Honda Insight five-door hybrid
Less pious than the Prius?
Our test car came with a more than respectable amount of peripheral kit, including a stereo-linked USB port handily tucked away under the front centre arm rest; a leather steering wheel and gear shift nob; and heated front seats, though the latter seemed a bit pointless in a car with cloth upholstery and just another unnecessary drag on the car's fuel economy.
Cup holders abound
Despite sharing its platform and suspension with the Jazz, the Insight is closer in size to the Civic and is a true family-sized five-door, five-seater capable of carrying six-foot adults front and back at the same time. The boot is reasonably capacious too and has a sizeable hidden compartment in the floor. No spare wheel, though, so if you get a puncture you need to call the AA or use the can of get-you-home tyre inflater.
On the open the road, the Insight is typical medium-sized front-wheel drive Honda, so the handling is safe and predictable while the ride is firm but supple on smooth tarmac. Get onto the broken stuff and bumps and thumps become more noticeable. Hit at large pot hole and by God you will know about it, the Insight crashing into them with reckless abandon. This sort of limited suspension travel crash will be familiar to many Jazz or Civic drivers but is easily solved by going around the holes in the road rather than over or into them.
The regenerative braking system has no noticeable effect on the car's driving dynamics. Jump on the anchors and everything feels exactly the same as it would were you driving any other mid-sized ABS-equipped Honda. All Honda needs to do now is work out how to store and recycle the overpowering feeling of smugness people seem to feel while driving the Insight. If it can crack that, it will have single-handedly managed to secure mankind's energy future.
Beats Prius on price
One area where the Insight has the Prius clearly beaten is price. A basic Insight will set you back a shade under £16,000 on the road. That's £2500 less than an entry-level Prius. The only problem with buying the base Insight is the standard 15in wheels, which do nothing for the car's stance. So do the clever thing and buy the base model but haggle with the dealer for a set of the 16in alloys that come as standard on the rest of the range. Ask for the USB audio connector too.
The Insight is rather more than the sum of its parts and not a bad old bucket of bolts. It's well made, and comfortable and relaxing to drive on decent roads as long as you don't treat it as a sports car. It's also meagre with the fuel it takes in and the CO2 it pumps out.
But we think the electric part of the car should have been engineered to play a larger part in proceedings. Given a more powerful electric motor and/or battery, the Insight would be capable of faster and less frenetic acceleration, and a wider range of battery-only propulsion. That would make it more fun to drive for those of us to whom economy is not the be all and end all, and would also probably improve urban fuel economy by allowing the engine valves to remain shut more of the time. With any luck, the CR-Z sports hybrid will address both those issues when it arrives next year. ®