Since time immemorial, we always thought that the whole point of auto racing was to determine which of the competing cars is the fastest among the lot. That simple premise has been set in stone since the olden days so we figure that it wouldn’t change anytime soon. But banning a car from competition because its "too fast" against its competitors? That doesn’t sit too well with us.
The car we’re talking about is the Oaktec Honda Insight Hybrid Rally Car, a gas-electric eco sports car that competes - or was supposed to compete - in the Formula 1000 rally championship. The only problem was that its rivals lodged a complaint for its withdrawal because the car was too fast for them.
Turns out, the problem stems from its tuned gas-electric hybrid system, which easily achieves 100 mph when driven at cruise control and its unique Bosch-sourced CVT automatic transmission. Furthermore, the system allows the car to compete while running at 82 mph, a staggering number considering that the second best car returns only 65 mph.
Like a ditzy party animal or an all-out slacker, Honda was late for work. The Japanese automaker went into the office and decided to wage war against the Toyota Prius, only to discover that Toyota has moved on from the model they were aiming for.
The weapon that Honda has chosen in the green wars is the new 2010 Honda Insight, a sloped-nosed four-door hybrid that looks about the same as the Prius, just cheaper. Honda’s aim with this new car was to take away Toyota’s customers by offering 41 miles per gallon without the premium price tag.
We had a chance to drive the new Insight for a weekend and our test car was around $20,000, well below the Honda Civic Hybrid and the last generation Prius.
Seems too good be true? Honda is offering the same sort of thing that you get in the Toyota, but at a price that is far more affordable for the masses. Amazing.
Sadly, it’s not as good as you might think. Toyota has moved on from the Prius that Honda’s fighting and created an all-new version that’s massively better. The new model is capable of 50 miles per gallon, a number that will let Toyota keep it’s standing as the most fuel-efficient car in the United States. At least for now.
The European Honda Insight is getting a makeover inside and out. Honda has announced that it will update the suspension and the interior trim of the hybrid. These minor changes come after it has been on sale for just 18 months.
Many have complained about the Insight’s poor handling and ride, so Honda will adjust the recoil rate of the springs, as well as the rear camber angles. The Japanese automaker says that these changes will help the ride quality of the hybrid hatchback.
Inside the car, the interior materials and color selections have been updated to give it a better feel and look. Some of the plastics have been changed and the seat trim colors have been updated. Having spent a week driving the Insight, we feel these changes are much needed.
There are new chrome accents around the air vents and the EX model will come with leather and a satnav system.
We hope to see these changes come to North America, but we have no official word yet.
The Japanese automaker Honda is gearing up for the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon later this week where they will unveil the Insight Sports Modulo Concept. Following the trend of sporty and practical factory tuned models, the Sport Modulo modified Insight is the world’s largest engine builder’s way of saying that even hybrid models can be fun. As it comes from the factory, the Honda hybrid comes with excellent aerodynamic numbers, a comfortable passenger compartment and a fun chassis all a reasonable price, this Sports Modulo Concept expresses the joy of driving through an “Exciting Eco” theme. The automotive re stylists have enhanced the Insight’s appearance with a new ground effects package made up of chiseled lines and larger air dams. With the Sports Modulo concept vehicle, Honda hopes to demonstrate what their in house customization program has to offer the next generation hybrid buyer.
Who ever said that hybrids had to be boring never envisioned this tuned gas/electric Honda. When it was originally conceived, the new Honda Insight was designed to be an affordable option for ecologically conscious new car owners. However no one said that it had to look boring, and that is exactly what the Japanese tuning house Exclusive Zeus decided to do. They saw the potential in the Insight and developed a customization program for the economical hybrid Honda.
The kit consists of a new front fascia complete with blacked out grill, a set of beefy side skirts, a new vented rear apron and integrated diffuser. The tuned Insight is then finished off with a set of interesting four spoke rims wrapped in some all new low profile tires.
That sentiment has apparently become more legitimate as the days go by for Honda’s hybrid vehicle. You see, it didn’t take long for the Insight to become an instant hit in Japan; it actually topped the list of best-selling vehicle in Japan for April and in doing so, became the first hybrid car to be place number one on a monthly sales list. But despite the overwhelming success it has enjoyed in its homeland, the number haven’t necessarily translated on the other side of the Pacific.
It may have been hot in Japan, but if early forecasts hold true, the Insight would be lucky to even get a lukewarm reception in America. After going on the market last March, sales of the Insight have dragged to a crawl with the numbers suggesting that it would all behind by as much as 33% of the predicted number of sales by the end of the year.
When you’re an upstart vehicle determined to topple the industry leader, you take any advantage over your competitor any way you can get it.
For the Honda Insight, there’s no more gratifying challenge than to outsell the Toyota Prius in Japan. And for at least a month, the Insight was able to do that, garnering the distinction of becoming the very first hybrid car to top the monthly sales charts in Japan.
