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Insight moves in right direction.

Byline: MALCOLM ROBERTSHAW

AS the creation of wind farms is considered by many to be something of a lifeline to the National Grid, so the introduction of petrol/electric technology into the world of the motor car could be said to be a move in the right direction for the future of motorised transport.

Already, two generations of the Toyota Prius have proved popular with buyers and now, drawing on some 35 years of green heritage, it is Honda's turn to more than "dream the impossible dream" by reviving the Insight name, which first appeared in 1999, pairing it with a much more affordable hybrid petrol/electric car.

This latest version of the Honda Insight is a practical family motor with strong environmental credentials including 101g/km CO2 emissions, plenty of ongoing financial benefits, such as pounds 15 road tax, lower company car tax and fewer trips to the filling station, plus an outright purchase price created with a much wider audience in mind.

Honda research shows that a common misconception among drivers has been that hybrid cars are more expensive, thus attracting the elitist driver. However, the truth is that the new Insight pricing starts at pounds 15,490 for the SE entry level model, some pounds 2,380 under the Toyota Prius which opens up at pounds 17,870.

The Honda Insight is very much a conventional and roomy five-door hatchback with styling targeted at wind resistance rather than inspirational head turning propensity.

With three generously kitted out models from which to choose, SE, ES and ES-T, all models have the likes of climate control, electric windows all round, power door mirrors, front and rear speaker sound system with CD and MP3 compatibility and steering wheel mounted controls.

Imaginative work by the design team has resulted in plenty of places to house your bits and bobs while majoring on both family and load carrying options, the Insight houses a user friendly 408 litres of boot space with all seats taken, which becomes 584 litres with rear seats folded flat while the boot floor can also be configured to suit the load.

The Insight handles competently, dealing well with urban and motorway demands. Road and engine noise are well suppressed.

However, ride comfort is somewhat on the firm side and, while the deep and wide windscreen provides good views ahead, I did find that the bar joining the top and bottom window sections of the steeply raked tailgate limited rear view vision somewhat.

Doing the business under the bonnet is Honda's hybrid system. IMA stands for Integrated Motor Assist and the system is now a decade old. But, the 1.3-litre i-VTEC petrol engine is new and produces 87bhp.

However, the key to hybrid operation is the support given by the electric motor. This new piece of kit helps boost performance in addition to keeping emissions and fuel consumption to a minimum, produces 13bhp while improvements to the high-powered battery enable it to deliver power to the electric motor more regularly.

Together, engine and electric motor produced very much a family style performance, reaching 62mph from a standing start in 12.5 seconds and delivering a claimed top speed of 113mph. The smooth switching CVT transmission contributes to keeping the IMA system working at peak efficiency..

Meanwhile, the dashboard is a hive of activity, innovative dials and lighting contributing to a virtual "how to drive economically" lesson.

There is also a clever piece of electronic trickery which shows five trees when you are on song economically but should performance drop below eco par, the mountain greenery loses its branches.

A number of other inducements are on dashboard display with background lighting that glows green for fuel-efficient driving and blue when you are not.

Although I did find Honda's Eco Assist method of learning how to drive in economy-friendly fashion time consuming and quite exacting, the further I drove, the more apparent became the pluses of this particular exercise - keeping out of the blue and into the green did actually provide quite a sense of achievement.

However, I didn't manage to hit Honda's official figure of 64.2mpg over the combined driving cycle, having to be satisfied with a creditable 59.4mpg..
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 24, 2009
Words:702
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