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Car reviews - Honda - Insight - VTi CVT 5-dr hatch

The Car

21 Jan 2011

IT WAS the first hybrid vehicle to become Japan’s top-selling model bar none within two months of its domestic market release in February 2009, and now it is finally Australia’s turn to take delivery of Honda’s new Insight.

Priced from under $30,000 when it hits local showrooms on December 6, the dedicated petrol-electric hatchback will be Australia’s most affordable hybrid, undercutting Honda’s own virtually non-existent Civic Hybrid sedan ($34,490), Toyota’s larger Camry Hybrid sedan ($36,990) and its arch-rival, the five-door Prius hybrid-hatch ($39,990).

While Prius sales have slumped by 42.5 per cent from about 250 per month last year to less than 150 so far in 2010 (and just 82 last month) following the hybrid Camry’s release in February, Honda Australia expects to sell at least 200 Insights per month.

However, with the Japanese production shortages that prevented an earlier local release now solved, Honda Australia says it can readily supply four times that number should the demand exist, potentially making the Insight as popular as Australia’s top-selling (and only locally produced) hybrid, the Camry.

The second-generation Insight, which was ultimately the fifth best-selling model overall in Japan last year, could also eventually become Honda’s top-seller locally, and cannot come soon enough for Honda Australia, whose 2010 sales are down 0.5 per cent in a total Australian market that is up 13 per cent.

Honda’s next new hybrid model will be the mid-$30,000s CR-Z coupe in mid-2011 and bolstering the Japanese brand’s renewed hybrid push in 2012 will be the next-generation Civic Hybrid and the new Jazz Hybrid, which will brandish a new hybrid price yardstick if it is approved for release here.

As announced at the Sydney motor show in October, the Insight will be available in two variants, opening with the entry-level VTi at $29,990 – exactly $10,000 less than the Prius starting price for – and closing with the top-shelf VTi-L at $33,490, which undercuts the current Civic Hybrid sedan by $1000.

With no affordable Civic hatch model other than the $40,000 Type R that is imported from the UK, the MkII Insight will not just be pitched as a direct rival for the Prius, but also volume-selling non-hybrid small cars like the Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Subaru Impreza.

However, just as the five-door/five-seater Insight is vastly different to the 2001-2006 original that featured just two doors and two seats, Honda’s most mainstream hybrid is similar to the Prius only in size and concept.

While the Insight undercuts Prius on price, it cannot match its efficiency, with a combined fuel consumption figure of 4.5L/100km (compared with 3.9L/100km for Prius) and CO2 emissions of 109g/km (versus 89g/km for Prius).

Independent US testing has also revealed the Insight is three-tenths slower to 100km/h than Prius.

It employs a smaller, lighter and more powerful version of the Civic Hybrid’s electric motor-assisted SOHC i-VTEC 1.3-litre four-cylinder powertrain and the battery pack – nickel-metal hydride, like Prius – is 31 per cent smaller and 35 per cent lighter than the Civic Hybrid’s.

Packed in a lighter body that has a low aerodynamic drag co-efficient of 0.28Cd, the fifth-generation Honda Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system incorporates a single electric motor and a compact ‘Intelligent Power Unit’ that harnesses energy via regenerative braking.

Honda says that, compared to Toyota’s two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system, its petrol-electric powertrain – which mates an internal combustion engine with an electric motor mounted directly to the engine’s crankshaft between the engine and transmission – is less complex, lower cost and compact enough to accommodate a wide range of vehicle sizes.

Matched with a continuously variable (automatic) transmission as standard, Insight delivers 65kW of power at 5800rpm and 121Nm of torque at 4500rpm, while the electric motor outputs 10kW at 1500rpm and 78Nm at 1000rpm. Overall, the Insight produces a maximum of 72kW at 5800rpm (Prius: 100kW) and 167Nm between 1000 and 1700rpm.

Insight measures 4405mm long (Prius: 4460mm), 1695mm wide (Prius: 1745mm), 1435mm high (Prius: 1490mm), and rides on a 2550mm wheelbase (Prius: 2700mm). The base kerb weight is listed at just 1205kg – significantly less than the Prius (from 1370kg).

Like its main rival, the Insight can run on electric-only power in certain low-speed driving conditions, while the engine includes cylinder deactivation during deceleration and an idle-stop feature.

There are ‘Eco Assist’ and ‘ECON’ fuel-saving drive modes and a comprehensive on-board computer reveals, as with the Prius, how economically the Insight has been driven. Honda claims the 40-litre fuel tank can deliver a driving range of around 650km.

Unlike the Prius and Civic Hybrid, the battery and IPU are located underneath the floor at the rear of the vehicle, allowing for a 60/40 split-fold rear seat and luggage space of between 408 and 584 litres.

Built on a dedicated new hybrid platform, the Insight features MacPherson strut front and H-shaped torsion beam rear suspension architectures, ventilated disc front and drum rear brakes, and electric power steering with a turning circle of 10.34 metres – slightly tighter than the Prius (10.4m).

Standard equipment across the range includes six airbags (twin front, front-side and side curtain), stability/traction control, ABS brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, five three-point seatbelts and head restraints, active front head restraints, paddle shifters, climate-control, remote central locking, cruise control, steering wheel reach and rake adjustment, halogen headlights, LED brake tail-lights, manual driver’s seat adjustment, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with USB/AUX input and steering wheel controls, cloth seats, power windows, luggage cover and rear parking sensors.

While both models employ a temporary spare wheel, the base VTi runs on 15x5.5-inch alloy wheels with 175/56 R15 low rolling resistance (LRR) tyres and the VTi-L comes with 16x6.0-inch alloys with 185/55 R16 LRR tyres.

The flagship VTi-L also gains voice-activated touch-screen DVD-based satellite-navigation with the SUNA traffic management system and a reversing camera, a multi-function trip computer, leather-clad steering wheel, driver’s seatback pocket, an auto up/down front passenger window, automatic wipers, four bottle holders, fog-lights, automatic headlights and indicators in both door mirrors.

Like the Prius, the Insight comes with a three-year/100,000km new-vehicle warranty, and an eight-year/unlimited km battery pack warranty. Service intervals are six months or 10,000km and Honda Australia says all 108 of its dealers nationally are trained to service the Insight.

Black is the only interior colour option and there are just six exterior colour choices: silver, blue, black, red, white and ‘polished metal’.

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Did you know?

The seven-module battery system comprises of 84 individual 1.2-volt cells for a total battery system output of 100.8 volts and a capacity of 5.75 ampere-hours.

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