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Honda's hybrid headache

honda-insight_lg6.jpg

Pretty much everyone knows that the Toyota Prius now has a competitor -- the Honda Insight, available as a base model starting at $19,800.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Jeremy Clarkson offers his opinion of the world's latest automotive miracle:

It's the first car I've ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn't have to drive it any more.

Ouch. I'll let Mr. Clarkson explain:

The biggest problem, and it's taken me a while to work this out, because all the other problems are so vast and so cancerous, is the gearbox. For reasons known only to itself, Honda has fitted the Insight with something called constantly variable transmission (CVT).

It doesn't work. Put your foot down in a normal car and the revs climb in tandem with the speed. In a CVT car, the revs spool up quickly and then the speed rises to match them. It feels like the clutch is slipping. It feels horrid.

And the sound is worse. The Honda's petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else's crying baby on an airliner. It's worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you'd have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.

So you're sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you're doing only 23mph because that's about the top speed, and you're thinking things can't get any worse, and then they do because you run over a small piece of grit.

Because the Honda has two motors, one that runs on petrol and one that runs on batteries, it is more expensive to make than a car that has one. But since the whole point of this car is that it could be sold for less than Toyota's Smugmobile, the engineers have plainly peeled the suspension components to the bone. The result is a ride that beggars belief.

Maybe we Americans (and Britons) are spoiled, but for the last 90 years or so, automotive "innovations" have always resulted in improvements in vehicle performance and the experience of driving. I shudder when I contemplate the end of the golden era of the automobile.

On the other hand, Toyota reports that orders for its new 2010 Prius have now topped 75,000. The Prius is now in its tenth model year in the United States (2001? Could it really have been that long ago?) and its third major design and engineering overhaul. The 2010 model is expected to be available in the United States in October. From the looks of things, if you want to buy a hybrid you'd probably be better off waiting 'till then.

Even though I've been a little rough on hybrids in my previous car posts, I really don't have much against them. Toyota seems to have come up with a satisfactorily-performing (if a bit overpriced) vehicle that is dependable and very fuel efficient. The downside to hybrid technology is that it adds yet another layer of complexity to the mechanics of the car, and that's why (along with the relatively steep sticker price) I think people have been hesitant about buying them.


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Comments (33)

Seems a little hard to beli... (Below threshold)

Seems a little hard to believe at first glance. I mean, I haven't heard any complaints about their other hybrids and except for the bizarre appearance the original Insight wasn't condemned that I recall and mileage lovers still gloat if they own one.

Seems really odd that Honda could have fallen so badly off the cliff on this one. But you never know, I guess.

You also have to remember t... (Below threshold)
ExSubNuke:

You also have to remember that Clarkson is a dyed in the wool "car nut." And like all car nuts, likes to have more power and be more involved in the driving experience (and thus, has a very heavy foot).

For those of us paying attention, he's hated EVERY hybrid he's come across. For those "greenies" who "get it" (of which, thankfully, I'm not one) I'm sure it's something they'll gladly live with so they can beat the rest of us over the head with their "obvious" moral superiority.

Me, I'd rather a VW Jetta TDI to enjoy the driving experience AND sip fuel (as well as not be one of those uber-smug aformentioned "greenies" who "get it").

The constantly variable tra... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

The constantly variable transmission (CVT) is not unique to the Honda Insight. The Nissan Altima, Cube, Murano, Rogue, Sentra, Versa, and Maxima also use CVT, in fact, CVT is only transmission available for the Murano, Rogue, and Maxima. The same complaint about the engine revving up applies to all these models, but in talking to people who own them, it's no big deal.

Obviously, the rest of Clarkson's opinion is a colorful exaggeration. The March 2009 issue of Car and Driver has a serious review of the Honda Insight.

I've said before, when "inn... (Below threshold)

I've said before, when "innovations" are things that are mandated by a dominating mother hen politburo, who know what's best for you, then THIS is the result.

Garbage.

We need to roll back this Soviet-style banana republic the media and foreign billionaires have gotten installed, and let the Henry Fords of this country get us back to innovating.


I,m still driving my 89 Hon... (Below threshold)
1903A3:

I,m still driving my 89 Honda Accord and getting about 29mpg.Its paid for so I,ll keep driving it till the wheels fall off,or I cant get parts anymore.

I'll keep the cars I have. ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

I'll keep the cars I have. They work. They're paid for.

I'll keep driving my 2003 M... (Below threshold)
Eric:

I'll keep driving my 2003 Mercury Marauder with a clear conscience since I'm covered for life with Carbon Offsets. If it's good enough for Al Gore, it's good enough for me.

