Honda Insight

15 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Honda Insight
Honda Insight

Honda Insight

Honda’s Insight aims to attract regular small-car buyers by minimising hybrid pricing and packaging compromises

Honda Insight VTi

Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $29,990

Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Nil

Crash rating . Five-star ANCAP

Fuel . 91 RON ULP

Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 4.6

CO2 emissions (g/km): 109

Overall rating: 3.0/5.0

Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 2.5/5.0

Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.0/5.0

Safety: 4.0/5.0

Behind the wheel: 2.5/5.0

X-factor: 3.0/5.0

About our ratings

While the car industry trips over itself in the rush to get hybrid vehicles up and running, only two car-makers – Honda and Toyota – have racked up enough customer history to boast extended real-world experience with this so-called green technology.

Honda was first in Australia (but only just) with its almost totally impractical, expensive and now all-but forgotten Insight two-passenger coupe in March 2001, but Toyota did the job properly when it launched its Prius sedan in October the same year.

Buyers showed a mix of intrigue and caution with the user-friendly Toyota hybrid. The petrol-electric car was undoubtedly very clever in its engineering and seamless driving behaviour, while also impressive in its efficient use of fuel, but the complexity of the drivetrain and the unknown long-term viability of the large, expensive-to-replace battery pack raised plenty of questions.

That was then. Today, with its new-generation Prius up and running, Toyota tells us it has been getting remarkable life out of its hybrid battery systems and reassuringly says only a very small number of battery replacements have occurred since 2001.

In the meantime, Honda has followed that original Insight exercise with two generations of hybrid Civic sedans: the first in 2004 and the second in 2006.

More affordable yet lacking the technically captivating nature of the Prius, the Civic hybrid nevertheless was equally as non-confronting to live with. The hybrid drivetrain was less complex and inevitably less fuel-efficient than the Toyota, even though the quoted average economy was – and remains – good enough to attract buyers.

Then, late in 2010, Honda added a sub-Civic hybrid to its range by resurrecting the Insight (in name only) to add further weight to its drive to make the technology more affordable to a wider range of customers.

With an opening manufacturer’s list price of $29,990 for the base VTi model, and only $3,500 extra for the upmarket VTi-L (complete with SatNav, DVD player and bigger alloy wheels), the Jazz-based five-door hatch scraped in ahead of the Toyota Camry hybrid (more of that later) as the most accessible petrol-electric car on the Australian market.

A mixture of Jazz structure and Civic hybrid mechanical concepts, the Insight is a touch bigger than its donor car in wheelbase and overall length, meaning it’s a hybrid with proper, no-compromise hatchback load-through versatility and a quite reasonable 406-litre luggage area behind the rear seat.

The significant body length increase over the Jazz (15cm) enhances the Insight’s road presence, almost to the point that it looks more like a regular small car. It isn’t, of course, but Honda stylists have done a good job making the Insight look bigger than it actually is.

The reality is that rear-seat space is about what you’d expect of a light-class hatch – it’s adequate, not generous – although passengers will find there’s little to complain about up front.

And the entirely useful hatchback configuration, complete with flat floor and split-fold rear seats, shows the work Honda has put into ensuring the Insight comes with few compromises. The seven-module nickel metal hydride battery pack resides unobtrusively under the rear compartment where most wouldn’t even guess its presence.

Unlike the central location of the Jazz fuel tank, the Insight’s is under the rear seat where, according to Honda, it has improved aerodynamics by allowing a lower roofline and lower seating. At 40 litres, the tank is also two litres smaller.

The Insight’s cabin is laid out nicely, with a Civic-influenced dash locating the digital speedo above the other instruments (tacho, fuel gauge, digital readouts for the hybrid system and trip computer) and all buttons and switches sited in a way that generally avoids confusion.

The seats themselves leave little room for complaint even if the functions are basic – driver height-adjust, manual levers for rake and reach, centre rear-seat armrest – and there’s no power adjustment.

In all, though, the Insight VTi doesn’t have you feeling you’ve over-spent. The presentation, materials used, even the equipment levels, are comparable with other cars in the price bracket.

With six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, reversing sensors backed up by standard climate-control, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, trip computer and a six-speaker audio system, the base Insight is competitively equipped.

So far, so good. The Insight looks the part, and delivers well in terms of overall space utilisation and standard equipment levels.

The big question centres on how it performs on the road, in terms of driver ease, drivetrain response, handling and roadholding – and fuel efficiency.

For the answer, probably the best way of sizing up the Insight is to look at the Civic hybrid. The overall function, but for a number of operative differences, is essentially the same.

The Insight works exactly as the IDA (Integrated Drive Assist) acronym suggests. Unlike the Prius, which almost revels in its hybrid status, the Insight in many ways presents as a normal five-door hatch. Compared to the Toyota, in a technology sense, it’s a sort of half-brid.

Using regular items such as a tachometer and paddle shifters on the steering wheel, the Insight has you searching for the hybrid references. These do show up, in things like the system-monitoring readouts giving basic information on how the power is being dished out – petrol engine, or petrol engine/electric motor – but, generally, the driver is encouraged to treat the Insight like any other car.

