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Drive Life : January 14th 2011
1HERSA1 F012 DriveLIFE road test 12 Friday, January 14, 2011 The Sydney Morning Herald HONDA INSIGHT HYBRID J This eco-warrior is taking on the Prius, writes Toby Hagon. Green cars are big business these days. Brands as diverse as Suzuki and Ferrari are turning their attention to reducing fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions as well as our dependence on Big Oil. The four-wheeled environmental crusade is in many ways being led by hybrid vehicles that team two power sources, most commonly a petrol engine and an electric motor. Toyota's Prius is the most popular but Honda has been there from the start with the freakish-looking Insight that drove more like an experiment. Fast forward and the Insight has shed some geekishness, been stretched and has extra doors -- and it's about 40 per cent cheaper. But the principle is the same: team an electric motor with a proven internal-combustion engine to maximise fuel saving. WHAT DO YOU GET? There's little doubt Honda has the Prius in its sights; it's even taken on something of a Prius look and feel, with five seats, decent space and a humpy hatchback design. But with a price from $29,990 (plus on-road costs), the Insight undercuts its Toyota rival markedly. There's still plenty of standard gear, including power windows, airconditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, alloy wheels, an alarm, audio input and separate USB input as well as a trip computer. Safety is taken care of with six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) as well as a display in the trip computer that lets you know which rear passengers have buckled up. Shell out another $4000 and the VTi-L brings a bunch of extras that include larger, 16-inch alloys (one inch bigger), rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, leather- wrapped steering wheel, foglights and satellite navigation. Cosmetic tweaks include unique wing mirrors that incorporate indicators. WHAT'S INSIDE? The interior layout is less ground- breaking than the fuel-saving features. That said, the digital speedo above the steering wheel (other instruments sit in a more traditional central position) looks futuristic, albeit with the steering wheel slicing through the vision of some drivers. It's a shame the Bluetooth controller hanging to the right of the windscreen looks as if it's an afterthought. The refreshingly familiar Honda layout includes a multifunction steering wheel and logical layout. The average sound system has a large volume knob in its centre. A similar knob is circled by buttons for the ventilation system, which is effective enough except when the engine cuts out (part of its normal operation); on hot days it can heat too much momentarily. In the main instruments is a trip computer that gives the usual details on how much fuel you're using, as well as odd graphs with tree symbols to indicate how well you've been driving. Rear legroom is tight, while taller passengers might graze heads due to a roof that falls away at the back. The boot is shallow but wide (batteries and a space-saver tyre underneath), with a split-fold seat that improves flexibility. UNDER THE BONNET Unlike the Prius, which can drive in electric mode in some situations, the Insight's 1.3-litre petrol engine is always working in acceleration. Mated to a CVT transmission and aided by the electric motor (there's a gauge indicating assisting or recharging), it accelerates well enough. There's a modest 65kW of power from the engine alone but the 10kW electric motor brings the combined peak output to 72kW (the motor and engine don't produce peak power simultaneously, so combined power never reaches 75kW). Propulsion is only adequate and you're sometimes reluctant to tramp the throttle for fear of ruining economy. Even up long hills there's a drone as the engine hovers around 3000rpm, the continuously variable transmission (with infinite ratios) matching revs to driver wishes. When the car is stationary there's a green glow around the speedo to indicate frugality but it quickly turns blue in motion, returning to green for coasting or braking. There's an Eco mode designed to reduce fuel use slightly by relying more on the electric motor, though there's not much difference other than an increased propensity in Eco to automatically shut the engine down when stopped. Other than at a standstill, the only time the Insight's petrol engine (which runs on regular unleaded) turns itself off is when decelerating before coming to a halt (at speeds less than 11 km/h). As with the Prius, it's almost impossible to get fuel use anywhere near the official claim, which is 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres. In regular driving it returned about 6.5L/100km, while an extended freeway run lowered that slightly. ON THE ROAD You don't have to dig too deeply to see where Honda has saved weight in the quest for fuel economy. Rougher bitumen has tyre roar emanating through the cabin at freeway speeds, while bumps can be a bigger drama than need be. The average tyres -- chosen to reduce rolling resistance and thus fuel use -- squeal too easily and don't offer much confidence. But the Insight is comfortable enough in everyday driving, absorbing bumps and manoeuvring effortlessly. In more challenging situations, its dynamic limitations become obvious. Rear vision is obscured by the split window, with the wiper on the upper half offering minimal help with clearing the view. Reflection of painted road markings into the upper screen can be off-putting. VERDICT It's not an environmental crusader but a keenly priced hybrid that promises to cut fuel bills and bring the petrol-electric message to a new audience. It's not enticing to drive but is well endowed for charging around town. THE COMPETITORS TOYOTA PRIUS Price $39,990 Engine 1.8-litre, 4-cyl petrol-electric, 100kW/142Nm, CVT auto, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 3.9L/100km, 89g/km Safety Seven airbags, stability control Pros Lowest CO2 output of any car; decent size, plenty of rear legroom; stop-start; good safety, frugal. Cons Ride a little choppy; handling not enthusiastic and feels tinny at times. Our score I FORD FIESTA ECONETIC Price $24,990 Engine 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 66kW/200Nm, 5-sp manual, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 3.7L/100km and 98g/km Safety five airbags, stability control Pros Bragging rights as Australia's most fuel-efficient car; excellent handling; cheapest eco-car; standard Bluetooth. Cons No curtain airbags; big premium over other Fiestas; small. Our score Not rated yet. TOYOTA HYBRID CAMRY Price $36,990 Engine 2.4-litre 4-cyl hybrid petrol/ electric, 140kW/187Nm, CVT, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 6.0L/100km, 142g/km Safety Six airbags, stability control. Pros Fuel consumption; comfortable ride; standard reversing camera. Cons Steering and handling not as sharp as some; four-star safety rating; unsupportive driver's seat. Our score I THE DETAILS Price $29,990 plus on-road costs Country of origin Japan Engine 1.3-litre 4-cylinder with an electric motor Power 72kW at 5800rpm Torque 167Nm at 1000-1700rpm Consumption and CO2 emissions 4.6L/100km, 109g/km Transmission Continuously variable transmission (CVT) Weight 1205kg Safety 6 airbags, stability control Pros Relatively frugal; most affordable hybrid on market; clear instruments; flexible interior; decent performance; strong list of equipment. Cons Engine is always running above 11km/h; not as efficient as Prius; average grip from tyres; cramped rear seats; digital speedo can be obscured by steering wheel; road-marking reflections in rear window. IN THE REAL WORLD Tree hugging Like the Prius, the Insight now has a unique body designed for optimal aerodynamics . . . and to show the neighbours you care. Parking No reversing camera but sensors help overcome higher rear end. Functional hatch and flexible layout are good. Gadgets There's a USB input for MP3 players but otherwise the Insight is lacking in whizz- bang toys for occupants.
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