice president of Automobile Sales and general manager of the Honda Division, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

When the first Insight launched nearly 20 years ago, styling took back seat to functionality. Designers chose the low-slung styling and closed wheel arches to maximize aerodynamics, a decision that produced a car capable of 61mpg on the highway (49mpg city, 53mpg combined). On the down side, it was powered by a 73hp, 1L, 3-cylinder engine.

The new model won’t be as fuel efficient, promising only to top 50mpg, but Honda engineers say it will have class-leading power, something that wasn’t a consideration for the early, niche versions of the vehicle. It will use the third generation of Honda's two-motor hybrid system, 1.5L Atkinson cycle engine, an electric propulsion motor, and lithium-ion battery pack.

In most conditions, the Insight will operate on electric power, drawing energy from the engine or battery pack.

The Insight will be manufactured at Honda's Greensburg, Indiana, plant, alongside Civic and CR-V

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

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