Haim for their battery¬petrol hybrid Insight was to produce a green family car at an affordable price. Starting Qut at £15,990 for the base model, it’s a good few grand cheaper than the equally-green Toyota hybrid the Prius, which comes in at just over £18,000, rising to £21,000 for the top of the range.
The Honda Insight SE 1.3 is now for sale in the UK.
Honda says this five-door hatchback offers “low-emission, fuel-efficient motoring in a practical, no-compromise package”. And that pretty much sums the Insight up. With green technology still in its early days, Honda have done well to get a hybrid petrol and battery car down to this price.
But there understandably have to be trade¬offs. The Insight is very similar in appearance to the Prius, with flattened side panels, angular rear-end and split rear window, although it is generally more rounded than the wedge-like Toyota. It’s an unremarkable hatchback but not unpleasant.
Slip inside the Honda Insight and the interior follows the same pattern.
The dials are clear and uncluttered, with a large central dial keeping you informed about what’s happening under the bonnet. The speedometer is a digital readout on the top of the dash, nearer eye level, which drifts from the attractive blue illumination of the rest of the dash into a green light when you’re driving economically.
The CD controls and the heating dials are housed in the centre of the dashboard, and are admirably user-friendly, with big buttons clearly labelled. It’s all very tastefully done. The plastics inside the Insight are generally good quality, although this general quality is let down by some hard, pia sticky areas nearer the floor.
The Insight’s engine, although new, is based heavily on the 1.3-litre petrol unit from the Civic Hybrid and has been tweaked to get the best economy and cut down emissions.
It uses some advanced technology to improve economy. The battery part of the Insight, which Honda say should last the lifetime of the car, takes over from the pistons when cruising at low speed and during decelerating, cutting fuel consumption.
What this means in the real world is that the 1.3 engine is fine around town and at low speeds but struggles when out of town and onto the open roads. The Insight gets there in the end but it’s reluctant to react quickly at speeds. Disengaging the Econ switch on the dashboard, which ensures the optimum fuel economy, improves things but in green mode things are slow.
Inside the cab it’s quiet at low speeds, with very little wind, engine or road noise, but when the pedal is pushed down the engine gives a bit of a roar, and while cruising at higher speeds the engine is considerably noisier.
The automatic gearbox is generally smooth but it has the tendency on occasion to jerk into lower gears when crawling along in traffic or coming to a halt, which was annoying. There is also a pause before the engine fires back into life when the stop-start cuts in slow traffic.
The Insight handles well in town, with a decent turning circle and light steering which is really responsive, cornering well with very little body roll. It’s a smooth ride, with only bigger bumps and potholes causing discomfort.
Seats are comfortable and there is plenty of legroom for driver and front seat passenger, with the Insight’s flat floor allowing a lot of room for back seat passengers too. Headroom is fine for all but the tallest front seat occupants, although that sloping roof will affect your taller back-seat passengers.
With a good driving position visibility is terrific through front and side windows, even through the tapered rear passenger windows, but that rear split window, like the Toyota Prius, is a major pain. With the rear wiper only clearing the top half, it’s a real problem reversing in rain, and in these gloomy nights it was an effort to see what was close behind. Although less frugal than the Prius, the Insight still notches up an impressive 64mpg.
But Honda are usually generous with the kit and even the base level S trim gets alloys, electric mirrors and windows, climate control as standard. ES models get cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers and gearshift paddles, to change gears while in sport mode.
Top of the range EST get satnav and other high-end goodies. Honda can’t be faulted with safety, either, with every model getting front, side and curtain airbags, plus traction and stability control.
There’s also remote central locking in all trim levels, along with an alarm, locking wheel nuts and an built-in good quality stereo.
The Honda Insight is a comfortable small family car that is more than happy on the school run, with a decent size boot, and impressive green credentials. It’s not to keen to get up to speed but once there it handles cruising adequately. And with Honda’s record for reliability and more than 60mpg, it makes good financial sense for those with an eye on the environment.
Honda Insight SE 1.3
Engine: 1.3-litre petrol-battery hybrid
0-62: 12.5 secs
Top speed: 113mph
Combined mpg: 64.2mpg
OTR price from: £15,990