To be frank, up until this point, we've really become familiar with Toyota's and Lexus's hybrid cars. It's because they really were the first ones to truly bring hybrid vehicles to the country with the Prius, the Prius c, and the Lexus h models such as the RX450h, CT200h, GS450h and LS600h.
Honda, on the other hand, is waiting in the wings with two hybrids of their own. The first one, the CR-Z (we drove it earlier) was already announced by HCPI as open for orders, with the first units arriving in August. The other one is this, the second generation Honda Insight.
Honda Cars Philippines has yet to make an official declaration on whether it will go on sale, but let me tell you why we think they should do so, and soon.
For starters, by my eye at least, the Insight looks quite good. The Insight sports a high-tech front end, with LEDs and blue-tinted headlamps. There have been criticisms that the Insight bears too much of a resemblance to the Prius, but I would characterize it as aggressive and sportier interpretation of the 5-door hybrid liftback/hatchback concept. Honestly, I'm glad Honda didn't carry over the shrouded rear wheelwell like the previous generation... or the futuristic cars in Back To The Future Part II.
Inside the Insight, it felt like a very familiar place to be in. Honda used the general design, look and parts they also used in the Civic (FD), the current Jazz, and other models in the Honda line. Even the steering wheel is virtually the same as the one in the Civic, Jazz and City. The front seats also feel familiar, complete with the lumbar support made only for the 95 percentile man (as Inside Man refers to it). All in all, perhaps more could have been done to differentiate the Insight's dashboard from the rest of the line up in the same way that the Prius does from the rest of the Toyota line.
I twist the key (this one doesn't have a push-start button) and... well, the engine kicks to life. It actually felt strange at first as (again being so used to the Prius) the Toyota only indicated a hybrid “READY” mode at start up, and doesn't actually start the engine and opts to use battery power with the push of the start button. The Insight is very different.
The Honda Insight uses what Honda calls Integrated Motor Assist. The hybrid drive system in the Insight is quite different from the CR-Z that we tested earlier. At the heart of the Insight is comprised of a 1.3 liter SOHC i-VTEC engine that has been optimized for low friction and high efficiency, a continuously variable transmission, and an integrated electric motor that is hooked up directly to the crankshaft. We'll discuss that in a bit.
What's unusual about the engine is that while the 1.3 liter 4-pot engine has i-DSI and i-VTEC, it only has 8 valves (2 valves per cylinder). The Insight's engine does produce a rather healthy 99 PS at 5800 rpm and 167 Newton meters at 1000-1700 rpm. The integral electric motor contributes another 13 PS and 79 Newton meters.
On the highway, 19.2 kilometers per liter is the norm at around 80-100 km/h. Around the city, the Insight achieves a respectable 14.3 kilometers to the liter in light to moderate traffic. At night with no traffic, I was able to get 17.4 kilometers to the liter. It seems underwhelming, and part of it is because I had just hopped off of the Prius c, a hybrid that achieved 25.8 km/l at midnight in the metro. What gives?
The answer lies in the powertrain. Being mounted to the crankshaft, the Insight isn't able to operate on battery power alone, unlike Toyota/Lexus hybrids in which the engine and electric motor both feed to the transmission. The integral electric motor seeks only to relieve the strain on the gasoline engine and helps it accelerate better to be more efficient. However, that also means that when the car is running on the road, the engine is running too. Only when you stop at a set of lights or an intersection does the engine cut away, and thus the Insight is what we could call a light hybrid.
Where it does shine is in the drive itself. The Insight is actually a lot of fun, with very good manners on an open piece of tarmac, especially on winding roads. And that's a far cry from the Prius liftback's drive, as the Toyota has a 150 kilogram (more or less) weight penalty, making it markedly harsher on concrete roads commonly found in the provinces, and also has a tendency to hit the shocks' bump stops quite frequently.
Some may say it's unfair to keep comparing the Honda Insight to it's Toyota counterpart, but it is the rightful yardstick that hybrids are measured against, so that seems about right. All I can say is that in a city driving environment, the Prius would be the better choice hands down. Honda went the other way, and that's actually a good thing.
The Honda Insight is practical, stylish and not excessively “green” image-wise. On the highway or on an open country road, the Honda Insight is definitely a whole lot more enjoyable and a lot more pleasurable to ride in, and serves as the fun and versatile alternative to hybrid driving.
*Being that the Insight is not officially on sale, we haven't rated it in terms of value for money.