Saturday, December 11, 2010

Honda has Prius in sight

HONDA is embarking on a four-car hybrid program with a range of new petrol/electric models scheduled for launch here before the end of 2012. They started this week with the five-door Insight and continue next year with the CRZ hybrid sports coupe, Jazz hybrid and then the new generation Civic hybrid some time in 2012.

All will feature a similar parallel hybrid powertrain based around a 1.3 or 1.5-litre single cam, petrol four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing coupled to an electric motor for what Honda calls integrated motor assist.

Essentially Honda hybrids run on their petrol engine with assistance when accelerating from an electric motor fed by a battery pack and electric control unit between the rear wheels.

Honda Insight is a direct competitor for Toyota’s slightly larger Prius which has a 1.8-litre petrol engine hooked up to an electric motor. The Prius has 100kW whereas the Insight has 72kW.

It drives the front wheels via a constantly variable transmission and uses regenerative braking and deceleration to charge the battery pack which, in the Insight’s case, is optimized for size and weight tipping the scales at a mere 38kg complete with the electronic control module. Honda says Insight is 37 per cent more economical than a conventional petrol-powered car of similar size generating considerably less emissions rated at 109g/km of carbon dioxide. Insight gets 4.6 litres/100km fuel consumption Honda’s most frugal vehicle.

It’s designed for smooth aerodynamics outside and convenience inside with a family Honda look to the controls based around a convex dash and Civic type wheel.

Seats for five are provided inside with a good size load space expandable after folding the rear seats. The spare is a space saver.

Honda fits Insight with an economy assist system that “coaches” the driver to drive economically through the use of a multi-coloured speedo and a “reward” system. The car can also be set-up for maximum fuel efficiency and low emissions.

Used carefully, up to 20 per cent fuel savings are possible.

Apart from the hybrid powertrain Insight is fairly conventional underneath with a strut front suspension, simple torsion beam rear and electric power steering. The chassis is optimized for strength and crash protection. Insight’s nickel metal hydride battery is designed to last 15 years or 240,000km and a replacement, if needed, costs $1850.

Two models are available; the VTi at $29,990 and the VTi-L at $33,990.

The base model is well equipped, and so is the high grade version which gains auto wipers, 16-inch alloys, fog lights, satellite navigation, rear view camera and other goodies.

Both have a five-star Australasian new car assessment program crash rating and are manufactured in Japan.

On the road, Insight is a bit like driving your average 1.6-litre hatch except that is has start/stop at idle and hardly makes the fuel gauge move. Dynamics are quite sporty so the drive experience is rewarding with reasonable acceleration.

It’s comfortable over a longish time and makes minimal noise or vibration.

Though it’s noble to be “green”, we think Insight buyers are going to appreciate the car’s fuel economy above all else and the fact that it’s many thousands of dollars less than Toyota Prius.


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