Insight 1.3 IMA SE Hybrid
new Honda Insight medium
family-sized five-door hatchback
has price and size on its side.
Not only is it cheaper than its main
rivals, but it also has a pricing
advantage over most conventional
a similar size...
AN AFFORDABLE FIVE-DOOR, FAMILY SIZED, PETROL-ELECTRIC HATCHBACK with Honda's
renowned product quality has to be a tempting proposition for hard-taxed company
car users, downsizers, companies wanting to promote their 'green'
credentials, for those private retail customers just wanting to be 'eco-friendly'
and for all drivers not wanting to pay the London Congestion Charge.
Priced from £15,490, the new Honda Insight 1.3 IMA Hybrid is around £2,400 cheaper
than its main contender, the Toyota Prius. The Insight also has a pricing advantage
over most conventional diesel-powered 'Eco' models of a similar size.
The Insight looks very similar to the current Prius but I guess if you are designing
a wind-cheating family hatchback, then computer design logic throws up the same
results. Built in Japan, the Insight is very much middle-of-the-road for styling
both inside and out. And it meets most of the requirements for most people whether
they are in Japan, the USA or Europe it does not inspire but then neither
does it offend.
The Insight range is offered with three trim and equipment levels starting with
the £15,490 SE, but it is the well equipped middle specification ES version
priced at £16,790 which should account for 60% of total sales. Top of the range
is the £18,390 ES-T model equipped with satellite navigation and hands-free
Standard equipment for the entry-level Insight SE includes alloy wheels, climate
control air conditioning, electric folding door mirrors, front and rear electric
windows, steering wheel controls and Vehicle Stability Assist. And being a roomy
five-door hatchback means maximum family and load carrying options with a boot
capacity of 408 litres or 584 with the rear seats folded.
With an overall length of 4.4-metres it easy to drive and park although parking
sensors would certainly be an advantage; there is a steeply-raked tailgate with
the upper and lower rear windows divided by a joining bar, which does limit
Honda's IMA hybrid system is now ten years old, having made its debut in the
original Insight back in 1999. IMA stands for Integrated Motor Assist, which
means that an electric motor sits alongside the petrol engine it supports and
in front of the CVT auto transmission.
The petrol engine is new, but is based heavily on the 1.3-litre unit from the
Civic Saloon Hybrid and the new Jazz. This modified i-VTEC unit has been further
enhanced by using a low-friction piston design combined with a new catalyst
to optimise economical performance.
However, the really clever part happens during deceleration when combustion
in all four cylinders is stopped and each pot is sealed shut. This means the
engine is not working as hard to pump fuel or air, so it's immediately more
technology used to shut the cylinders VCM (for Variable Cylinder Management)
is also used to shut all four cylinders when only little torque is required;
for instance, during low speed cruising. In this mode the Insight is powered
by the electric motor only, with the pistons running idle.
in a real-world
manner, the Insight
On its own, the engine produces 87bhp and 89lb ft of torque but the key to hybrid
systems is the support given by the electric motor that can help boost performance
as well as keeping emissions and fuel consumption to a minimum. In addition
to the new petrol engine, the Insight also gets a new, improved and more compact
electric motor which uses coils with high-density windings and high-performance
magnets to produce 14bhp and 58lb ft.
The recovery speed of the battery has also improved, meaning that with power
from regenerative braking it can charge more quickly and therefore deliver power
to the electric motor more regularly.
When combined, the electric motor and petrol engine produce lively enough performance
with good throttle response that's ideal for urban environments. Furthermore,
using a CVT transmission in a hybrid provides smooth and predictable gear transitions
and helps keep the IMA system operating at its peak efficiency. Proof of the
pudding: the Insight reaches 62mph from a standing start in 12.5 seconds, and
has a top speed of 113mph.
The instrument panel for the new Insight is crammed with informative dials,
lights and a pictogram showing five trees Yes, trees. Drive economically
and all five are shown; drive in a non eco-friendly manner and the branches
will drop off you have been warned!
To assist the driver, the background lighting for some of the instruments changes
from blue to green as the car performs in a more fuel-efficient manner, depending
on how the driver is behaving. Cleverly, the Insight teaches the driver how
to drive economically, although it is visually intrusive.
Best to press the ECON button: that assists with driving methods because it
dials-in a more fuel-friendly setting for the air conditioning; it also adjusts
the throttle response to a 'softer' setting and it will allow cruise control
to be more natural not keeping the car at the dialled-in speed going
up steep hills and letting it over-speed slightly going down hills. More like
a real driver, in fact.
All clever stuff but does it work? Well, driving very, very gently around
an urban route in Farnborough, my test 1.3 SE version returned 62.6mpg
not that far short of the quoted 64.2mpg. However, it was like pulling teeth:
painful. Driven in a more typical (real-world) manner, the Insight returned
54.7mpg. Good, but really no better than a modern 1.6-litre diesel and certainly
not as responsive to drive. However, during a subsequent week-long road test
the average fuel economy was just 45.3mpg.
While some buyers will find comfort in owning a hybrid and sending out the right
message of 'eco-friendly' motoring, I am yet to be convinced that hybrids are
really much better than the latest sub-2.0-litre fuel-efficient petrol and diesel
engines especially when you consider the carbon footprint of just developing
such hybrid technologies and the usage of some pretty nasty (to the environment)
components that are needed to make batteries work.
That said, the Honda Insight doesn't cost the earth. And as well as being affordable,
it's also well equipped, roomy, has non-quirky styling, low emissions, low road
tax and avoids the Congestion Charge.
To enjoy these benefits, owners will have to accept the Insight's conventional
Japanese domestic market family car handling that's to say comfortable
on motorways but a bit sloppy and lazy on other roads and a fidgety ride:
the suspension does not happily cope with the potholed and rippled roads found
across the UK. Also not so good are some cheap plastics; and the petrol engine
sounds stressed when pushed. But most disappointing of all, the real-life fuel
economy is substantially less than the official figures would suggest. Whoever
said that there's no such thing as a free lunch was wiser than they knew.
Honda Insight 1.3 IMA SE Hybrid | £15,490
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-62mph: 12.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 45.3mpg
Power: 87/14bhp | Torque: 89/58lb ft | CO2 101g/km | Insurance group