Although the Honda Insight design team started with a blank piece of paper - in that this was a brand new model with no history - they faced many challenges in creating the exterior appearance of the Honda Insight.
On the one hand, as a low emission hybrid car, it had to express environmental credentials - it had to look like a 'green' car - but on the other hand it had to appear dynamic and fun to drive; part of Honda's key design principles. Above all, in line with the positioning of Honda Insight, the design had to appeal to a broad range of people.
"We wanted the car to be widely accepted," says Creative Chief Designer, Motoaki Minowa. "If we just created an environmentally-friendly car it could have looked dull, or boring. We wanted to insert a sporty factor to make the car more appealing - and after all, sportiness is in Honda's DNA."
While the 'greenness' of the car may have challenged the sporty direction of the overall design, in some areas it actually helped the dynamic cause. Because the newly-developed IMA system is more compact, it meant the nose of the car could be shorter, creating a snubbed, more aggressive look to the front end.
Another important factor that led (and to some extent restricted) the exterior design was the bodystyle itself. To appeal to as many people as possible, a 5-door layout was chosen, and this brought its own challenges, particularly when optimising the aerodynamics of the car, and creating enough headroom for passengers in the rear.
"The reason we chose a 5-door hatchback was that we wanted the car to be popular in Europe," says Yasunari Seki, Large Project Leader. "American Honda - the biggest market - asked us to build a car with a boot, but we decided on a 5-door design because to compete with other green cars and sell more in Europe, it had to be a 5-door hatchback. Of course, aerodynamically it is also a more favourable shape."
One thing that didn't restrict the area of design was the budget, even though the rest of the project was so concerned with reducing costs. If anything, the development team spent more money getting the appearance of the car right. Adding an extra window to the rear quarter, for example, was costly, but was essential in creating a sleeker look. "The car had to be stylish and make its owner feel proud," says Mr Minowa.
Many will have noticed the similarity in the overall shape and look of the Insight to its fuel cell cousin, the Honda FCX Clarity. As well as the aerodynamic advantages of this shape, Mr Minowa says there's a definite reason for mimicking the body style of the advanced hydrogen-powered car.
"We intentionally tried to make the Honda Insight look like a baby version of the Clarity," he says. "There are some design treatments and colouring effects we have taken from the FCX, but basically the car's shape is very similar. FCX Clarity is the leader, the most advanced car, the ultimate clean car - and we want the Honda Insight to follow that lead. In a way, because the new Honda Insight takes design cues from the old car and from the FCX, it is bridging the gap between the past and the future."
The Insight adopts slim, projector-style headlights in a 4-light cluster. The headlight's low beam has blue detailing, and the indicators are located in the lower bumper face.
At the rear, the Honda Insight uses LEDs for the taillights and stop lamps. LEDs consume less power, which aids fuel economy. But rather than just replacing bulbs with LEDs, the designers attempted to 'spread the light' through the design of the taillight unit and the use of reflective surfaces.
While there were many considerations and factors that affected the exterior design, it was aerodynamics that most governed the shape and look of the Honda Insight.
Making the car as slippery as possible exaggerates the already frugal hybrid technology on board the Honda Insight, increasing fuel economy. So the design team set about creating a shape that had minimal drag. Elsewhere we've spoken about the similarity in the exterior design to that of the FCX Clarity, but that likeness is closest when the two cars are viewed in profile. It's clear that the rear sections of these two cars are almost identical in shape - and for good reason.
Firstly, the line from the centre of the roof to the top of the boot lid is at the optimum angle for controlling the flow of air off the top of the car, with minimum turbulence. Also, you'll notice that the top half of the body tapers in towards the rear of the car, which also helps the air flow travel smoothly over the car. Stable air flow over this section helps the car pass through the air with minimal drag.
"The concept for the main shape of the car is called 'Aero Athlete'," says Mr Minowa. "It reflects a sporty, lean body with no fat, the tension of muscles and nothing unnecessary added."
