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Honda’s Prius rival is cheaper and better to drive. It falls short of revolutionary, though
11 January 2009

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.


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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.

Should I buy one?

Yes, if you like to advertise your green credentials, or if you’ve been waiting for a cheaper hybrid. But if all you really care about is using less fuel, you could always buy a Jazz and send some of the money you save to Greenpeace.

Joe DeMatio

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11 January 2009

From what I read it's you pays your moola and takes your hybrid. Does not seem to move the game forward from Prius but hopefully much cheaper? And it does not have the extraordinary space of the Toyota.

11 January 2009

The Prius does have lots of room inside, that's it's main plus point in my opinion, apart from the eco credentials. But I actually think the Insight looks fairly spacious, too. Boot looks a similar size to that of the hatchback Civic, and there's a relatively flat floor for the middle rear passenger. Overall, I think Honda have done a good job here. Could've been more adventurous with the design though. Would've loved old-Insight-style rear wheel arch that covered nearly all of the wheel. The old model always reminded me of a Citroen from the rear. But with this one, they've still done a good job.

11 January 2009

I like how honda has thought about make a decent family car.

I like the way that it looks a bit like an old Civic.

Great family car with great potential.


11 January 2009

I suppose that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this is just a scaled down version of the current Prius surely. At least the new Prius will bring back a bit of a differences in looks. I'm surprised that Autocar say the back seats will only accomodate two passengers for short city journeys, that can't be what Honda intended I'm sure, as it must limit it's appeal. Seems that the verdict has to be "good effort, must try harder next time".


11 January 2009

At this rate the next version will be as economical as a BMW 318d. I hired a 1.6 Diesel C4 a few years ago in mixed driving I got 54mpg ok with a bit of soot and NO2 in the atmosphere. However much I tell my green mates this they just don't believe me, its because a hybrid can run silently people think it must be more economical. btw it's no driver car but the 1999 Insight was the coolest car Honda has produced more so than an NSX.

12 January 2009

In any comparisons made with other cars please remember to compare like for like so automatic versions not manual.

Compare the Insight to the correct car. The 318d auto is more thirsty fuel wise.

I have a 118d auto model new version great car but in real world driving i get about 40-41 mpg. I would expect the manual version to get about 49-50 mpg.

12 January 2009

I used to get 50mpg from my Honda Accord 2.2 litre diesel............. The Insight needs an engine over 1.4 litres to appeal to company drivers because you get a higher mileage rate.

13 January 2009

[quote blowerbentley]The Insight needs an engine over 1.4 litres to appeal to company drivers because you get a higher mileage rate.[/quote]

Well said, I currently get 50 + from my 2.2 D4D Avensis; and with the higher milage rate I actually get back enough money to cover my tax as well. In other words a well chosen diesel can cost a company car driver nothing to run.

Maybe Honda could attach the IMA unit to their fantastic 2.2 diesel?

13 January 2009

The new Prius has arrived and has just stuck it to this DullMobile. Oops. Back to the drawing board for Honda.

14 January 2009

I think the best selling point for the Insight is probably its price - hybrids have been quite pricey up to now but this is more in line with conventionally powered and similarly sized vehicles. It still remains for an IMA Jazz diesel to create a proper headline economy figure. How about 100mpg? The milestone would surely generate plenty of publicity and it must be achievable given a light enough vehicle and advanced enough powertrain.


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