The Australian hybrid market is small and is dominated by the Toyota Prius. But competitors such as the Holden Volt, Renault Fluence ZE and the Honda Insight tested here are attempting to close this sales gap.
While Honda has sold over one million Insights globally in 13 years, the small hybrid hasn’t been popular in Australia. The Insight was originally priced at nearly $50k from 2001-2004 and after being dropped for six years was re-introduced in December 2010 at a sub-30k price with 113 sales that month and 715 in 2011.
This year Honda has upgraded the five door hatch’s styling and features in an attempt to lift sales. However, with only 217 sold so far, compared to the Prius’s 1,535 it hasn’t been the boost Honda was looking for.
The base model VTi is priced from $29,990, while the top spec VTi-L tested here starts at $33,490. Standard features include USB, iPod and hands free connectivity, integrated Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, six speaker stereo and 12V auxiliary sockets. There’s also a three year 100,000km warranty.
The top spec receives extras like 16 inch alloy wheels (the VTi gets 15 inch), rear vision camera (the VTi has controlled park assist), DVD player, GPS satellite navigation, leather steering wheel and shift knob, adjustable headrests, a laminated windscreen, electric level adjustment headlamps, light sensitive automatic headlamps and rain sensors.
The 1.3 litre four cylinder i-VTEC engine has 65kW of power and 121Nm of torque, while the electric motor adds 10kW of power and 78Nm of torque. Both variants are driven through a constantly variable transmission with front wheel drive.
Fuel efficiency has been improved by 6.5 per cent and the combined fuel economy has a 5.5 per cent reduction to 4.3L/100km (we managed 6.9L on test).
The Insight has a raised rear and sharp lines with camouflaged rear doors that visually mold to the coupe shape. It weighs nearly the same as the Civic but is shorter than its three siblings the Civic, City and Jazz.
Honda says they have made several upgrades to the styling receiving a new front grille with attractive blue accents flanked by two slanting headlights and a fresh bumper design with bright red rear taillights.
The interior features include fuel consumption display, rear vision camera and multi function control screen. The overall design of the dashboard is economically focussed, as expected in a hybrid car. The speed dependent display glows green to indicate fuel efficiency and blue to suggest reduced speed for a greener drive.
This blue and green theme is repeated on the speedometers and eco assist display. The eco assist uses images of small trees that grow while you drive to indicate your long term fuel efficiency.
The bucket style seats mold to the driver and there is soft-touch upholstery. While tall passengers will appreciate the 20mm headroom increase in the backseats the legroom is a bit tight. The boot capacity is 408 litres and increases to 584 litres with the 60/40 rear seats down.
The VTi-L receives a 5-star ANCAP crash rating with front, side and curtain airbags, ABS antilock brakes (the base model misses out), LED daytime running lights for improved visibility, vehicle stability assist with traction control, fog lamps, front and rear stabiliser and LED tail lamps.
The green eco button reduces your fuel consumption by limiting engine output but you’ll have to turn it off to get the car really going. The Insight also comes with auto stop technology which turns the engine off while you’re paused to help reduce your fuel consumption.
The engine is extremely quiet providing a silent drive but at fast speeds road noise enters the cabin. The overall drive is efficient, the suspension is smooth and it’s easy to manoeuvre through city streets. The only small complaint is the loose power steering that doesn’t give you total control around tight corners.
The Insight is slightly pricey but offers good looks, low emissions and fuel consumption, has up-to-date technology and can get you from A to B with comfort.
However, if you’re unsure about hybrids you may want to wait for the new 2013 Civic diesel that comes out mid next year with overseas reports of 3.8L/100km compared to the Insight’s 4.3L/100km.
Price: from $29,990
Engine: 1.3-litre 4-cylinder, 65kW/121Nm, electric motor 10kW/78Nm
Transmission: constantly variable, FWD
Thirst: 4.3L/100km, CO2 103g/km
Price: from $33,990
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 73kW/142Nm
Transmission: constantly variable, FWD
Thirst: 3.9L/100Km, CO2 89g/km
Price: from $59,990
Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cylinder 63kW, 111kW/370Nm (drive motor); 55kW (generator motor)
Transmission: auto, FWD
Thirst: 1.2L/100Km, CO2 27g/km