While the Prius has long been regarded as one of the most popular hybrid cars in the market, the Insight was able to move up the charts by selling 10,481 units, doing so mostly because it comes at a cheaper price tag ($19,000) – 1.89 million yen) than the Prius.
The 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid made its world debut at the 2009 Detroit Show. It went on sale in April and prices started from $19,800 for the LX version and from $21,300 for the EX version.
All Insights are powered by an advanced 1.3-liter SOHC aluminum-alloy i-VTEC engine and CVT, along with a new generation of Honda’s IMA hybrid system that incorporates a 13 hp electric motor and a compact Intelligent Power Unit (IPU). The car delivers an estimated maximum driving range in excess of 400 miles.
The 2010 Insight is being offered with dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags; front-side airbags with a passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS); side curtain airbag system; anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution (EBD); driver- and front-passenger active head restraints and a front body designed to mitigate pedestrian injuries.
The EX models add alloy wheels, cruise control, 6-speaker audio system with USB audio interface, steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, Honda Vehicle Stability Assist and an available Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System™ with Voice Recognition.
One of the main problems with hybrid vehicles is the cost. The government does offer tax credits that help offset the price, but those are negated by the enormous premiums that the dealers are charging in addition to the MSRP; simply because the supply of these vehicles is limited and they are high in demand, Business 101. It has been concluded that the additional amount spent to purchase a hybrid instead of the traditional model will never be recuperated at the pump because the sher number of miles that a person would have to drive is tremendous.
For example, a well-optioned Toyota Prius can around $30,000. Hopefully Honda will affect this trend by introducing an affordable hybrid vehicle. The 2010 Honda Insight will go on sale March 24th for around $19,800 becoming the cheapest hybrid vehicle sold in the U.S. The five-door five-seater gas-electric hybrid follows Honda’s latest design trend and comes with a long list of standard features.
"The all-new Honda Insight brings the cost of entry for hybrid technology within closer reach of an entirely new car-shopping audience"
Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist joins a 1.3 liter 4 cylinder i-VTEC gasoline engine with a 10 kilowatt electric motor connected to a Continuously Variable Transmission. The electric motor is positioned in between the engine and transmission. This motor provides power during acceleration and through regenerative braking generates electricity during deceleration that is stored in the battery for future use. Another benefit of the IMA system is its ability to operate exclusively on electric power during low speed driving and the fuel saving idle stop feature that shuts down the 4 cylinder engine while the vehicle is standing still.
New for 2010 is the Ecological Drive Assist System, much like FIAT’s Eco Drive software that lets you record personal driving statistics on a flash drive and then have the program evaluate your economy at home on a PC. Except that with Eco Assist displays all the information in front of the driver in real time on a 3-D looking panel in front of the speedometer. Off to the left is another new feature is the ECON button, which can manipulate the throttle, control, CVT operation, idle-stop duration, air conditioning and in the slightly higher priced EX model the cruise-control operation in order to achieve maximum efficiency.
All of this technology is said to return 40 miles per gallon in city driving and 43 miles per gallon while cruising on the highway. The 10.6 gallon gas tank in the Honda hybrid should give the Insight a range of over 400 miles.
The vehicle will also be sold in an EX trim starting at $21,300 and $23,100 for navigation. Not to shabby for an affordable hybrid.
Mugen means unlimited in Japanese. It is a brand that is often thought of as tuning racecars and high-performance street machines. This time they have put their efforts into improving the aerodynamics of Honda’s latest hybrid. Mugen is once again showing off its close ties with Honda, the Insight went on sale in Japan last week.
Since hybrids are designed with fuel-economy in mind their body’s main purpose is to cut smoothly through the air and reduce drag, not win any car shows. The Mugen kit drastically improves the automobiles appearance and at the same time reduces lift. Both front and rear lower spoilers work in tandem with the side skirts to channel air around the body and not underneath it. Although the rear spoiler seems a little extreme it improves down force. The side mirrors were even designed to reduce turbulence when driving with a slightly opened window.
Of course, Mugen improved the handling as well. The suspension setup comes with a set of sports-tuned springs and damper that reduced ride height by 20mm. There are two different kinds of wheels in the package: the XJ is 16-inch mesh wheel and the NR a 15-inch, 8-spoker.
Mugen has also included a system called Intelligent Tire Condition Monitoring System (i-TCMS) which, besides measuring tire pressure, also displays tire temperature and will inform the driver when a tire has reached an undesirable condition.
The engine did not receive any modification except for a high-performance air filter and out back is a triangular sports exhaust tip.
Tuning hybrids is new business for the Japanese tuner. It is nice to see that just because an emphasis is put on fuel efficiency, fun is not left out of the equation. Unfortunately like most Mugen accessories this one is Japan only.