But now Honda is developing a new hybrid system for the next-generation Insight and Jazz hybrid models that it says will provide a 30 per cent improvement in economy, allowing for around 90mpg and 70g/km of CO2.
The system, which uses lithium-ion batteries also provides 134bhp and uses a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox rather than the noisy CVT gearbox used by the current generation of Honda hybrids.
As well as the new gearbox, another key difference of the new hybrid system is that it allows cars to run in electric only mode. Strangely, though, it can only do this in gears one, three and five. As a result there is a noticeable step when the transmission changes up and it's even worse going down the box.
To be fair to Honda, this car is just a prototype and its engineers are working on improving the timing of the clutches to reduce some of the jerkiness.
On the plus side this new hybrid system fells a lot sportier than the old set-up. The 1.5-litre engine is allowed to rev all the way to the redline in each gear and Honda is even considering adding steering wheel-mounted paddles to allow drivers to change gears themselves.
But the key thing about the system is that it not only promises best in class emissions and economy but also performance. Combined, the petrol engine and electric motor deliver 134bhp, so you end up with a really efficient hot hatch.
If Honda can round off this package, then it might finally achieve what it has always struggled with in the past – producing a hybrid that could get the better of the Toyota Prius.