In the battle for Hybrid Hatchback buyers, Honda’s all-new Insight is off to a flying start with its $10,000 price advantage over the rival Toyota Prius. And Honda’s runner in this race has some form as the original Insight was the first Hybrid to market locally back in 2001.
Sure Toyota has since assumed the ‘Hybrid High Ground’ with aggressive marketing of both the Prius and Camry Hybrid. But don’t overlook Honda’s Insight and Civic Hybrid…after-all we’re talking about the same top-notch engineering as the scintillating Civic Type R.
Honda Insight Overview
After our intial drive of the Honda Insight at the launch on the Gold Coast, Car Showroom was keen to put the new Hybrid hatchback through our normal test procedures in Melbourne.
Honda handed-over an entry-level VTi model ($29,990). The up-scale VTi-L version, priced at $33,490, gains some handy extra kit including a reversing camera, satellite navigation and 16-inch alloy wheels, but our VTi version boasted Honda’s usual high-quality interior in its excellent value-for-money package.
Virtually identical to the Prius in dimensions, the Honda Insight looks a tad more racy with its sharply angled rear three quarter panels.
And interior space is impressive with a handy 408-litre luggage capacity.
Honda Insight Engine
We scored the Honda Insight down in this department only for fuel consumption. The Insight is rated at 4.6l/100kms compared to 3.9l/100kms for the Prius.
And with 73kW, the Prius is just one kW ahead of the Honda Insight with 72kW - although the Honda wins on torque with 167Nm to the Prius’ 142kW.
Honda Insight shares its 1.3-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with the Civic Hybrid, however the later version fitted to the Insight has been re-engineered and is actually two per cent more fuel-efficient. The petrol engine is good for 65kW/121Nm
Honda employs a different Hybrid system to Toyota where the petrol engine is the primary source of power (Honda calls it ‘Parallel Hybrid’), supported by the 10kW/78Nm electric motor.
Drive is to the front wheels via a CVT automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters for manual changes.
Combined cycle fuel consumption for the VTi model Honda Insight is rated at 4.9l/100kms.
Honda Insight The Interior
The Car Showroom team is keen on Honda’s current interior styling and there’s a lot of cues from Civic and Jazz inside the Honda Insight. That means the two-tier dashboard with a digital speedo on top – although the Insight features a coloured surround which switches colours according to the pressure of your right foot (its green when you’re driving frugally).
Secondary information is displayed on the lower panel, including a large gauge which tells you if you’re making charge for batteries - on deceleration mostly, although a light right foot delivers encouraging results as you try to maximize efficiency.
There’s rake/reach adjustment for the usual Honda three-spoke steering wheel and manual height adjustment for the drivers’ seat.
Honda Insight offers a six-speaker audio system, compatible for iPods, USB and MP3 plus Bluetooth (the latter with controls on the drivers’ A-pillar).
Rear seat legroom – like the Prius – isn’t huge, but the Car Showroom juniors were comfortable enough.
Out back, there’s 408-litres of cargo space and a split fold rear seat for load versatility. Honda Insight does have a high boot floor as some batteries are stored underneath.
Honda Insight Exterior & Styling
Honda Insight is based on the Jazz platform but its looks trace back to the FCX Clarity concept – especially the aerodynamic front-end.
Its appearance is noticeably more ‘butch’ on-road than the more curvaceous Prius. This is highlighted by the sharp rear three-quarter panels.
We liked the large hatchback glass on which the rear spoiler is mounted – like the Civic Type R and this gives the Honda Insight a high performance look from the rear.
Honda Insight On The Road
In a good way, hybrid motoring presents challenges. Like the Prius, the Honda Insight has a prominent gauge which tells you how economically you’re driving and unless you’re a Caveman the test every time you drive is to keep that gauge and the accompanying speedometer in the green.
And if you doubt the effectiveness of the green ‘ECON’ button, do as we did - switch in hot, humid, rainy weather and notice as the changed air-conditioning function immediately causes the windows to fog before settling down and clearing them again.
We deliberately spent most of our week in the ‘ECON’ setting and really the slightly subdued gearing coped admirably with both city and rural driving – but there’s no doubt turning it off does deliver more spirited acceleration. And that’s the point of Hybrid motoring really – you choose how fuel-efficient you want to be according to the circumstances.
Over our high speed mountain roads loop, the Honda Insight delivered a high quality performance with the CVT transmission keeping things moving while the McPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension provided good grip levels, nice turn-in and balance with little body roll. Sure its no Honda Civic Type R, but the Insight was certainly impressive.
Around town our only minor points deduction resulted from the thick C-pillar which restricted rear three-quarter visibility a little when changing lanes and reverse parking.
Honda Insight Challenges
We deducted points from the Honda Insight on two scores:
Firstly with the start/stop functionality which delivers a noticeable delay in restarting after you first hit the accelerator. Sure that’s only a minor quibble but it’s especially noticeable in stop/start traffic and –for example – when you’re undertaking a tight parking maneuver and try to edge forwards.
And – as we encountered during the launch drive on the Gold Coast - tyre noise is noticeable on secondary roads.
Honda Insight Verdict
The Honda Insight excels because the same company responsible for the racy Civic Type R has turned its might to Hybrid cars.
The week doing our usual test runs has not dulled Car Showroom’s enthusiasm for the Honda Insight generated at its launch on the Gold Coast. You get Honda’s hallmark engineering, quality, efficiency and driving dynamics in a very sharply priced and good-looking package.
And you get planet-friendly Hybrid motoring as well.
Honda Insight The Competition
The Honda Insight squares-off against just one rival – the Toyota Prius.
First-up – and it’s a biggie – the Honda Insight VTi as tested is priced at $29,990 against $39,990 for the Prius. For the up-spec Honda Insight VTi-L, you’re looking at $33,490 compared to $53,500 for the Prius i-Tech – the latter certainly loaded with extra goodies.
We rate the Prius marginally ahead for on-road refinement (it has lower NVH) but otherwise there’s little to separate these two outstanding examples of Japanese technology.