The New Honda Insight Is Hout!

The new Honda Insight is out in Japan and it’s hot, yup, witty title and witty comments ensues. Honda little baby that we saw a couple years back that took shape of a franken last generation Fit with the body of Honda Airwave now took the new corporate face of Honda. With Honda halting all of its luxury and performance models, all hopes are literally in the trunk of the new Insight… But does it have what it takes? Well, some say okay, and some say hell yeah! Read on for a paper review and witty comments.

Ever since October 2008 until early January 2009, every company in the world reports a significant loss as demand declines sharply. Toyota reports its first ever loss in decades, and Honda cancels its entire new luxury and performance model. If that’s not bad news, seeing me naked is great news then. So, in the year end speech, Takeo Fukui as CEO of Honda Japan stated implicitly that Honda will only cater to its core target market and only sells products that reflects the demand of its target market. This means, more small and compact cars and more fuel efficient cars I guess.

One of the most awaited models unquestionably is the new Insight or Insight Ver. 2.0 some says. The Insight originally is Honda first hybrid car that garners many awards for its intended use, as a car which uses as little fuel as possible… But it stops at that “intended use” point. The Insight is strictly a two seater with more or less questionable function over style and very little utility. With extreme sloping hatch and a tight cargo space… Practical is not first generation Insight keyword. Then, Toyota came with Prius and just literally decimates the Insight in practicality with its 5 seat accommodation and subjectively better looking than the Insight.

Some say the Insight is a failure, Honda even introduced Civic Hybrid without much fanfare as Insight’s semi-replacement. Still, the Civic Hybrid couldn’t achieve Insight’s targeted fuel consumption and Toyota Prius still regarded as the king of the hybrid. Well, as you might know now, the Civic is designed first as a gasoline drinking car with a sporty demeanor. Putting a small electric assisted gasoline engine just doesn’t quite add up with the Civic intended use, unlike the original Insight’s light aluminum, small, and compact chassis. Furthermore, Toyota Prius unique shape is regarded as a statement towards the looking crowds, whereas Honda Civic ricer boy image just wouldn’t mix with environmentally conscious people.

Blindly guessing, I take that Honda head honchos are pissed and decided to go all out with a dedicated small global hybrid and even goes as far as saying that the Civic Hybrid was a mistake… Dang! So the Insight name is restored, the new Insight is designed as an affordable hybrid and with it, a car that is based purely on a hybrid engine. What you got? A car based on the Fit’s platform, a cool US$20K starting price (in America), a 5 seater 4 doors, and a phenomenal 63,4 MPG (US) of real world test!!! That’s nearly 27 Kilometer per liter (Metric) of fuel used!!! Compared to my Suzuki SX4 Crossover best average of 11.1 Kilometer per liter, that’s astonishing!

The true successor of Insight has finally arrived

The natural shape evolution

Some criticize the shape of Honda new hybrid apes that of Toyota Prius. But in reality, that sloping hatch shape is the most aerodynamically efficient form achievable in a 4 wheeler without compromising drivability and field of vision from inside the car. As according to aerodynamic theory, the airflow won’t break on a gentle sloping shape, causing less drag on the car. The first modern era Japanese car that used this shape is Honda own CRX, way back in the late 80s, a car that was meant to define frugality with its shape alone. So it’s not a matter who apes who, it’s just a natural progression of things.

The original Insight take design cue from 1991 CR-X, and the Prius looks like a 4 door Insight, so?

The original Insight has a very limited trunk space because everything underneath that sloping hatch door is mostly battery instead of cargo space. Honda then changed this concept on the Civic Hybrid by making the battery smaller, and tucked behind the second row seat. Still though, seat cushion sized battery doesn’t mean a commanding power reserving capability nor an adequate charge to power the electric motor on longer trips. Worse yet, backseat utility are zeroed because the backseat is bolted shut. For the new Insight, Honda engineer crams the new battery and control units on the trunk floor of the Insight, allowing for the back seat to be folded forward and giving the Insight users much more utility.

Not much is known for spare tire space though, but from the picture, it seems there’s a small space available above the battery + control unit. I was afraid that Honda is going to ditch spare tire completely in favor of repair kit to trim the car’s weight down (as in less weight = better fuel consumption)… Yup, it’s official, Honda ditch spare tire altogether at least for the Japanese Insight. The trunk features a two storey foldaway floor, like the one featured on the CR-V although having much lesser second storey space.

Lower than a Fit, but longer

Dimension wise, the new Insight actually is very close to the new Fit, although slightly longer. The car is as wide as Fit at 1695 mm, but the wheelbase grows 50 mm on the Insight, which is dismissible actually, and the Insight a full cm shorter vertically than the Fit. With the Insight shorter stance, will it mess the cabin space? Thank god we’re dealing with Honda here, the master of utility. Even though the car is lower than the Fit, it is actually roomier. The seat cushion on 1st and 2nd row is longer by 5 mm, the interior space length is increased 110 mm compared to the Fit and the 2nd row seat height improved by 110 mm… The magic of Honda engineers. The car ground clearance though, is lower than the Fit, at just 145 mm, people in developing countries should be careful driving the Insight especially on rainy season.

