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Honda Insight 1.3 ES-T Hybrid review




Burning fossil fuels to get from A to B isn't a sustainable long term transport strategy. Everybody knows that. Without getting bogged down in the debate about renewable power sources, the grid, nuclear fusion and all that jazz, the eventual solution looks very much like electric vehicles. Clearly, however, the journey from today's petrol and diesel cars to that pure electric future isn't going to happen overnight. It'll take decades.

In the meantime, hybrid powertrains have appeared as a sort of stepping stone technology. Everywhere you look, car manufacturers are releasing new hybrid models. Even performance car manufacturers like Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini are getting in on the game. Indeed, Lexus has recently announced it will sell only hybrid versions of its GS, LS and RX models in the UK. Like 'em or loathe 'em, hybrids are set to become utterly commonplace.

That said, there's something undeniably faddish about the current vogue for hybrid cars. Certainly their explosive popularity seems completely out of proportion with the typically modest gains in fuel efficiency on offer. A conventional diesel car is often every bit as good in terms of fuel consumption. Nevertheless, not only are hybrids rapidly becoming more efficient as manufacturers get to grips with a novel technology, they're also getting cheaper.

Honda, of course, has always been something of a powertrain specialist. Thanks to the world beating capabilities of its engines and the relative mediocrity of the cars they go into, some reckon Honda is an engine manufacturer first and a car manufacturer second.

Given that proud history of powertrain excellence, it's no surprise that Honda has been one of the early movers in hybrid tech. In fact, the Insight moniker has been attached to production hybrids from Honda as far back as 1999. But where the early Insight was an odd looking compact coupe of limited practicality and appeal, this latest Insight is a much more family friendly five-door hatch straight out of the Toyota Prius mould.

Actually, it's not just similar proportions and a sweeping, aero-influenced profile that the new Insight shares with Toyota's genre-defining hybrid. It also suffers from the same fundamental flaw. The combustion element of its part-electric powertrain is fueled by petrol rather than diesel. The explanation, of course, involves the fact that both the Prius and the Insight are really targeted at the US market. And for various reasons, Americans don't really do diesel.

However, there is one area where the Insight diverges significantly from the Prius and that's price. With a starting price in the UK of just £15,990, the Insight undercuts its key Japanese rival by over £2,000. OK, the Prius packs a significantly larger 1.8-litre engine to the Insight's anemic sounding 1.3-litre lump. But when you look at the actual power outputs, there's not much in it. 98bhp plays 87bhp. Anyway, let's be honest, neither car is a B-road rocket.

With all that in mind, our task is to discover whether the Insight's in-car clobber is as forward looking as its spacey styling and fancy hybrid drivetrain. If Honda has managed to pull that off at the Insight's modest price point, well, it surely has a winning package on its hands.

Tim Sutton

September 10, 2009, 5:32 am

Style and hype over substance, desired by people who think owning one shows them to be cool and modern.

Hybrid technology = Apple.


September 10, 2009, 10:30 am

The first car manufacturer to make a decent looking hybrid at a sensible price will clean up. This thing looks like an accident between an MPV and Halfords shop window. Same goes for the Prius, and as for the latest Lexus RX450h... pass me a bucket!

Hamish Campbell

September 10, 2009, 12:38 pm

I wish Hybrid tech does = apple.

Apple turned the mp3 market and then the smartphone market on its head and they are now probably the most talked about and exciting areas of consumer tech. If hybrid goes the same way and the consumer experience hits those levels of enjoyment then maybe we'll get some traction in moving away from fossil fuels.


September 10, 2009, 2:48 pm

I'm with needlegun on this one, why do they insist on making them ugly as possible. why not jam in all the kit into a regular civic and im sure it would sell alot more.


September 10, 2009, 3:42 pm

Yes, I think he means Hybrid technology = Apple MacBook Air... :)

J 2

September 10, 2009, 3:59 pm

Well, the reason for the awkward profile is aerodynamic efficiency. Whether the same level of aero slipperiness can be achieved with a more conventional profile, I don't know. But there is a good reason for the way the Insight looks. As it goes, I reckon Toyota has done a decent job making the new Prius look a lot more athletic and dynamic while retaining the slopping roofline.


September 10, 2009, 5:03 pm

@phat-ant: They do. It's possible to buy a Civic hybrid from your friendly Honda dealer, albeit one based on the US and Japanese market Civic saloon. The drivetrain is also a bit simplistic compared with the system employed by Toyota.


September 11, 2009, 10:55 am

This is not good enough!

Comparing it with other cars the Insight is still worse from an emissions point of view than some other non-hybrids (101g/km if I have the correct figures). Basically, it uses the wrong type of engine. The way to build a proper hybrid is to make an electric vehicle and supplement the battery with a small diesel-generator tuned to give max efficiency while charging.

PS: I've built pure electric EVs and got the equivalent of 40g/km when charged from mains electricity (using DEFRA CO2 electricity figures).


January 28, 2010, 6:51 pm

I don't understand why automakers insist in sky-pricing indispensable extras such as bluetooth and in-car navigation. They could attract a larger customer base by offering a well equipped car that responds to *today's* user's needs. When I find out that you have to pay 2,000 GBP (or 2,500 EUR) for essentials I just look elsewhere!

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