Could a brand new Honda Insight finally bring down the haughty Toyota Prius?
If you were to ask what car would be the least likely to come back from the dead, the good money would probably go to the Insight, Honda’s twice-failed foray into the strange world of hybrid-electric cars.
It’s easy to forget since very few of them were ever sold, but the original Insight was revolutionary for its day. Featuring a tiny one-liter engine that magically produced 70 miles to the gallon (or 3.4 L/100 km if you prefer more complicated math), people just couldn’t get past the compact car’s bizarre appearance; it looked like a Reliant Robin from some Star Trekkian future.
Not being able to see the back tires evidently makes people nervous.
The first generation Insight ended in 2006, with the second generation appearing in 2009. Listening to the complaints of the original—complete lack of power, space, and performance—Honda created an entirely new car that managed to look exactly like a Toyota Prius. And if you wanted a Prius, you’d just go buy a Prius.
Honda managed to confuse enough people into buying the Insight to justify its existence until 2014, but by then their sales had tanked and they stopped making them.
Flash forward to next week, when Honda plans to unveil the all-new third generation Insight. This time they decided to make their car look like one of their own, giving it styling reminiscent of their vaunted Accord. But unlike the Accord, this 5-door sedan comes with an absolutely minuscule 1.5-L 4-banger that Honda says doesn’t even connect to the wheels.
Honda has informed CNET that the engine will function as a generator nearly all of the time. They had to say “nearly” because sometimes the engine will be off, at which point it’s functioning as a paperweight. But this ingenious system will push what appears to be a fairly substantial car at a rate of 50 miles to the gallon, which is quite good for a family sedan.
Other than that number, Honda has released very few to go along with their fancy new hybrid. We do know that the interior will come with all the usual bells and whistles like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and that there will be an arsenal of driver assist technology like auto-braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, and a new traffic sign recognition system.
But the only question that really matters for Honda is: will the Insight finally get one over on its arch-nemesis, the Prius?
We might have enough information to tell when Honda unveils the new Insight at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week. Until then, it’s hard to tell from pretty pictures alone.