Honda Insight: 1,485 miles

SECOND REPORT: It’s back to the workshop for our hybrid after an unfortunate scrape!

  • The Insight has spent much of its time in the city so far, and its CVT automatic gearbox ensures it’s a relaxing, undemanding drive in stop-start traffic. Its low emissions have real benefits, too, with an annual tax disc only £15. The Honda also costs nothing to drive into London’s Congestion Charge zone and qualifies for a cheaper parking permit from my local council.
  • The swoopy aerodynamic lines of the Honda mean headroom in the back is tight, particularly for six-footers. Coupled with the poor ride, this has seen rear passengers literally hit the roof. You effectively have to come to a standstill before tackling speed bumps.
What a difference an inch or so can make. Just ask Dame Kelly Holmes, who claimed an Olympic gold medal by a hair’s breadth. Or Geoff Hurst, who won England the World Cup with football’s most hotly debated goal ever.
Their success came by the tightest of margins. But disaster is often only inches away, too – as our Honda Insight has just discovered. 
The scenario? The Auto Express office car park, where a colleague ever so slightly misjudged a parking manoeuvre and struck a pillar. The result? One bumper left lying on the ground and a hefty repair bill looming.
And that’s why I found myself at DWS Bodyworks in Harlow, Essex, to see for myself what was required to sort our car. It was a journey I made with little enthusiasm. As we’d gone through our insurer, Zurich, it had insisted we use an approved repairer – but DWS’ Harlow base is an inconvenient hour’s drive from my north London home.
However, when I arrived technician Tony Payne was quick to reassure me the work wouldn’t take too long. A brief inspection revealed a new inner grille and plate moulding were required – although the main part of the bumper, which had the most visible damage, could be repaired rather than replaced. 
Tony was happy to inform me that this was the first Insight he had ever worked on – quite an ‘accolade’ when the workshop has 130 cars on its books every day!
A couple of days later, the Honda was delivered as good as new back to Auto Express headquarters to resume normal service, thanks to DWS’ diligent work. So how’s it faring?
The answer to that, I think, depends on what you want from your motor. As a cost-saving mode of transport from A to B, I like the Insight. It’s exempt from central London’s Congestion Charge, 
and it has secured me a bargain basement parking permit from Islington Council on account of its low emissions. Its fuel returns are creeping up, too. So far it has delivered 40.8mpg, which doesn’t sound great. But you have to remember that most of its 1,485 miles have been done in central London. And this figure could probably be improved by some longer journeys.
On the road, though, there are one or two drawbacks. Most prominent of these is the ride, which really is beginning to grate. North London must be Britain’s speed bump capital, and the Honda is totally ill-equipped to cushion its passengers from them. 
The Honda’s firm ride was highlighted by our road test team when the Insight met its Toyota Prius rival in a recent head-to-head, and driving other cars only serves to highlight its unforgiving set-up. 
It has been suggested elsewhere that shelling out for new tyres would improve things, but as most people will go for an Insight in an effort to cut their motoring costs, I don’t consider this to be a realistic option.
Head out of the city, and things don’t improve massively. I’ve never felt the Honda is short of power on motorways, but you are always aware of its efforts to keep up. The engine isn’t the most refined around and the constant noise at high revs can soon become slightly draining.  
A couple of niggles inside the cabin are also trying my patience. We’ve touched on the fact that the steering wheel obscures the digital speedo before, but the more miles I rack up, the more this annoys me. It’s almost inconceivable this wasn’t spotted at the design stage.
I’ve also found my knee inadvertently switching the air-con off on a couple of occasions. Again, hardly a big deal, but irritating when you only realise 10 minutes after doing so as sweat patches engulf your t-shirt. And surely another piece of avoidable, ill-thought-out design? 
But tellingly, these are all gripes that I’m prepared to put up with. In a credit crunch, money talks – and the Insight has inched its way into my affections with its penny-pinching nature!

Extra Info

I wanted to like the Insight for all the right reasons, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. The overly assisted steering takes some getting used to, and gives the car a vague feel. 
In order to keep costs to a minimum, Honda has chosen to go with the same steering wheel set-up as in the Civic and as Graham has pointed out, in certain driving positions the speedo is blocked by the rim. The incredibly hard ride was not what I’d expected from a family hatch. Its not all bad news, though, as the Insight has a decent boot and very low emissions.
Lesley Harris
Road tester

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