The recess which holds the backseat in place is very visible near the seatbelt base

One missing thing from the Insight compared to the Fit is no reclining backseat. It seems that the backseat rests against the car’s frame, and it can be seen more clearer from the cargo bay that the backseat rests against the body’s frame.

A driver’s car

The new Insight is never meant to be a fast car, although Honda engineers worked very hard to make driving one as enjoyable as it should be. The Insight is riding on top of Honda small global platform derived from the Fit platform, so what do you get here? Well, for starter, that battery + control unit wouldn’t be beneath the trunk if there were gas tank in there is it? *smirk*, so basically it’s front central fuel tank again for the Insight. Then, there’s McPherson Strut up front and H-Shaped torsion beam back for suspension. Well, it’s basically a stretched back Fit anyway…

The Insight has flat bottom to allow smoother airflow and reduce drag

So what makes this hybrid car a driver’s car? After all, hybrid’s battery which means weight is the enemy of a balanced car which is the definition of a driver’s car. Well, one thing for sure, the new Insight gross weight is 1,190 Kg, or a round 1,200 Kg for the top of the line model. Not as light as the 1,100 Kg Japanese spec Fit, but remember because of the battery, I suspect that weight distribution in the new Insight is split close to even for the back and front. Then there’s the engine…

For every car, there’s an engine, and for some it’s the make or break aspect. For the Insight, Honda engineers actually pulling all the stops and designs an engine with EVERY known Honda technology. The new Insight engine displaces 1339 cubic liter or 1.3L 8-Valve SOHC with i-VTEC moniker. So what’s every known Honda technology there is on such a small engine? Well, for starter it has variable valve mechanism (VTEC), it has variable cylinder management (VCM) made famous on the larger V6 i-VTEC, and it has dual spark system (i-DSI), furthermore it has start stop feature. In short, the engine technology is a combination of first generation Fit, Civic, and Accord V6! That’s (*&^%$#! Awesome! For those who understand Japanese, you can click here to see description of each technology usage.

The straight lines are the combined power of the IMA and the engine… Just look at that amazing torque at 1000 RPM

As awesome technology wise… Power wise, the engine actually produces a laughable 102ps (100hp). That number is already combined with the power from the electric motor, and with that much power driving a 1.2 Ton car… So, does a driver’s car title should not be inserted in any of Insight media review? Well, hold on there… Because the engine’s low horsepower is made up by the engine hefty torque. Official number states a 123 lbs-ft of torque @ 1000-1500 RPM (due to electric motor max torque at 1000 RPM) or 166 Nm (metric)… And that my friend is actually very very very respectable number. Compared that to 133 Nm @ 4000 RPM on my 1.2 Ton SX4 Crossover, the new Insight will definitely be a blast to drive, especially that sweet 1000 RPM optimum torque… It’s only 200 RPM from idle! ^#$@^#*@!11!one1! So does the new Insight valid to be called as a driver’s car… Uumm, okay I guess.

VTEC check, i-DSI check, VCM check, and jumble more of Japanese text triple check

An awesome hybrid engine needs an awesome power unit. The battery of the car, dubbed the Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) is located beneath the Insight’s trunk. The battery is still nickel based but according to news feeds, the power unit is actually smaller up to 19%, lighter up to 28% and yet the output is better than the old one on the Civic Hybrid, reaching 30%. If that’s not the wonder of technology advancement, I don’t know what is. The most important thing about the whole power unit is its containment and protection. The whole unit is covered in foam like material to prevent water damage even if the power unit is submerged, good in frequent flood areas in developing country. However, the power unit is cooled via an exhaust fan that sucks hot air out to the back of the car… Which side? If it’s outside then wouldn’t water just creep into the duct, or if it’s inside, wouldn’t hot air be blown into the cabin… Awesomely confused…

A cut away model of the power unit, the battery (the green yellow stuff) looks like my old camping torchlight battery

How does it run?

Seriously, you didn’t know how a hybrid works? Well, so am I actually but thanks to a beautiful animation from Honda, we can see how the Insight 2.0 awesome engine works. The old Insight engine works eerily simple, you have internal combustion engine and a power unit. The old one relies heavily on just the engine, especially on hard acceleration, that’s why the automotive world touts the old Insight as a “mild” hybrid. A dumber version of full hybrid engine like that on the Prius. Well fellas… Apparently Honda noticed this and decided to go full hybrid.