The shape of the tailgate is also very important - again, compare the Insight's boot to that of the FCX Clarity, or Honda CR-Z, or even the original Insight. They all share the same shape and lines to help the aerodynamics.
"We learnt a lot about aerodynamics from the first Insight," says Mr Minowa, Creative Chief Designer. "From the B-pillar back the two cars are very similar, but we couldn't have radical optimisations like the covered wheels, for example, as this Honda Insight had to have more appeal."
The lower body sections are much wider, which also helps the aerodynamic qualities, and provides a stable, wide stance - giving the car a more masculine appearance.
There are eight exterior paint colours: Spectrum White Silver Pearl, Cerulean Blue Metallic, Alabaster Silver Metallic, Polished Metal Metallic, Neutron Blue Metallic, Crystal Black Pearl, Urban Titanium Metallic and Milano Red.
This was the overall design theme for the exterior appearance of the Honda Insight. Aero stems from the desire to minimise drag and reduce frontal area, while retaining an attractive and sporty character. The shape has been tested repeatedly in a wind tunnel and was effectively shaped by the wind. The athlete part of the concept refers to a taut, honed body, without unnecessary weight or excessive bulk. Dynamic visual tension forms in the panels of Honda Insight like muscle of an athlete. The sensuous shape of "Aero Tail" is formed by Aerodynamics and as similar shape can be seen on the rear of the FCX Clarity and the original Insight models.
The shape of cabin is integrated into the bonnet and flows into the shape of front grille which enhances the bold hexagon shape of the lower part of the bumper. The front design incorporates the identity of FCX Clarity to recognize the fuel cell car's status as an environmental pioneer.
The Honda Insight chassis is newly designed, but in the quest to produce an affordable car with compact dimensions, it is based on components used for the latest Honda Jazz - and as such, it shares some components (suspension brakes and steering) and characteristics with the supermini. From the starting point of Jazz, engineers devised a package that accommodates the hybrid system, provides space for adults to sit in comfort and allows room for the impressive load space.
The structure of the engine compartment and front section of the car is almost identical to Jazz, with some minor alterations to aid crash protection, but behind the front bulkhead the platform is unique to Honda Insight. The wheelbase is 2550mm (50mm longer than that of the Jazz).
Upon this platform, front and rear suspension from the Jazz are used, which means MacPherson struts at the front, and an H-shaped torsion beam at the rear to keep the load floor low, increasing luggage capacity inside.
Dynamically, the goal was to achieve pliant, but stable handling performance in a range of conditions and on a mixture of road surfaces.
Relocating the fuel tank
Although it shares many commonalities, perhaps the most significant difference between the Honda Jazz and the Insight platform is the position of the fuel tank. Many of you will be familiar with the Jazz's distinctive central tank layout, under the front seats, which helps make the car so versatile, but on the Honda Insight platform, the decision was taken to put the fuel tank under the rear seats.
This meant that the seating for occupants could be mounted lower in the car, resulting in a lower roof, smaller cross-section area, and thus a more aerodynamic body shape, which assists fuel economy at high speed.
The braking system comprises of front and rear discs matched with ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist as standard equipment.
Honda engineers concentrated on delivering effective stopping power with a linear, natural feel to the pedal, both in normal daily use and when heavier braking is required.
Wheels and tyres
The Honda Insight is fitted with a seven-spoke alloy design, to enhance the sporty image of the car.
Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)
All Honda Insight grades are equipped with Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system, designed to assist the driver in maintaining control during cornering, acceleration and sudden manoeuvres by applying braking to the right or left hand wheels as necessary and managing the engine torque systems.
At its simplest level, VSA has a traction control function whereby it detects wheel slip under acceleration and coordinates the use of braking and engine torque to regain traction. In situations where the driven wheels are on surfaces with different levels of traction, such as a partially wet road surface, the system applies braking action to the wheel that's slipping, allowing the tyre with better grip to move the vehicle. In addition, the system reduces engine output to minimise wheelspin.