Watch the engine revs, and override the CVT transmission, if you want, via the paddle shifters. There’s not quite the sense of having complex systems fastidiously controlling every drop of fuel to produce maximum efficiency.

For example, the Insight employs an engine stop/start function in heavy traffic, but it only activates if there’s enough charge in the battery to keep basic functions such as the power steering and climate-control operating. If that’s not the case, the Insight idles quietly away just like any other car.

And, unlike the Prius and Camry (and Lexus hybrids), the Insight never operates on battery power alone. Thus, it lacks the uncanny silent reversing and the purely-electric slow-speed cruising in traffic regularly experienced in the Toyotas.

This all comes back to the basic Insight concept: it’s a parallel hybrid in which the low-power (10kW/78Nm) electric motor is only there to assist the petrol engine, not to step in and take over if it has sufficient charge to do so.

Honda Insight

It’s kind of like a turbocharger that adds extra punch when required, with the big difference being that it’s entirely independent of engine rpm and is there to help from idle upwards.

The main similarity with the Toyotas is the way the engine starts; fired up not by a conventional whirring starter motor, but by the electric motor itself.

Other things come into the range of Insight experiences too. On a hot day, with the climate-control running and the engine-stop activated, the atmosphere inside can start to feel a bit close as the fan slows markedly and the heat begins to rise. Only after the cabin temperature has risen by four degrees for more than 90 seconds will the engine re-start and enable the compressor to kick in again. (The Honda Civic hybrid’s aircon by comparison is able to operate, via an extra electric motor, when the engine is stopped).

Under way, the Insight becomes a bit more Prius-like as the petrol engine and electric motor work together and the CVT transmission apportions out the power delivery. The hybrid functions – battery motor assist, stop-start – are unobtrusive for the most part and the start-up lacks the usual chattering whirr of a starter motor.

In no way, though, is the Insight a performance car. With the Euro 4 rated 1.3-litre engine doing most of the work, there’s the normal CVT rising and falling of engine rpm as the Honda accelerates, ascends and descends.

Contributing more in terms of torque than power, the electric motor lifts total power output to 72kW, which is close to the virtually identical 1.3-litre Jazz engine (73kW), while boosting torque to 167Nm, compared to 127Nm in the Jazz.

At 1205kg for the base VTi model, the Insight is barely any heavier than the Jazz (1110kg in base-trim auto form), which is quite surprising given the extra weight of the electric motor and its attendant battery pack. So the performance isn’t too tardy. Honda doesn’t throw around claimed acceleration figures for the Insight though, which is barely a surprise.

The cruise control is not very effective – it finds it virtually impossible to maintain speed up or down hills. On test, we found the best way of approximating the pre-set cruise speed was to select the S mode on the console-mounted shifter, enabling the resultant higher revs to give a bit more verve on climbs and a bit more retardation on descents.

As for handling, ride and roadholding, the Insight manages to hold its own.

Ride quality is no issue. The Insight handles the bumps and undulations as effectively as any similar-size car, while the electric power steering goes from lock to lock in a little more than three turns and is devoid of neither feel nor weight. It’s suited more to easy parking on crowded streets than slamming through a tight series of undulating curves on a tight outback road, however.

The Insight also comes with devices aimed at allowing owners to judge how efficiently they are driving.

Eco Assist swings in to action via a button on the right of the dash that activates more frugal parameters controlling the throttle, CVT transmission, engine-stop duration, climate control and (helping explain the inadequacies) cruise control.

The driver is also faced with a variable-colour background to the speedo showing how efficiently the car is being managed. The driver’s behaviour is logged into the system and displayed via a tree icon on the dash that grows more leaves the more economically the car is driven.

The bottom line for our road test was an average 5.3L/100km over a week or so of driving – not the combined 4.6L/100km showing in the official figures but enough to give the 40-litre tank a range comfortably in excess of 700km.

Figuring whether a Honda Insight could fit your automotive plans is less of a challenge than deciding on a Prius.

At 30 grand before on-road costs, the VTi Insight minimises the expected hybrid impost to the extent that it’s close to comparable with a conventional small car.

And it’s just as easy to live with as a conventional small car, with the added bonus of excellent – if not brilliant – fuel economy and low exhaust emissions (109g/km compared with 157g/km for the Jazz).

It might not meet the official figures achieved by the Prius (3.9L/100km and 89g/km) but it would hardly be fair expecting it to, given the massively lower purchase price.

Always lurking in the background of course is the Australian-built Toyota Camry hybrid which, by all measures, has the value for money aspect all-but sewn up. With a pre-onroads price in base form barely any more than the Insight, it looks a pretty good deal if it’s a hybrid you’re after.

Not as economical (6.0L/100km), nor as clean (142g/km) as the Insight, the Camry Hybrid is nevertheless worth a good look, although the unquestioned benefits in passenger space are hugely compromised by the pitifully small and awkward boot dictated by the fact it wasn’t designed as a hybrid in the first place.

In terms of focused, carefully thought out hybrid design, the Insight wins against Camry hands-down, and is massively cheaper than any Prius.

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Published. Monday, 31 January 2011

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