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.