An indicator light flashes on the instrument panel while the system is actively enhancing the stability of the vehicle. A cockpit switch to the side of the instrument panel is provided to disable the VSA.
The Honda Insight is covered by a 3-year / 144,000 km standard warranty, 3-year surface corrosion warranty, 5-year exhaust system warranty and 12-year structural corrosion warranty - plus, a unique 8-year warranty for the entire IMA system, including high-power battery.
ENGINE, MOTOR AND TRANSMISSION
Honda's IMA hybrid system concept is now 10 years old - having made its debut in the original Insight back in 1999. IMA stands for Integrated Motor Assist, which consists of a low-friction 1.3 litre engine that serves as the primary power source, an ultra thin electric motor, a lightweight and compact battery with a continuously variable transmission.
This system has been used successfully in not only the Honda Insight, but also the Civic IMA, and its successor, the Civic Hybrid. Over the years the system has evolved and become smaller, more lightweight and less expensive to produce, and the latest version in the new Honda Insight is the most advanced IMA technology introduced by Honda to date. The fifth generation IMA system in the Insight is 24% more compact than the fourth generation system freeing up space for luggage.
The engine itself is new, but is based heavily on the 1.3-litre from the Civic Hybrid. This modified i-VTEC unit from the Civic Hybrid has been further enhanced with lessons learned from the Jazz incorporated to improve fuel economy. The low friction, pattern coated piston design has been combined with a new catalyst design to further optimise this already highly efficient power unit. These measures along with a further stabilised combustion process give a fuel economy improvement for the engine alone of 2% on what is already a highly-efficient unit.
During deceleration, when the engine's cylinders have no load on them and so combustion in all four cylinders is stopped and each pot is sealed shut. This virtually eliminates the pumping losses, decreasing resistance to allow the motor/generator to operate more efficiently and increase energy recovery to charge the battery.
The technology used to shut the cylinders, VCM (for Variable Cylinder Management), is also used to shut all four cylinders when only little torque is required - during low speed cruising for example. In this mode the Honda Insight is powered by the electric motor only, with the pistons running idle.
In addition, virtually everything possible has been done to the engine to reduce friction, including an offset crankshaft/connecting rod design, plateau honing of the cylinders for a smoother surface and a second low friction piston ring.
On its own, the engine produces 88PS and 121Nm of torque, but the key to hybrid systems is the support given by the electric motor that can help boost performance as well as keep emissions and fuel consumption to a minimum.
What is a hybrid?
Hybrid is the combination of a petrol engine with an electric motor. The battery that powers the electric motor charges itself up with regenerative energy from deceleration and braking. Therefore the Honda Insight never needs to be recharged from an external power supply. The integrated electric motor assists the engine by giving it a boost during acceleration to improve fuel economy. The hybrid system also runs the car's systems at idle and shuts off the combustion engine to reduce emissions, so when a driver stops in traffic the engine falls silent.
The result is a car that behaves like a petrol-engined car in terms of performance, emits less CO2 than an equivalent diesel and delivers excellent fuel economy.
As well as a new engine, the Honda Insight gets a new, improved motor which uses coils with high-density windings and high-performance magnets to produce 14PS and 78 Nm. But the real step-forward with the motor has been its size and shape - the latest version is much thinner than the motor in the current Civic Hybrid (35.7mm vs 61.5mm), which means the entire IMA system is more compact and lightweight.
Improvements have also been made to the high-power battery, which is located under the boot to help lower the centre of gravity. The IPU is smaller and lighter than that found in the Civic hybrid, with size reduced by 19% and weight by an impressive 28%.
The cooling system for the battery has been much improved, which means it's more efficient in its use of power, and can feed it to the electric motor more often. A motor on the side of the battery pack draws through air from pipes leading to intakes outside of the rear seat bolster in the car (on the Civic Hybrid, the air intake is on the parcel shelf, which can be obstructed).