At first “boot” of the new Insight, the internal combustion engine and the IPU powers the car (just like the old Insight). However, once got up to speed and driven at steady speed of 40 Km/H on level road, only the IPU powers the car, making the Insight a pure electric vehicle. Acceleration wise, the Insight still use internal combustion engine power alone, but only at 50% or so. On full acceleration, the IPU kicks in and boosting the internal combustion engine.

Visual representation of Insight power modes, the blue bar indicates assist, while the orange is internal combustion engine

One feature that is missing on the Insight 2.0 and apparently the Prius is actually full battery driving mode. Well, I don’t know why exactly as the Insight only allows full battery mode on dead level roads (any inclination and it’s fuel burning time again) and with steady speed while the Prius also only allows for a full 1.6 Km of battery driving mode before the engine is turned on. However, I do suspect it’s about preserving battery life. Conventional rechargeable battery has a limited lifetime, and it can be shorten by “using” or in the case of battery, by charging and discharging it continuously. Perhaps Honda and Toyota wanted to preserve the battery life to at least 4 years of ownership (and occasionally the mean time of leasing, which by the end of it people bought a new car)…

Or it might have another motive… Remember when suddenly notebook and mobile phones battery suddenly burst into flame or just literally explodes left and right? Although no conclusive evidence about why the batteries failed, you can just observe it yourself, try talking on your phone for a full 2 hours, the battery gets hotter oui? You just cannot make heat and electronics as friends. One way or the other, an electronic device might fail if exposed to enough heat… Yeah like if you put it in a microwave.

Driving it

Toyota Prius may set the benchmark for the techie car award, with its fighter jet cockpit like HUDs, warning tones, and plethora of cool techno babble, but Insight 2.0 is fighting back with more or less the same gimmicks only much more streamlined. Honda engineers go all out with the new Insight, pulling all the stops and defining the new… What I christen, “dashboard gimmicks”.

Almost looks like a regular car’s dash, but you’ll be surprised!

For starter, Honda multiplex dashboard that debuts with the Civic now decorates the new Insight, along with some dashboard gimmicks. The speedometer display has an active background illumination, which depends on your driving style (read: how hard you mash the gas pedal), changes color from green to blue. This means you don’t have to glance at the real time fuel consumption gauge on the 2nd tier dash to judge your driving style. But still, that real time fuel consumption gauge is now a stick with leaf, which multiplies as you frugally drive around town. Just so you know, if you drive jackhammer style, that stick and leaf thing disappears… So help the world by making lots of stick with leaf thingie on your new Insight 2.0! In short, the stick with leaf thing is just mileage calculator with different graphics.

From happy green to sad blue… Why blue? Me minus you equals blue?

The MID displays everything from outside temperature, odometer, to battery charge and so on

If you still think you cannot control your driving behavior, Honda provides a big green button with the big word “econ”(omy?) on it. This button when pushed will tell the ECU to make the whole car drives like an constipated mule… Step on the gas, and you will just get a steady forward momentum, unless you floor the pedal which overwrites the system or until you switch off the “econ” button. So the econ button will surely helps for those who got used to driving fast and angry.

I think the A pillar’s too thick, and the rear double glass kind of annoying although cool at the same time

Utility galore and a definite affordable car

When I wrote affordable that doesn’t mean the car is cheap, at a starting price of US$20K, the car might just be affordable up state, but around the world the car will nonetheless cross the Civic/Corolla territory with the plethora different set of taxes. That being said, the new Insight doesn’t have much to offer other than frugality. Insight… Sorry, inside, the car uses kind of “entry-level” materials you find on compact cars, hard dark grayish plastic over questionable beige like two tone colors. Still good enough compared to my SX4 Crossover black on black trim, but visually, I can already tell from the pictures that the dash material is inferior to the one on my sister’s CR-V.

Big hatchback opening for a bigger yet cargo bay

Well, couldn’t blame Honda for it, this is a groundbreaking car after all, who would thought that the time which everybody could afford a hybrid is just near the corner? So dashboard material quality is the very last thing that came to my mind… Seriously…

Another Honda moment here is the mind bending amount of utility especially storage space. The Insight has 4 cup holder and 6 cup/bottle holders of which some of you lacking in bottling/cup carry prowess will obviously use it as a trash bin… There’s also 3 compartment on the dashboard, for whatever you want to put in there, as this car literally explodes with utility.

60:40 fold flat back seat for extra cargo area… Shame the backseat cannot be reclined

One unique utility aspect of the car is situated on its cargo bay. Large cavernous trunk unique to wagon shaped car is not enough for Honda. With the IPU taking almost half of what should be the spare tire compartment; Honda engineers devised two & ½ storey storage, with a latch. On initial configuration, the flat cargo bay has a latch that can be open to reveal deep storage space (hence the ½ storey space), good for storing liquid or other “if possible not moving when transporting”. The floor can also be lowered to make way a total volume of 400 liter of VDA space, a long word for making the cargo bay larger.

