What is it?
This is the new Honda Insight. The Insight is Honda’s second stab at a bespoke hybrid model, rather than a hybrid powertrain dropped into an existing model like the Civic.
Unlike the first-generation Honda Insight, the funky and frugal but largely useless coupe that appeared back in 1999, the new Insight is supposed to appeal to economy-conscious mainstream buyers and not just ardent tree-huggers.
This time, the Honda Insight unabashedly takes on the Toyota Prius, copying its five-door hatchback packaging, snub nose, sharply raked windscreen, curved roof line and truncated rear end.
Just like the original Honda Insight and every Honda hybrid since, the new Insight is powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. This consists of a small petrol engine, an electric motor, a compact battery pack and a regenerative braking system.
That’s not to say that the IMA was lifted directly from the Civic and plopped under the Insight’s low-rise bonnet. Although it’s fundamentally the same system, the Insight’s IMA weighs only 38kg, some 28 per cent less than the Civic’s version.
Honda claims that the Insight IMA is 30 per cent more efficient, which allows for fewer batteries (84 D-cells rather than 132, to be exact), and that it has 30 per cent greater durability. A CVT is the only gearbox on offer, incidentally, although the top-spec EX trim does get shift paddles.
The 1.3-litre VTEC four-cylinder is mated to a continuously variable transmission and produces 87bhp at 5800rpm and 91lb ft at 4600rpm. The electric motor adds 13bhp (or 10kW) at 1500rpm and 58lb ft of torque at 1000rpm.
Under the boot floor lies what Honda calls the Intelligent Power Unit. This consists of the battery pack, the power control unit, the electric motor, and a cooling system.
What’s it like?
At heart, the Honda Insight is similar to any other small Honda. The ergonomics are first rate, and the optional navigation screen interface is top-notch. Interior materials are not exactly sumptuous, but they’re inoffensive. The front seats are comfortable, and the rears have just enough room for two adults to sit happily for short city runs.
Unlike the Toyota Prius, which moves away from a stop with eerie quietness on solely electric power, the Honda Insight draws on its internal combustion engine from the beginning, so it sounds and feels quite conventional.
The electric power steering feels a bit dead around the straight-ahead, but it tightens up nicely with a bit of lock. Body control and ride quality are impressive, and the brake pedal has a nice linear quality.
Honda expects that the US EPA will rate the Insight at 40/43mpg city/highway (48mpg and 52mpg in UK money). Simply select the economy mode, which diminishes the air-con, optimises the throttle and the CVT, and engages the idle-stop feature sooner; then be gentle with your right foot. Over a 52-mile stretch of mostly two-lane roads, we achieved 56.5mpg.