A Little Bit of Insight - Honda's Hybrids


Unfortunately, due to their F1 involvement, Honda is not the first name that you think of when you're considering the best Hybrid car maker out on the market. Today, Stelvio Automotive leaps to the rescue of the multi-billion dollar Japanese firm to show 3 examples of when Honda DO get Hybrid technology right.

By Sean Smith

Honda, as you may know, is Japan’s 3rd biggest car manufacturer behind Toyota and Nissan. They have an enormous global footprint in cars and a multitude of other sectors from private jets to lawnmowers and are in many regards one of the world’s most innovative and successful companies. They are in almost all the top line motorsports around the globe and are of course famous for their Formula 1 exploits in the 1980s and early 90s.

As the introduction to this article suggests; Honda are very pioneering in the Hybrid sector, but in the last couple of years they have featured heavily in the media spotlight due to their “disappointing” performances in Formula 1’s current Hybrid-era with the McLaren team. Constant problems have put a black mark over their name which may deter buyers from purchasing from the brand. Today though, I’m going to show you 3 examples that prove Honda are indeed winners when it comes to Hybrid technology. The 3 examples are the original Honda Insight, the CR-Z coupe and the new NSX supercar.

Cast your minds way back to 1999, if you’re my age you’d have been 6 or 7 probably collecting Pokemon cards of something similar.  This is the year that Honda released their futuristic looking Honda Insight. It was a very small coupe which boasted a tiny 80bhp when its 1.0L engine was paired with its 13bhp Hybrid motor. The car wasn’t fast but it could do an impressive even by today’s standards 64mpg, some reports even say the car can do 100mpg if driven very carefully.

It’s rival, the disgusting Gen 1 Toyota Prius is often considered to be the first mass produced Hybrid car on the market but the Insight actually beats it to the production line by about 7 months, the Insight also thrashed the Prius on fuel economy, looks and wasn’t much more expensive with both cars costing around £16-17k at launch.

But the Insight was largely forgotten and as the Prius went on to become the #1 Hybrid vehicle selling over 7 million cars worldwide the Insight was discontinued by 2006 after only selling 17,000 units. This fact is completely unfair to the Insight and Honda as this car was a great example of what can be done with Hybrid technology, even in those early days. Even now the Insight is a match for the current Prius on fuel economy, added to that the Insight has been incredibly reliable with Honda only having a tiny number of failures in the now 17 year old car. This vehicle, without doubt, showed that Honda can do Hybrid cars right, and that’s only my first example.

Second on my list is a car I actually spent about 5 years not liking at all; the sports hatchback coupe Hybrid; the Honda CR-Z.

This time you only have to cast your minds back to 2010, if you’re my age you’d have been in College, or the dole as the 2009 economic crisis was still in swing.  Honda were on a bit of a choppy water ride in the UK with the “Cylon” Gen 8 Civic and the Jazz doing well, but the rest of the range was suffering due to the premium price tags Honda’s had at the time and the financial crisis meaning people weren't willing to pay for them.

Now, if you were called Ford or General Motors or Renault, you were spending 2010 trying to scale back your model ranges or subsidiary companies to stem the cash loss you were hemorrhaging at the time, not Honda. Instead they did what on the face of it was a great idea and a repeat of what brought them to the Western markets with the Civic in the 1980s fuel crisis. They launched the new CR-Z which was was essentially a Civic Type R style hot hatchback that was really cheap to run, doing about 50mpg compared to the Type R’s 31mpg but keeping the sporty shape and fun drive.

Sadly, again, Honda’s Hybrid dream failed to win over buyers. The car cost from £17-24k, not ridiculously priced but it meant diesels stole its market on MPG, but worse still the CR-Z was murdered by Honda Civic fans, those who would have been a key market to them.

Hybrid technology, even then, was still quite basic and heavy compared to what we see today. Even so the CR-Z weighed in at about 1220kg which was actually lighter than the Type R. The CR-Z was also raved about on reviews, but the car was in proof no match to the Civic. The Type R it was stupidly spoken around during its advertising was 100bhp more powerful and as good in the corners so the idea of the CR-Z (even in tuned-up Mugen form) being a performance competitor to its cousin was absolute lunacy. The car was quick but mentioning the Type R and drawing in comparisons was a grave error for the CR-Z.

It actually sold very well in Japan and in its first full year in America but by 2011 sales dropped off a cliff worldwide and it finally ceased production in 2016 selling about 34,000 cars in the USA. There are rumours and concepts of a much more powerful CR-Z coming in 2018 and if that occurs I’ll be sure to try and drive it. The Gen 1 model though now roams the used car markets at sub £6k price tags. It’s a shame because had Honda diverted attention away from the Civic and maybe lowered their price it might have caught on. It's clear from the reviews though that the CR-Z as a machine was another triumph of Honda's physical Hybrid ability.

And so on to the hat trick of this article. We’ve seen the Insight, incredibly reliable, incredibly fuel efficient, good looking, but a sales flop and quite slow. We’ve see the CR-Z, great MPG for a sports car but mired by the real world economics of its time and road raging Civic owners giving it bad press. Now though we have a current Honda Hybrid, the NSX.

The new NSX was over 10 years in the making. After Honda stopped the original in 2005 we were shown the HSV-10 in 2008 (which I loved). That car got dropped from production aside from the race version and for NSX fans all hope seemed lost; but soon we started to hear the rumours of a Hybrid NSX. Then in 2012 we saw it at the concept stage (above), and it was gorgeous. Through the next 4 years it slowly progressed to reality and now, finally an NSX can be yours for only £140,000 and after a two year waiting list period.

Okay it’s not exactly a cheap car; in fact I would probably call it an expensive car, except when I compare it to its rivals from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and others. The NSX is a modern Hybrid, so it comes with all the new, lightweight systems and added power that comes from the motors and batteries. The instant power of electric motors is there as always but also so is a dark art called ‘Torque Vectoring’; this is when electric motors work with the car’s computer to apply power to each wheel to balance the grip levels adjusting for slip when turning, allowing the car to do stupidly high speeds around corners. In simple terms, the NSX will out dance any of the big name rivals around a track.

The NSX is also beautiful inside and out, the bodywork is producing downforce all over to help it go faster, the suspension along with the Torque Vectoring works overtime when the car is pushed making it a fun and fast car to drive. It is with confidence that I can say Honda have built a masterpiece of a machine, worthy of the Honda name and a stamp to prove they can do hybrid technology right.

Which takes me back to the reason why I wrote this article in the first place, Honda are a truly pioneering company when it comes to Hybrid tech. That’s been shown in these 3 cars and some others in their historical résumé. One can easily just watch F1 at the weekend and have it stamped in their mind that Honda are unreliable and can’t cope with this Hybrid stuff. That is simply not true.

I will do a separate article in the near future on Honda and the F1 problem but today we should appreciate the NSX, CR-Z and Insight as credit to Honda and the work they do. They push boundaries and don’t get the recognition they deserve. So don’t worry Honda, you multi-billion dollar company who will never read this article, Stelvio Automotive has your back and I, Sean Smith, appreciate your effort, long may it continue!

Happy 10th Article Everyone.