Let’s face it, Toyota’s Prius hybrid has had it too easy for too long. Now Honda has delivered a real rival for the Prius in the form of its good-looking all-new Insight.
So the line-ups are clear: in one corner we have the sedans - Toyota Camry Hybrid and Honda Civic Hybrid - and in the other we now have two hybrid hatchbacks - Prius and Insight.
In fact, despite the recent success of the Toyota Prius, Honda can claim ‘First Hybrid’ status as the original Insight was launched here back in 2001. Honda says that historic Insight returned fuel consumption figures which still have not been matched, but – with a retail price of $55,000 - only 55 were sold.
Commanding a game-changing $10,000 sticker advantage over the Prius, the all-new Honda Insight will sure cause some heartburn down at Toyota-Land. Frankly, with that price advantage, Government departments or corporations currently buying Prius’ who don’t consider the Honda Insight are being ‘fiscally irresponsible’ (to use political jargon).
And for those fleet buyers thinking about operating costs, consider this: Honda Insight’s Yuasa battery pack has a life of 15 years and is backed by an eight-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Honda says its replacement battery pack is priced at $1,875 – around half the price of its rival.
Honda Insight Overview
Honda Insight is a nicely styled five-door hatchback available in Honda’s usual two model grades – VTi ($29,990) and VTi-L ($33,490). Typically Honda, the Japanese-built Insight is wonderfully engineered and beautifully screwed together.
Honda Insight is 4375mm in overall length and 1435mm in height – almost identical to the Toyota Prius. Honda says interior headroom is also identical to the Prius.
Honda Insight Engine
Like Civic Hybrid sedan, the Honda Insight is a ‘Parallel Hybrid’, which means the 1.3-litre petrol engine is the primary source of power. Honda’s compact IMA electric motor is mounted between the petrol engine and CVT transmission.
The petrol engine in the Honda Insight delivers 65kW and the electric motor is good for 10kW (total 72kW). Turning to torque, the petrol engine delivers 121Nm and the electric motor 78Nm (total 167Nm).
Drive is via the CVT automatic with steering wheel paddle shifters for manual cog-swaps.
Honda has given the 1.3-litre i-VTEC engine a fettle for a two per-cent efficiency gain over the version fitted to the Civic Hybrid.
And while the battery pack and IPU for the Civic Hybrid are mounted under the rear parcel shelf, a newly developed unit (19 per-cent smaller and 28 per-cent lighter) is mounted low under the cargo floor in the Honda Insight – lower centre of gravity and better interior packaging.
Honda Insight The Interior
The Honda Insight continues Honda’s current ‘two-tier’ instrument panel philosophy except there are obvious changes for hybrid power information (including nice ‘3D graphics which change colour according to your current fuel consumption – green is best).
With manual height adjustment for the front seats and rake/reach adjustment for the usual Honda three-spoke steering wheel, the driving position is quite good (we’d appreciate some extra lumbar support for the drivers’ seat).
Audio is a six-speaker CD system with USB, iPod and MP3 compatibility. Bluetooth is standard with unique phone switchgear in the drivers’ side A-pillar.
While the Insight and the Jazz have a common platform, the Insight’s 40-litre fuel tank is mounted under the rear seat.
For luggage versatility the Honda Insight provides a 60:40 split-fold rear seat and a capacity of 408-litres (rear seat in place) or 584-litres (everything folded).
Honda Insight VTi-L model gains satellite navigation, a leather steering wheel and optional reversing camera amongst its extras.
Honda Insight Exterior & Styling
‘Aero Athlete’ was the design theme for the Honda Insight and certainly it presents a more commanding on-road presence than Toyota’s comparatively conservative Prius. Yes, Honda’s FCX Clarity is obvious in the look of the Insight – especially in profile and around the front-end which features four projector-type headlights with stylish fog lights underneath.
Rear LEDs were selected for their power efficiency and broad light spread.
Honda Insight VTi rides on 15-inch alloy wheels while VTi-L gains 16-inch alloys. Both run low rolling resistance tyres.
Honda Insight On The Road
During a day driving the Honda Insight on the roads around the Gold Coast, just about every imaginable circumstance was tossed-up – torrential rain, bright sunshine, freeways, rural roads, washaways, mudslides…but nothing stopped our Insight.
As a parallel hybrid, on rural roads and freeways the petrol engine in the Honda Insight provides propulsion and – in deceleration – charges the battery. However we completed sufficient low-speed stuff to confirm the electric motor provides instant response, with its 78Nm silently accelerating the Honda Insight to speed.
We reckon on the open road, the overall chassis balance and high grip levels of the Honda Insight certainly matched the Prius. Equally impressive was the refinement of the Honda Insight powerplant, which, while no Civic Type R in performance, did share the racy Civic’s keenness to rev hard (in this case to 5,800rpm).
Like other hybrids, the Honda Insight provides lots of information via the trip computer and encourages/challenges the driver to respond with a driving style to maximise fuel-efficiency.
Pushing the ECON button in-flight delivered perceptible differences in response and even air-conditioning operation. Even so, driveability was still top-shelf and we found ourselves looking for ways to deliver a ‘Personal Best’ fuel consumption figure…kinda the whole point of hybrids really.
For those doubters out there, real-world testing by Honda has seen differences in fuel consumption - resulting purely from different driving styles - of up to 21 per cent.
Honda Insight Challenges
The only blemish encountered during our day in the Honda Insight was somewhat intrusive levels of tyre noise when we ventured onto anything other than freeways.
Honda Insight Verdict
As you would expect from a company with Honda’s engineering talent-base and extensive experience in hybrid technology, the Honda Insight has everything covered for hybrid buyers.
The Honda Insight delivers smart, planet-friendly motoring, good looks, nice driving dynamics, a practical, spacious interior and sharp pricing. All those private buyers, Government departments (spending taxpayer dollars) and corporate fleets who have/are considering buying Toyota Prius definitely should have the less-expensive Honda Insight on their shopping lists.
Honda Insight The Competition
No doubt about it, it’s the Toyota Prius. Comparing the two different hybrid drivetrains is too naval-gazing – they’re both smart hybrids - but clearly the Honda Insight is newer and enters the market with a considerable price advantage over the Prius.
In terms of driving dynamics, it’s a coin-toss.
We did hear an opinion that the Honda Insight looks more purposeful and substantial on-road when parked next to the softer Prius.
The over-ride to all this is: so far we’ve only driven the Honda Insight in entry-level VTi specification.
Honda Insight Likes:
Handy pricing; handsome styling; competent on-road
Honda Insight Dislikes:
Tyre noise on less than perfect roads