1 Mar 2001
By CHRIS HARRIS
ALTHOUGH Toyota was first with a hybrid passenger car in Japan in 1997, Honda beat it to Australia with its Insight by more than six months.
But while the Prius quickly found a niche among green-minded fleet and private buyers, the Honda Insight languished as a weird curio that was laughably too expensive.
Yet, despite costing $50,000 and only offering one litre, two seats and three cylinders, the Insight was a single-minded high-economy and low-emissions city car, easily eclipsing the Toyota’s laudable efforts.
For starters, its 1.0-litre single-cam 16-valve VTEC petrol engine – combining with an electric motor to produce 56kW of power at 5700rpm and 113Nm of torque from just 1500rpm – returned an astonishing 3.6 litres per 100km on the city cycle and 2.8 on the highway.
And – unlike the plodding Prius Mk1 – the front-drive Insight was an entertaining vehicle to pilot.
Plus the aluminium body was almost half as light, as well as more rigid and stronger, than a comparable steel body would have been. Much of the underbody – suspension and brakes for example – were aluminium also.
The interior was as fresh and futuristic to behold as the sleek exterior, while a 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack stored electricity in the hatchback’s floor area.
Energy from braking kept this charged, eliminating the need for mains-charging, while the petrol engine extinguished while idling until the clutch and gear lever were engaged to cut down emissions.
Honda called the Insight’s safety as world-leading, pointing to its rigid body, dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, interior head protection measures and three-point seatbelts with pretensioners.
Climate control air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors and an immobiliser were standard.
But, being smaller and slower than a Holden Barina and costing more than three-times as much insured that just 45 customers were found, with Honda Australia pulling the plug on the Insight petrol-electric hybrid by mid-’04.