Hy­brid de­liv­ers on its green prom­ise

The Amherst News - - SALTWIRE WHEELS - BY RICHARD RUS­SELL WHEELS

Honda has had three cracks at the In­sight. The first was a small two-door, two-seater, with a “unique’ shape, mak­ing its de­but as a 2000 model. The sec­ond came along in 2009 as a five­door, five-pas­sen­ger hatch­back on a unique plat­form, which later housed the CR-Z.

The third-gen­er­a­tion In­sight is now on sale and it is a plain old four-door, five-pas­sen­ger sedan. I say that with re­spect, be­cause this new In­sight is in­deed plain – in looks and in op­er­a­tion.

In­stead of cry­ing out vis­ually that it is a hy­brid, it looks like a slightly more con­ven­tional Civic. It also drives like one, and houses a sim­i­lar amount of peo­ple and pack­ages.

Think of it as a Civic with even bet­ter fuel mileage.

The 2019 In­sight uses proven tech­nol­ogy, clev­erly pack­aged and was de­vel­oped to be prac­ti­cally in­vis­i­ble lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. Open the trunk and you are greeted by 428 litres of cargo space – iden­ti­cal to that of a Civic. Where is the big bat­tery pack that nor­mally robs so much space in a hy­brid?

This one, a small, 1.1 kWh, lithium ion unit, is un­der the rear seat. Trunk size was also re­tained, by shrink­ing the fuel tank to 45 litres in ca­pac­ity. There is no sac­ri­fice, be­cause the ex­cep­tion­ally thrifty In­sight re­tains the same range on a tank of fuel, as a non-hy­brid.

It is also re­ward­ing to stop for a fill when the tank is al­most empty and have the au­to­matic shut-off kick in at less than $50!

The pack­ag­ing gu­rus even hid the con­ven­tional 12-volt bat­tery that usu­ally takes up so much room in the en­gine com­part­ment. It is housed in­side the pas­sen­ger com­part­ment un­der the elec­tri­cally-op­er­ated, push­but­ton shifter. That space would nor­mally have been used for a shift link­age.

In ad­di­tion to a sur­pris­ingly large trunk, the In­sight has a fam­ily-friendly rear seat. The driver faces a con­ven­tional in­stru­ment panel. There is a large multi-func­tion dis­play atop a two-tier cen­tre stack with sep­a­rate pro­vi­sion for your phone. The new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem has large clear icons and, whoopee, an ac­tual knob to con­trol vol­ume.

When driv­ing the In­sight you have to con­sciously re­mind your­self it is a hy­brid. In al­most all re­spects, the ex­pe­ri­ence is that of a con­ven­tional car. The main ex­cep­tion is the pad­dle shifters be­hind the steer­ing wheel. In­stead of se­lect­ing gears, they con­trol the re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing sys­tem, al­low­ing the driver to se­lect from three lev­els of har­vest­ing the en­ergy cre­ated while slow­ing. Not only does this save wear and tear on the brake ro­tors and pads, it recharges the lithium-ion bat­tery pack more quickly.

It is fun to watch the bat­tery charge level in­crease while us­ing the pad­dles to slow progress com­ing down a hill in­stead of rid­ing the brakes, or when ap­proach­ing a stop. You can also ig­nore them, and brake in a nor­mal man­ner. Here again, Honda engi­neers have done a great job of mak­ing the In­sight feel like a con­ven­tional car. There is no grab­bing as the re­gen sys­tem kicks in, rather a smooth and lin­ear feel.

The front wheels of the In­sight are pow­ered by a gaso­line en­gine or elec­tric motors – and some­times by both. The en­gine op­er­ates on the fuel sav­ing Atkin­son cy­cle. The loss of torque com­mon with this ar­range­ment is eas­ily

re­placed by that from the elec­tric motors.

At low speeds and low load con­di­tions, the 129-horse­power elec­tric mo­tor pro­vides the power with the gas en­gine turn­ing a gen­er­a­tor to recharge the lithium-ion bat­tery pack. When and if more power is re­quired, the en­gine is called into play. The com­bi­na­tion pro­vides enough mo­ti­va­tion to pass eas­ily or climb the steep­est hill.

With lots of torque from the elec­tric mo­tor, get­ting away from a stop or merg­ing with traf­fic is ef­fort­less. Com­muters will ap­pre­ci­ate the around-town ef­fi­ciency with­out hav­ing to worry about high­way per­for­mance or where the near­est plug is.

Fur­ther ev­i­dence of the con­ven­tional ap­proach, is the same suite of safety fea­ture found in other Hon­das. That in­cludes lane keep as­sist, adap­tive cruise con­trol, au­to­matic high beams, for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing and mit­i­ga­tion brak­ing sys­tems, lane de­par­ture warn­ing sys­tem, road de­par­ture mit­i­ga­tion sys­tem and traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion.

Af­ter sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres of mixed driv­ing con­di­tions, I came to think of the third-gen­er­a­tion In­sight as a fu­el­ef­fi­cient, ma­ture Civic.

RICHARD RUS­SELL PHOTO

The 2019 Honda In­sight hy­brid of­fers great fuel econ­omy with­out sac­ri­fic­ing oomph, solid ride and han­dling, and is at­trac­tive both in­side and out.

RICHARD RUS­SELL PHOTO

The 2019 Honda In­sight of­fers all the ben­e­fits of a hy­brid with few of the draw­backs.

RICHARD RUS­SELL PHOTO

The 2019 Honda In­sight rides on the same wheel­base as the Civic sedan but has unique styling, a re­vised in­te­rior, and an en­tirely dif­fer­ent setup un­der the hood that com­bines a gaso­line en­gine with a pair of elec­tric motors.

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