"Interior sound levels are ... (Below threshold)

"Interior sound levels are mild and well controlled, especially at freeway speeds. Cockpit space is generous for two in front, a bit tight on the knees in back if front occupants are unwilling to compromise on legroom." Car and Driver

"And the sound is worse. The Honda's petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else's crying baby on an airliner. It's worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you'd have to sit a dog on a ham slicer." Whiny Brit

Someone's being honest and someone's trying to entertain. Your guess which is which.

Choice you can Believe In..... (Below threshold)
bobdog:

Choice you can Believe In...

I love Jeremy Clarkson. Let... (Below threshold)
Dave:

I love Jeremy Clarkson. Lets get that out of the way. I am a car nut myself. But he simply is not to be trusted when it comes to hybrid vehicles. He has given some great reviews to some seriously green cars but they are traditional ultra efficiant cars such as the new Ford Fiesta. He stormed a beach with the Royal Marines in one. No seriously he did.
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=1fb_1228841071

What a great bit of television that clip is. He is definitly a "petrol head" as the Brits call it, so anything that is wishy washy or soft in a car that takes away from the driving experience is something he is not going to like. He doesnt even like the paddle shifters on BMWs and Ferraris, as he calls them the "flappy paddle gearbox."

If you want a review of a supercar like a Porsche or Corvette, Clarkson is your man. A better person for testing the hybrid would be his Top Gear co presenter, James "Captain Slow" May. He will also criticize the problems that he sees with the car, but will give credit where credit is due and realize that the Honda Insight is not built for guys like Clarkson, but for the average "bloke" who wants to go from point A to B and not feel special because he has a Prius. Captain Slow came to California to test out the new Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen car. And loved it. It was a through review of future technology. The only new tech car that Clarkson has liked is the Tesla Roadster. But he even complained about that car as its not quite a proper sports car yet. Clarkson is a character and he plays that character wuite well. His over the top reviews are what draw people to him or push them away. He is a master at reviewing a car. Youtube some of his reviews of "proper sports cars" and you will see the genius that is Clarksona nd understand why he doesnt like the Honda or the Toyota hybrids.

I'll keep driving my 2006 L... (Below threshold)
Laura:

I'll keep driving my 2006 Lincoln LS, thank you. It's almost paid for, and I feel safer it in than I would in one of those glorified golf carts.

Smugmobile. A good South Pa... (Below threshold)
davidt:

Smugmobile. A good South Park reference to a great insight by the South Park boys.

>Someone's being honest and... (Below threshold)

>Someone's being honest and someone's trying to entertain. Your guess which is which.

That's easy: Which one takes more advertising dollars from car companies?


For those who can't tell fa... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

For those who can't tell fact from fantasy Clarkson claims the top speed of the Insight is 23 MPH. The actual tested top speed is 114 MPH and is governor limited rather than drag limited, which means it likely has the power to go even faster. Clarkson is obviously exaggerating about the top speed as he is about the noise, handling, and suspension.

The EPA mileage for the Insight is 40 city and 43 highway. CarAndDriver got 46 mpg in their testing, which is less than the Prius, but the Insight drives much more like a conventional car. For example, if you're driving slow with the Prius you'll notice the engine quits and starts by itself even as you keep going. That's the way the Prius works, but it's a bit unnerving.

Oh sure, we all say we'll j... (Below threshold)
CDR M:

Oh sure, we all say we'll just keep and drive our already paid for cars but there will come a time where the CEO of GM and Chrysler, oops I mean the President will have to increase sales and he will have Congress pass a law that will force those of us who drive cars that get less than 45 MPG to scrap them and get on board or else!

Even the pillars of Isis in... (Below threshold)
LaMedusa:

Even the pillars of Isis in the emblem didn't improve the quality, did it? This throw-away technology is really going to leave no room in the landfill.

I personally love those CVT... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

I personally love those CVT transmissions. I have those in all three motor scooters I've owned, and they're real fast in city traffic. That Honda design must be having some real technology design problems. Strangely, the Honda GY6 scooter engines are designed and built in China, where the CVT transmissions also work perfect. Maybe Honda's problem is that they should have let the Chinese build their CVT transmissions, because the Chinese versions work perfect. Some things the Chinese do right.

I don't think it is fair th... (Below threshold)
syn:

I don't think it is fair that I should pick up the health care tab for all those who CHOOSE to drive CAFE-standardized body-manglers-on-wheels.

Plus, more people die from driving the CAFE-standardized death-traps than from smoking cigarettes.

I swear The Party of Death is skilled at the art of extinguishing life at every opportunity all under the premise that they care.

How do I abhor these meddlers, liars and thieves, let me count the ways..all 43 million of them.

When do our elected "public... (Below threshold)
davidt:

When do our elected "public servants" in the White House and Congress start driving these Earth saving eco-friendly cars to get around instead of riding in chauffered limosines? Yeah, yeah, we know.

"CHOICE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN"... (Below threshold)
914:

"CHOICE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN" Gets a negative vote???

