That’s no Honda Insight hybrid car. Where are the Ford T-Bird wheel skirts? You’re thinking of the original petrol-electric Honda Insight from the late 1990s. This is Insight hybrid Mk2. It’s still a petrol-electric hybrid but instead of two seats, this one’s got room for five. It’s meant to be a mainstream green car, a hybrid that will appeal to people who’ve never had a green car before.
The best hybrid cars revealed
Looks like a Toyota Prius, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does seem to reinforce the notion that hybrid cars all have to look the same with a gently tapering rear and Kamm tail. But as Honda points out, it also shares its shape with the FCX Clarity fuel cell car and can trace its style cues to the original Honda CRX coupe of 1984.
So it’s a hybrid, but what sort of hybrid is it? Can I plug it into the mains?
You’re not alone in being confused. You can’t plug the Insight into the mains, although a plug-in version may follow. And nor does the electric motor fully decouple from the engine as it does in the Prius. The Insight can be moved using battery power alone but the engine still turns. It doesn’t fire though, a separate circular cam lobe coming into play as on the VTEC cars which opens the valves fractionally, allowing the engine to spin freely.
But does it deliver the goods?
If you mean fuel consumption, the Insight achieves 64mpg (but only 61mpg in heavier ES trim) on the combined cycle and emits 101g/km of CO2.
While admirably clean, critics argue that’s barely better than a modern turbodiesel can manage. True, but Honda claims that the Insight excels not on the EU test route, but on the road – a bold claim given our real-world experience with the Prius has highlighted the poor real world economy of hybrids.
The new Honda Insight 2009 also emits very few other nasty particles such as NOx that diesels spew out in vast quantities. Then factor in the extra cost of a litre of diesel and the Insight’s advantage becomes clearer…
>> Click ‘Next’ to read more of CAR’s review of the new Honda Insight (2009)
So what's it like to drive?
Surprisingly normal, which is exactly what Honda was trying to achieve. It’s certainly more fun to drive than the Prius (although a new Prius will be on sale soon) thanks to tighter body control and better, more feelsome steering.
The Insight’s ride quality is mostly good and the transition between engine-on and engine-off modes is impressively refined. But up the pace and the experience becomes less agreeable. The 1.3-litre engine delivers 88bhp and the electric motor another 14bhp enabling the Insight to reach 62mph in 11.5sec, but the mandatory CVT gearbox forces the engine to wail away painfully when overtaking or climbing steep hills.
The steering is a little slow, requiring more arm work than the Ford Focus Honda claims is a key rival. The Ford is simply more fun for the enthusiast driver, but the Honda entertains in different ways.
Well, driving slowly has never been such fun as it is in the Insight. Your challenge is to keep the light behind the speedo display a nice healthy green – which you do by using little throttle and driving smoothly. If it’s blue-green the polar ice caps are receding and if it’s plain blue, we’re all doomed.
Another display gives you a rating in plants (of the garden sort). Five plants means you’re driving as economically as possible. It’s all a bit cheesy and I started as a sceptic, but found it so addictive that I just didn’t care. I actually found myself sitting patiently behind a truck at 40mph because I knew that any move to overtake would have pruned my shrubbery right back.
>> Click ‘Next’ to read CAR’s verdict on the new Honda Insight hybrid car
Does the new Honda Insight cut it as a family car?
The biggest problem is interior room. The boot is actually bigger than a Focus’s but the sloping roofline means rear passenger room is tight. You actually have to duck your head down slightly to see clearly out of the rear window. Front space is better and the dash design fresh and fun although the hard cabin plastics are miles behind a Golf’s in terms of quality.
So how much is it?
Honda hasn’t confirmed prices but says it will be the cheapest hybrid on sale. Our sources suggest a base price of around £15k for the SE (air-con, 15in alloys) and maybe £16,500 for the cruise control, heated seats and bigger rims that come with the ES trim. That would make it substantially cheaper than the larger Prius, which aligns itself more closely with the Civic hybrid.
Technically, the new Honda Insight is no marvel. At its core is an evolution of the drivetrain fitted in the original Insight 10 years ago. It’s well equipped but cramped, and not as much fun to drive or as well built as a Golf. And until the prices are announced we can’t be clear about it as a value proposition.
But the latest Insight does feel more mainstream than the curio Prius, it will be affordable and it will help get green virgins into an eco car and make them think about how much their driving style could be modified to lessen the negative impact of their driving on the planet. And that is why the Insight is one of this year’s most crucial cars.