Honda’s hybrid upgrade has Insight
Honda reckons many motorists are put off hybrid cars because they view them as expensive and elitist. So it’s aiming to change that attitude with its new Insight, as Rob Maetzig reports.
It’s now been more than 10 years since Honda launched its first petrol-electric hybrid car to the world. That car was called Insight, and it was a swoopy-looking little twodoor car that achieved incredibly low fuel consumption.
It never was made available for sale in this country, although Honda New Zealand did import one for evaluation and promotional purposes.
The aim behind that original Honda hybrid was clear: To avoid waste. Engineers reasoned if energy generated from braking and deceleration could be harnessed and stored in a battery pack, it could then be used to power an electric motor that would supplement the performance of the car’s petrol engine.
That led to development of what is known as a parallel hybrid system, in which the petrol engine is the main source of power and torque, and is assisted sometimes by the electric motor.
Honda called its system Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), and it comprised a low-friction 1.3-litre engine as the primary power source, an ultra-thin electric motor, and a lightweight and compact battery pack, all mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
This basic set-up hasn’t changed much over the intervening 10 years, but it has been vastly improved as it has been progressively introduced to other Honda vehicles, including the Civic hybrid we get in New Zealand.
Now another Honda hybrid has arrived – and appropriately it is called Insight.
It’s an impressive new five-door hatchback that uses a modified version of the 1.3-litre engine from the Civic, and features a fifthgeneration IMA system that is 24 per cent more compact than the fourthgeneration version currently in the Civic.
Some real improvements have been made with this new IMA.
The electric motor is now much thinner than before – 35.7mm compared to 61.5mm on the Civic – which helps make the entire system more compact and light.
Big improvements have also been made to the battery pack, which is 19 per cent smaller and 28 per cent lighter, which allows it to be stored under the floor of the Insight’s boot.
End result of all of this is a new hatchback that in every sense is just that – a hatchback. The compactness of the latestgeneration IMA means so little storage space is required that the tional price which, Honda New Zealand claims, makes it the most affordable high-technology car on the market.
The base model S retails for $35,600 and more upmarket E for $38,800, which is not only almost in line with conventional hatchbacks of a similar size, but way cheaper than the other hybrids on the market here.
This is all part of a grand plan by Honda, which discovered during recent overseas research that most motorists considered hybrids to be too expensive, and many others considered them to be elitist status symbols rather than efficient, cleaner modes of transport.
So the company set about changing that, embarking on a big effort to bring the price of the Insight down to much more acceptable levels.
It did it by using a large amount of existing componentry. For example the suspension, brakes and steering are pinched from the Honda Jazz.
The engine compartment is also from the Jazz, and the engine and IMA system are modified versions of what is already aboard the Civic.
At a conference for New Zealand media in Queensland last week, special guest Yasunari Seki, the Insight’s project leader, said the aim of the development project was to reduce the size, complexity and price of components and systems in a big effort to drive the Insight’s final retail price downwards.
Insight has been on the New Zealand new car scene for some weeks now, with potential customers taking the 40 demonstrators based at various dealerships for test drives.
Interest has been such that as at the recent media conference 175 orders had been taken, and HNZ boss Graeme Seymour is confident things will settle to down to an average of more than 30 sales a month. rear cargo room is 408 litres with all the seats in use, which is more than most other hatchbacks, including the Toyota Corolla, and there is normal leg and headroom throughout.
Even the hybrid system works in a normal and unobtrusive way. On its own, the engine produces 65 kilowatts of power and 121 newton metres of torque, and when combined with the IMA this increases to 72kW and 167Nm.
All this is allowing Honda to market the new Insight not so much as a hybrid but as a hatchback, albeit one that has the technology to cost 40 per cent less to run than a conventional hatch.
Insight also carries a conven-
Duel delight: The new-age Insight is a classy hatchback and a conscientious hybrid.