Our gas-guzzling Subaru Impreza is coming up for its shaken again this year, and the replacements get more expensive each time, so we're looking to get a new car. So last weekend we went to test drive the new Honda Insight hybrid.
A few years ago I test drove the Toyota Prius and was very impressed. Apart from the poor visibility out the back window, it felt like driving a normal car. Indeed, the quiet inside made it feel like a luxury car. The integration of the engine and motor is seamless, and if you don't look at the display which indicates which is in use, it's impossible to tell.
The body of the Honda Insight looks a lot like the Prius (which actually copied an earlier version of the Insight). Inside, it has a very 1970s space-age 'driving interface'. However, when I lowered the steering wheel to a relaxed position just above my knees, I couldn't see the speedometer at all. The engine and motor are not perfectly integrated. Indeed, there's a distinct jolt when the car switches between the two. This even happens when you have your foot on the brake waiting to turn -- the car just jolts on the spot of its own accord. This is disconcerting, and not what you want a car to do.
I took the car up a steep hill and it totally lacked poke. I wasn't able to put my foot right down to see if more power could be got from it because there was a kei-truck in front of me, but the Insight didn't feel as though it had power to spare.
When we got home, we calculated the likely economic benefit of buying an Insight, and unless the cost of petrol more than doubles, we'd be better off buying a cheaper car. Since we don't drive far or often, a normal car seems like a good choice. No electric vehicles appear ready for the market yet. The Insight has sufficiently obvious deficiencies in driving characteristics that buyers must convince themselves that they're doing some good in the world by driving it. I don't think the same thing applies to the Prius which offers grounds for smugness all round, albeit at a commensurate price.
On a side note, the difference between the Honda salesman and the Toyota salesman corresponds to the difference between the cars themselves. The Honda salesman was chatty and keen to sell. After a short while in our company, he felt sufficiently familiar to talk about his two-year old daughter. Somehow I don't think the sales gentleman from Toyota would have unwound himself so far.