What the fu k??

The plus of owning one of t... (Below threshold)
914:

The plus of owning one of these sardine cans is if You go into the ditch You dont need a tow truck to pull You out.

On the downside, even the "jaws of life" may not be able to free You from Your environmentally friendly coffin.

More than a few of you shou... (Below threshold)
Paul:

More than a few of you should read this article:

Green consumption became what sociologists call "positional consumption"--consumption that distinguishes one as elite--and few things were more ecopositional than the Toyota Prius, whose advantage over other hybrid cars was its distinctive look. A 2007 survey that appeared in The New York Times found that more Prius owners (57 percent) said they bought the car because it "makes a statement about me" than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent), lower emissions (25 percent), or new technology (7 percent). Prius owners, the Times concluded, "want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid." The status effects were so powerful that, by early 2009, Honda's new Insight Hybrid had been reshaped to look like the triangular Prius.

Smugmobile is right.

>If you want a review of a ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>If you want a review of a supercar like a Porsche or Corvette

Porsches and Vets are "Supercars" now? Oh my.

>For those who can't tell fact from fantasy Clarkson claims the top speed of the Insight is 23 MPH.

Oh Mac.. no he didn't... be realistic.

The status effects... (Below threshold)
ExSubNuke:
The status effects were so powerful that, by early 2009, Honda's new Insight Hybrid had been reshaped to look like the triangular Prius.

Actually, as Robert Cumborford noted in the March 2009 issue of Automobile Magazine, the shape is based upon the aerodynamic patents of Koenig-Fachsenfeld, from the 1930s. Many cars have used this shape, the most prominent in the US (in recent memory) being the 2nd and 3rd gen Prius and 2nd gen Insight. Audi used the same shape for their 1999-2005 A2 (not sold in the US).

Do your research people.

"Porsches and Vets are "Sup... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

"Porsches and Vets are "Supercars" now? Oh my."

A Porsche Cararra GT and a Corvette ZR-1? Absolutley.

Oh Mac.. no he did... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Oh Mac.. no he didn't... be realistic.

Here's the quote: "So you're sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you're doing only 23mph because that's about the top speed, "

Like I said in post #13, Clarkson is obviously exaggerating about the top speed as he is about the noise, handling, and suspension.

And that's the real point; that Clarkson's report exaggerates everything negative about the car. Good entertainment, but hardly of value for someone looking for a fuel efficient vehicle. When gas goes past $3.50 per gallon again a lot more people will be looking for such a car and it won't be as a status symbol.

"Porsches and Vets are "Sup... (Below threshold)
Dave:

"Porsches and Vets are "Supercars" now? Oh my."


Corvette ZR1, 200+ MPH. Can be in your driveway for $110,000. Its a serious piece of machinery and has laid to waste to everything and anything a the Nur-ring in Germany. Only car it isnt faster than is the DOdge Viper ACR version. Another supercar. All the upgraded 911 models. 911GT2, GT3 and GT3RS are all supercars as well.

In Clarksons own words, it ... (Below threshold)
DJ:

In Clarksons own words, it isn't what you drive, it's how your drive it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKTOyiKLARk

One could probably hyper-mile a new Carrera and get over 40 mpg. How long before the gov't steps in and tells us 'how' we're supposed to drive our own vehicles?

Speaking of hyper miling an... (Below threshold)
ExSubNuke:

Speaking of hyper miling and the Corvette, it's long been known that if you don't drive a 'Vette with a lead foot, you'll return high 30's to low 40's MPG.

It's all common sense physics really. Most sports cars are light, and have lots of power. This is the basic reason they're fast and handle well. Conversely, if you don't drive with a lead foot, that massive power pushing light weight doesn't have to work very hard to get going or maintain speed, ergo, good mpg.

It's just like Clarkson says. "It's how you drive." I remember an episode of Top Gear where a BMW M3 returned better MPG than a prius. I recall seeing a show on the Speed Channel where a corvette ALMOST beat a prius on a road trip, and both of the drivers were "hyper-miling" it. As such, I don't take kindly to the current administration wanting to control my shopping habits because the cars I like to drive/own happen to guzzle gas a bit when driven by lead footed morons. My Mazdaspeed6, that's capable of 0-60 times in the mid 5 second range (if I abuse the clutch), gets 30 mpg (5-6 better than epa estimates) because I don't drive it like a moron. It also gives me the option to enjoy the drive, and the power to get out of bad situations if I need it.

hooson - "I personally ... (Below threshold)
marc:

hooson - "I personally love those CVT transmissions. I have those in all three motor scooters I've owned, and they're real fast in city traffic.

Oh yeah, great comparison, a couple hundred pound scooter versus a one ton 4-wheeled vehicle.

Please, you CAN'T be that silly-minded.

