MOTORS REVIEW: Honda Insight

Honda InsightHonda Insight
Honda Insight
SO this is what the future feels like? Motorists flashing their lights in my rear view mirror, making insulting gestures and generally exposing me to the kind of vitriol usually reserved for someone whose mistakenly taken their mobility scooter up the M1.

Engine: 1.3-litre i-VTEC, four-cylinder petrol with IMA

Power: 97bhp and 123lb.ft. (total)

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 12.5 seconds and 113mph

Fuel economy: 64.2mpg (combined

CO2 emissions: 101g/km 

Price: from £15,490

Rating: ***

No. This isn't the future. This is me doing my upmost to emerge victorious (and in one-piece) from a miles-per-gallon (mpg) challenge held at the launch of the Honda Insight.

The car, however, is what Honda hopes will prove to be the future...the start of things to come. They hope the Insight will finally get the motoring masses to embrace hybrid powered motoring.

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Gritting my teeth as I cruise at a steady 30mph down an open country road any warm embrace seems a world away...I'm more likely to get a punch in the teeth.

Honda have brought the only two Insights currently in the UK to Yorkshire for yours truly to get to grips with.

No price has been set but when sales start at the end of March the Insight will be the cheapest hybrid available—undercutting the £17,870 Toyota Prius at around £15,000.

The Insight's design eludes heavily to Honda's FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell-powered car which is now available for emission free motoring in the United States.

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The technology packed into the streamlined family hatchback is a progression of the that previously encountered in the Civic Hybrid along with a few new twists.

Among them is Eco-Assist. Activated by a lozenge-shaped green button it 'coaches' you in the art of frugal driving.

Eco-Assist reduces the rate at which the air conditioning works, smoothes accelerator inputs via the Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) and illustrates how frugal your driving is via display which glows green when you are driving economically and blue if you aren't.

Steve Kirk from Honda UK said: "You could deliver the most frugal hybrid in the world onto the market but unless you educate people how best to drive to achieve the best economy it would be pointless.

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"We wanted to give people a helping hand so we have fitted a few devices to help them get close to, or match, our claimed fuel consumption figures."

Be on your best behaviour and the Insight's headline figures are 64.2mpg (combined cycle) and CO2 emissions of 101g/km, meaning £35 annual road tax.

How did I get on? My steady progress ensured that I completed Honda's test route with an average of 62.9mpg.

Given that diesel currently costs around ten per cent more than petrol the potential savings are obvious.

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Whether Insight drivers will be willing to expose themselves to such abuse in order to achieve a top mpg is debatable...but there are incentives.

In typical Japanese style, a game reminiscent of the early noughties Tamagochi-craze (you remember the hand held computerised pets) you can nurture your own dash-mounted garden through frugal driving.

It's simple. Drive economically and you will grow a series of digital plants on your dash display. Don't, and they wither and die.

Steve Kirk said: "They will continue to grow if you drive correctly and there are a number of different levels to the 'game.'

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"The system stores details about the overall life of the car and there are plans to offer incentives to the greenest Insight drivers."

Choose not to drive so carefully—and I imagine a few of us will choose to rebel against the system now and again—and the Insight can reach 62mph in 12.5 seconds with 113mph possible. This comes courtesy of 87bhp from a 1.3 litre petrol engine and a 14bhp boost from the Insight's electric motor.

For day-to-day use the Insight is spacious with a gaping 408 litre boot. Swathes of hard plastic feel a little uncompromising to the touch but comfortable seats, climate control and supple suspension, make the Insight as comfortable as any family hatchback.

Only the exterior's aerodynamic rear end is a major sticking point for the style-conscious consumer.

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Ultimately, the appeal of hybrid motoring still depends largely on the sensitivity of your environmental conscience but, with guidance from Honda's Eco-Assist system, the fuel and tax savings are now more easily attainable than ever before.

Combined with the Insight's affordable price tag it seems that the drawbacks of saving the environment from behind the wheel as becoming fewer...hostile fellow road users or not.