Honda Insight

Hybrid relies on petrol-electric drivetrain to conserve energy

If we were handing out awards for technology, the Honda Insight would be the runaway winner. Not only does the all-new model feature a stop-start function, but it also has an advanced petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain.

And that’s not all. Company bosses claim the newcomer is the cheapest hybrid on sale in the UK, undercutting both the Toyota Prius and Honda’s own Civic IMA.

If you think the name sounds familiar, that’s because the Insight badge appeared for the first time on the company’s original hybrid – a lightweight coupé built in small numbers and sold between 2000 and 2006.

The badge is the only thing this model has in common with its predecessor, though. It’s now a practical family hatch that takes design cues from the hi-tech hydrogen fuel cell-powered FCX Clarity.

It’s a shame that the cabin hasn’t received the same treatment. While the layout is eye-catching, the quality of the materials is poor, with plenty of hard plastic to remind owners of the car’s low price. Under the skin is the latest version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) drivetrain, which features an 87bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine linked to a 14bhp electric motor for an overall power output of 101bhp.

Like the Prius, the electric unit alone is used at low speeds, and it helps to boost the straight-line performance of the petrol engine. The IMA system also includes a stop-start function and regenerative braking.

On the move, the Insight behaves like a conventional petrol-engined hatch, although the CVT transmission holds the engine at intrusively high revs when accelerating hard.

Stop at a red light, and the engine immediately shuts down. However, demand from the batteries means the powerplant doesn’t always stay silent for long, firing back into life after as little as 30 seconds. Drivers are helped to maximise economy by the Ecological Drive Assist System.

The speedo backlight glows green when you’re smooth with the throttle, while putting your foot down turns the display blue. You can keep score, too, with graphics of trees appearing to indicate how eco-friendly your driving is.

Despite our best efforts, we could only coax 31.7mpg out of the Insight around town, which placed it behind all but the Passat and the Auris in our urban test.

Details

WHY: Honda bills the Insight as a cut-price hybrid for the masses. Electric power makes it a strong pick for city drivers.

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