Motor Mouth

Honda's Insight 1.3 SE handles like an empty crisp bag, but that isn't the point. Sathnam Sanghera takes up 'tamagotchi driving'

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

What strikes you most on first sitting in the Honda Insight, a green car presumably made as light as possible to reduce fuel consumption, are the opportunities the engineers missed to reduce weight. Take the 'sport' button near the gear selector, for instance. What is the point of that in a vehicle that gets up to 62mph in a glacial 12.5 seconds? Then there's the 'Econ' switch on the dashboard: surely as tautologous on a hybrid as a 'fly' button on a Boeing 747. And the car alarm: who would risk a prison sentence to steal this breadbin?

My bad feeling towards the Insight continued as I fired it up. The steering is as convincing as Gordon Brown's smile; the thin ecotyres make it as sure on its feet as a six-month-old toddler; the lightweight structure means that on a windy motorway, you feel like you're piloting an empty crisp bag; Jenson Button has more rear visibility in the cockpit of his F1 Brawn; and even the fuel consumption isn't that impressive when compared to that of some small diesel cars.

Yet I found myself unexpectedly softening towards the car the longer I drove it. I think it was in part reading Jeremy Clarkson's review, which described the Insight as 'biblically terrible - possibly the worst new car money can buy'. It's really not that bad. It was also, in part, the Econ system, which turns out to be quite clever.

You see, it performs all sorts of tricks to make the car additionally economical, which includes providing drivers with an 'eco score' after journeys. If your driving style has become more economical since the previous journey, various trophy symbols are displayed, rewarding your performance. But if it worsens, you get a withered plant. Honda calls it 'tamagotchi driving', and although it is no substitute for the thrill of overtaking a Porsche, it's clever, because it gives petrolheads something to be competitive about.

Indeed, to dismiss this car for its lack of drivability is to miss the point. It's built for fuel efficiency, and in this respect it is good enough. It's the most affordable hybrid on the market, and an important development in the argument for greener motoring. And as the Insight is in the lowest benefits-in-kind tax bracket, benefitting from reduced National Insurance payments and a higher writedown allowance, and exempt from the congestion charge, it's no surprise that Honda is forecasting that corporate clients will account for nearly 65% of its sales. Get used to it: you'll be driving one soon, like it or not.

I'll take one ...
Cheaper than the Toyota Prius.
A major development in the green argument.
Because you have to.
Thanks but no thanks ...
It's no fun driving an argument.

Honda Insight 1.3 SE: £15,990
Engine: 1,339 cc
Combined power: 88 PS at 5,800 rpm
Torque: 121 Nm at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 'Continuously Variable'
Fuel: 64.2 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2: 101 g/km
0-62 mph: 12.5 secs
Top speed: 113 mph

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