See inset on the top right, two modes for Insight’s smart cargo bay

Which one for you?

The Insight 2.0 has three different grades, the basic “G”, the loaded “L” and the top of the line “LS”. However, having three different grades doesn’t mean the basic G is a stripped L or LS. The base Insight, regardless of types came with a standard 1.3L i-VTEC engine with CVT, keyless entry, tilt & stereoscopic steering, immobilizer, airbags, ABS, and 15″ wheel.

The base G comes with a cool price tag of 1.89 Million Yen, or roughly US$20800. Not bad for a dedicated hybrid price, at least it is cheaper than current generation Toyota Prius which starts at 2.33 Million Yen.

LS Type, the top of the line model

Going for the L type you are getting quite a huge upgrade here for 2.05 Million Yen. You get side mirror mounted turning signal, leather steering wheel, self leveling HIDs, rear seat armrest with cup holders, and lighting for the cargo bay. Topping that of for the LS type at 2.25 Million Yen are 16″ rims, VSA, fog lights, paddle shifters and shaded front windshield.

If you want to accessorize, Honda made available separate options for the base unit. You can add side curtain airbags, HIDs, VSA, smartkey system, Honda Internavi unit, some kind of support stuff for the Internavi unit, a different set of 15″ rims and what looks like a hydrophilic side view mirror + rear glass wiper (all type of Insights doesn’t have rear glass wiper, probably this is a cost cutting measure rather than a feature). Still… No sun/moonroof… Ouch… Honda really goes slim with this one. If I have the money, I would definitely go for the L type, actually, the G is already complete as is, but I the map lights is so useful sometimes.

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!

So you’ve bought an Insight, the LS type, with every option including the sales person girl/boy selling it… So what’s next? What kind of crazy accessory left for  the Insight? Bum bum bum! Enter the Mugenized Honda Insight!

Looks ricey but the claim says it improves aero efficiency

The Insight Type R! … … Sorry… Couldn’t hold myself cracking that joke, the Championship White and that big wing just screams type R. Mugen christen the kit as Insight Intelligent Sport kit. According to Mugen website, the kit helps improve aero efficiency on every part of the car. The wing bits on the bumper improves airflow towards the bottom of the car which is actually flat, and the rear bumper wing bits keeps the flow consistent until it breaks behind the car. Furthermore, the big wing also helps keeping the airflow passing through the top of the car so it will only break after leaving the car…  Cool concept and it might just worked actually.

Witty comments

A hybrid is created to take frugality to a new level, so how does the new Insight real world fuel consumption? Autoblog Green has taken one nice blue Insight and took it on a drive. The result is quite astonishing, a 63.4 MPG on efficiency drive and 44 MPG on mountain ride drive. That’s nearly 27 Km/L and 18 Km/L respectively… Insane level of efficiency. But not wanting to be one upped, our favorite Honda fan club, Temple of VTEC managed to get a 71 MPG. Although it’s just an impromptu sneak peek of a detailed review of the Insight, still… 71 MPG… (30 Km/L)…

One more incredible thing about the car is who or what managed to be picked as the ambassador of the car… At least on a commercial… Guess who got the privilege to represent Honda hopes in the turbulent times? No, not President Barack Obama, it’s a cartoon character, and it’s not Superman… It’s Snoopy, Charlie Brown and his rag tag gang… Snoopy for God sakes!! What the (*&^%! You can see the complete commercial on Honda of Japan Insight homepage and by clicking the driving Snoopy character… Here’s a short image clips from beginning to the very end (minus Honda signs).

Eat that captain planet! Snoopy is the greenest cartoon character evah! But why?

I would like to say Honda has done a great job on making the Insight 2.0. Every conceivable target criteria has been met and frankly I’m quite amazed on how the Insight 2.0 has become. However, the price is not just low enough, I was expecting a starting price of 1.6 to 1.7 Million Yen. At 1.89 Million Yen, it’s cutting close with the base Prius. Do note however, Honda will hybridized the Fit anyway, so there’s definitely a more affordable solution coming up in the future. Until then, just enjoy the great Honda engineering!

Disclaimer: All images displayed here are taken from Autoblog, Techon, Mugen and Honda of Japan. The images has been resized to fit the display limitation on the blog thus full images can be seen from its respective source below. Information from Honda of Japan are translated with the help of an online translator, misunderstanding of meaning might lead to some misinformation although careful observation has been put to guarantee 100% correct information.

Source:

Honda of Japan Insight homepage

MSNBC Honda Insight technology rundown

Auto Blog Honda Insight 2009

Autoblog Honda Insight first drive

Honda Insight TOV preview

Honda Insight battery overview

Toyota of Japan Prius price

Mugen Insight body kit


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