Dave - "Corvette ZR1, 200+ MPH. Can be in your driveway for $110,000. Its a serious piece of machinery and has laid to waste to everything and anything a the Nur-ring in Germany.

Laid to waste everything?

Well maybe, if that's what you call a three second difference on a track that's 3.2 miles in length?

The 2009 Corvette ZR1 has set a lap time of 7:26.4.

The latest version of the Nissan R35 GT-R made the same lap at a time of 7:29.03.

That's hardly stuff of laying anything to "waste."

That said, keep in mind, there was reportedly a strong headwind on the main straight, which could have actually slowed things down a bit for the ZR1.

"He will have Congress p... (Below threshold)
John S:

"He will have Congress pass a law that will force those of us who drive cars that get less than 45 MPG to scrap them and get on board or else!"

And see how fast electing 300 Republicans to Congress would get that law repealed.

Marc: Laid to waste everyth... (Below threshold)
Dave:

Marc: Laid to waste everything?

Well maybe, if that's what you call a three second difference on a track that's 3.2 miles in length?

The 2009 Corvette ZR1 has set a lap time of 7:26.4.

The latest version of the Nissan R35 GT-R made the same lap at a time of 7:29.03.

That's hardly stuff of laying anything to "waste."

That said, keep in mind, there was reportedly a strong headwind on the main straight, which could have actually slowed things down a bit for the ZR1.


First the track is about 13 miles long, not 3.2. Im refering to Nordschleife set up, not the GP track. The toll road anyone can drive on. Ill assume it was a typo.

Second, study the goings on, you should know that Nissan has spent millions of dollars and countless hours at the Nur-ring Nordschleife track. They spend every waking moment there with a former F1 driver behind the wheel. Corvette shows up with one of their test drivers (also a former F1 driver) and no former or formal testing. Viper team did the same thing. They in true 'Ring fashion, run what they brung. There is also no doubt that the Viper and ZR1 have achieved their lap times fairly and accuratly and there is a very dark over the Nissan camp because they seem to be the only group of people who can turn those lap times. Porsche went out and bought a bone stock GTR that ran a 7:54 instead of the claimed 7:29. This was the old car. Accordning to Porsche and from my own racing experience, a 7:29 could have been turned with semi-slick tires, but Nissan is claiming 100% stock, which includes the tires. I am not going to sit around and say that Porsche's drivers suck, but something is clearly up and Nissan is clearly stacking the deck in their favor. Nothing is wrong with that, but they are being disengenuous when they claim 100% stock and no one else can come within 30 seconds of that time. Nissan lives at the ring testing and tuning and changing to achieve these times with a former F1 driver. Porsche and Corvette are using their test drivers. I personally do not believe Nissan and their 7:29 claim at 100% stock. My racing experience(20+ years) says something very different and Porsche also backs up this claim by the fact they bought and tested the car.

Also the new mythical 7:26 GTR car is the Series II version. Its has many modifications done to it that Nissan decided to just sell "stock". While I dont dispute this tactic as fair, I still question the overall time. Corvette may not go back due to bankrupcy proceedings. But I still am far more impressed with the fact they showed up and run what they brung. Didnt test the holy hell out of the car. So even if that time is legit, its quite an expensive proposal considering the ZR1 is cheaper than the Series II and the possible V-Spec versions. And the fact that they have to keep going back and they seem to turn a faster time. Something just doesnt smell right in the Kanagawa perfecture...

3 seconds on a 13 mile track is a big deal because there are places for each car to show its strength and weaknesses. There is no production car that will handle Nur in all sections like a champ. They will all have an advantage and be at a disadvantage at some point on the track. The track is basically the equalizer and to be faster there by .3, 3, or 30 seconds is a big deal because of that. Nurburg isnt about how much you win by, its about the fact that you won. Its bragging rights like the old days. Today people justify slower times with cost benifit analysis. Well I saved $x,xxx. So Im happy. Ok thats great for you, but sports car companies dont penny pinch until they feel they have to spend millions for a little bit more. Nissan obviously doesnt care. A GTR for $160,000? I remember when the R32, 33, 34 GTRs were like the Corvette of Japan. Affordable, fast, yet and absolute monster in the right hands.


All that being said the GTR is a phenominal car, but i still wouldnt buy one. I prefer the whole driving experience, using all my arms and legs, shifting a car. I understand the need and want for a "flappy paddle" gear box as I have raced one a track and for that purpose I love it! I knocked a second and a half off my best time in the same car with a traditional tranny. No better tranny for racing. But I dont get to race that often anymore and I cant afford a race car that has one yet. I still do track days with my daily driver Subaru STi so I like the manual.

If Honda is going to mak... (Below threshold)

If Honda is going to make POS cars no one will buy them. Annoying sounds can make it or break it for me when buying a new car, especially when you pay $19k for a car.




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