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Honda Insight 2011 Review

Honda Insight

CAR stuff is full of acronyms, numbers, decimal points and funny words.  For once, I'm taking most of the numbers out of the story because they probably won't thrill you as much as the one I leave in - 1017.

That is the theoretical annual saving, in dollars, of a Honda Insight Hybrid's fuel bill compared with the national average annual fuel cost.  That's $1017 or, to be precise, $1017.75 and that's the difference between Australia's 11.1 litres/100km vehicle average and the Insight's on-test 5.2 l/100km (not Honda's claimed figure), taking into account a 15,000km yearly average and unleaded petrol at $1.15 a litre.

Sorry, more figures.  Own a Honda Insight and you'd be driving a car that could just make you feeling greener than Kermit. But is there a cost?

VALUE

Hmmm. It's relatively cheap at $29,990 plus on-road costs and I got 5.2 litres/100km  in the suburbs without really trying.  Honda claims 4.6 l/100km which is possible in ideal conditions that, unfortunately, we don't live in.

The hatchback is comfortable, versatile and roomy and through in striving to beat the bowser it strikes a couple of speed bumps, it's basically worth a long look.  The base model VTi tested here is $3500 cheaper than the upmarket VTi-L but is a better buy.

DESIGN

It's based on the Jazz hatchback - and City sedan - platform but takes most of its shape from the US-only Honda Clarity fuel-cell delight.  The teardrop shape is all for cheating the air and the slippery profile neatly cuts the air to benefit not only fuel use but improve quietness.

But Honda does a great job of finding the sensible compromise between the need to slice through the air and have room for a family within its cabin.

TECHNOLOGY

A hybrid has two or three power units. In this case, one is electric and one is petrol and they work together - unlike the Toyota Prius where they can work independently.  There is no extension cord and no powerpoint to plug it in. It has a large storage battery and the petrol engine both drives the car and charges the battery.

It starts like any other car; drives like any other car. The fact that it's automatic also makes it easy to punt around town.  But there is an option. A green button on the dashboard will change the engine program, dulling performance and turning the engine off (and back on again later) when the car is stationary.

There are a lot of clever things in the car but - alarmingly - it gets shot down by the archaic drum rear brakes visible through the alloy wheel spokes.

SAFETY

The Insight gets the maximum five-star crash rating, has six airbags, electronic stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution so that leaves the driver as the only thing to go wrong.

DRIVING

I mentioned that optional button on the dash. Press it and you kill the fun.  Hills turn the Insight sluggish, a green traffic light turns the car behind you into an ogre and because the engine stops when the car stops, so does the airconditioner.

If you're not in a hurry, driving through hilly countryside or picked a temperate day for a drive, the "econ" button will chop back fuel use.  Otherwise, leave it off and the combination of the powerful little electric motor and small petrol engine can provide pleasant motoring. Even fun. Almost.

There are drawbacks.  Squeezing more kilometres from the petrol tank means the Insight must be light. It is. But that makes it feel unsettled on the road, susceptible to sidewinds and skitterish when hurried through bends.

The light steering doesn't help so it ends up feeling ot connected either to the road or the driver.  It is comfortable, spacious enough for a small family and flexible. The space-saver rear tyre doesn't surprise but the large boot does.

VERDICT

Use your calculator and this is a winner. Use your heart and it's a bit soft. 8/10

HONDA INSIGHT VTi

Origin: Japan
Price: $29,990
Engine: 1.3-litre, 4-cyl; electric motor
Power (combined): 72kW @ 5800rpm
Torque (combined): 167Nm @ 1000-1700rpm
Fuel: Standard unleaded
Fuel tank: 40 litres
Economy (official): 4.6 litres/100km
Economy (tested): 5.2 litres/100km
Greenhouse: 109g/km (Corolla: 174g/km)
Transmission: CVT, paddle shifters; front-drive
Brakes: Disc/drum, ESC, ABS, EBD, brake assist
Turning circle: 10.3m
Suspension: Front _ MacPherson struts; Rear _ torsion beam
Wheels: 15-inch alloy, 175/65R15 tyres; space-saver spare
Length: 4405mm
Width: 1695mm
Height: 1435mm
Wheelbase: 2550mm
Weight: 1205kg
Boot (seat up/down): 408/584 litres (Corolla: 450/1121)
Warranty: 3yr/100,000km (battery - 8yr/unlimited km)
Service: 10,000km

Pricing guides

$9,990
Based on 13 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$6,400
Highest Price
$11,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
VTi Hybrid 1.3L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $5,830 – 8,140 2011 Honda Insight 2011 VTi Hybrid Pricing and Specs
VTi-L Hybrid 1.3L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $7,150 – 10,010 2011 Honda Insight 2011 VTi-L Hybrid Pricing and Specs
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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