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Auto review: 2019 Honda Insight aims to become America's favorite hybrid

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

Honda will make its latest pitch for recognition as a leader in gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles when the sleek 2019 Insight prototype bows at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday.

The handsome, five-seat sedan will look right at home alongside Honda's hot-selling Accord and Civic. I expect prices to overlap those two cars' lineups, from the mid-$20s to low $30s.

Honda was the first automaker to sell a hybrid in the U.S. with the 1999 Insight hatchback, and it galls the company that it hasn't been acknowledged as a hybrid leader since then. The bullet-shaped, first-gen Insight taught Americans that a combination of gasoline and electric power could deliver a previously inconceivable combination of fuel economy, performance and fun.

Despite that, Honda's star two-door hatchback was soon eclipsed by the relatively stodgy Toyota Prius four-door. To Honda's infinite chagrin, Toyota rode the Prius to a decade of unprecedented sales growth and an image as the global leader in hybrid technology and fuel economy.

Honda calls the Insight debuting at the Detroit show a prototype, but the production model due to go on sale in the summer should be virtually identical.

Fuel economy figures aren't available yet, but Honda promises a combined EPA city/highway rating "in excess of 50 m.p.g."

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The EPA rating and sticker price will probably be key to the new Insight's success. Based on Honda's pledge, it could still trail the 2018 Prius, which scored 56 m.p.g. combined rating with its most efficient Eco model. The Insight has a better chance of at least matching the best-selling '18 Prius model, which the EPA rates at 52 m.p.g. combined. Prius prices start at $23,475, while the Eco model starts at $25,165.

The new Insight looks great, with a long hood and fast windshield and rear window. The looks of the grille and narrow LED headlights and taillights are consistent with other Honda sedans. Honda's U.S. design studio styled the Insight.

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