By Mark Phelan

Detroit Free Press

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 mpg.”

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 mpg 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 mpg 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.

Honda will build the Insight alongside the Civic and CR-V in Greensburg, Indiana.

Power will come from a 1.5L engine connected to two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery.

In most conditions, the Insight runs on electricity alone, with the gasoline engine powering a generator that in turn sends power to the front wheels. The gasoline engine connects to the Insight’s wheels only occasionally, when the car is running at a steady speed on the highway and the system locks up to send power directly from the engine to the front wheels for greater efficiency.

The interior features an 8-inch touchscreen in the middle of the center stack, above the shifter but below the dashboard vents. It manages navigation, audio and other systems. Traditional buttons and knobs handle climate control. The shifter is the same push-button control most Honda and Acura vehicles use.

The batteries are under the rear seats. Those seats are split 60/40 and fold to increase cargo space.

Available features will include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition.

The new Insight appears to be longer than the Prius, though the Toyota may have more passenger and cargo space, thanks to its hatchback layout.

This is the third time Honda has sold a car called the Insight. The second-generation 2009 Insight was a four-door compact hatchback that looked a bit like a Prius but didn’t approach the Toyota’s fuel economy. Its main claim to fame was being the least-expensive full hybrid, but it never caught on with buyers.