The recovery speed of the battery has also improved, meaning that with power from regenerative braking, it can charge more quickly and therefore deliver power to the electric motor more regularly.
When combined, the motor and engine produce lively performance ideal for urban environments, with good throttle response and acceleration times to rival conventional 1.6-litre petrol cars with automatic gearboxes. The Honda Insight reaches 100 km/h from a standing start in 12.6 seconds, and goes on to a top speed of 186 km/h.
Using a CVT transmission in a hybrid provides smooth and predictable gear transitions and helps keep the IMA system operating in its most efficient range. In the Insight, an evolution of the high-torque CVT unit from the Honda Civic Hybrid is used.
This version of CVT has a lower final drive gear ratio (4.200 from 3.937), which results in faster-acting initial acceleration performance.
The start clutch control has been redesigned to take full advantage of the characteristics of the IMA motor that delivers more torque at lower revs. By engaging at lower revs to enhance initial acceleration and contribute to fuel efficiency.
Also, for the first time on a Honda hybrid, the Insight benefits from paddle shifts, so quick gear changes can be made from levers just behind the steering wheel.
Of course, one of the major benefits of hybrid powertrains is that they can reduce exhaust emissions and boost fuel economy. And when the systems are placed within a purpose-built, aerodynamic body, the advantages are enhanced. The Honda Insight performs well in government emissions and economy testing, achieving 101g/km and 4.4 l/100km (combined) - but that's not the whole story.
Life Cycle Assessments
As a matter of course, Honda carries out a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Programme for all of its vehicles which looks at the CO2 emissions at each stage of a car's life cycle, including production.
Honda developed this programme in 2007 to introduce a product specific LCA system to investigate the volume of CO2 emissions associated with the whole life cycle of each Honda vehicle. This allows Honda to compare the environmental impact of the manufacturing stage and indeed the whole life cycle of their hybrid cars.
The findings demonstrated two things, the importance of the 'use stage' in a car's life cycle CO2 emissions, and that there is very little difference between the CO2 emissions associated with the raw material and production stages of hybrids compared to conventional cars.
The Honda Insight will be produced at the Suzuka plant, the same as the Civic Hybrid as well as many non-hybrid products.
The Honda Insight has been designed to comfortably accommodate five passengers, cleverly packaged within an aerodynamic shell.
Within this sleek exterior, the Honda Insight can still boast headroom and tandem distances among the best in class and rival many medium sized cars.
An inviting and airy interior has been created with clever designs that give an increased sense of space, and practicality.
Convex shapes have been used wherever possible to reduce mass of the interior plastics and create a sense of space, particularly where passengers sit. This moves away from the traditional interior design rules that mainly dictate concave surfaces.
For instance, the front dash is split into two distinct sections. The lower light-coloured section is convex and curves away from the driver and front seat passenger giving a greater sense of space and leg room while the upper, darker section surrounds the front occupants, the driver in particular, to give the feeling of a cockpit-style cabin.
Special attention was paid to outward visibility. Forward visibility is excellent thanks to slim A-pillars, large front door window surfaces that do not require a separate pillared front quarter window, and the same cabin-forward design used for the latest Jazz. Equally, the integrated window in the boot enables good low, rearward visibility, allowing the driver to see a low post, or child behind the vehicle. In addition, retractable rear headrests and rear three quarter lights increase rearward visibility.
High quality, tactile materials, stylish designs and tasteful colours have been used throughout the cabin. Plastics have a soft-touch leather-like appearance and fabrics are plush and comfortable.
Two interior upholstery colour combinations are available - dark royal blue with cream or warm, creamy beige. Seats are covered in two textured fabrics - a dotted pattern for the seating and soft suede-like material for the side bolsters. All models are equipped with active headrests for greater safety.
The steering wheel is fully adjustable for reach and rake to ensure drivers of all heights can be accommodated. A slim armrest and dead foot rest are also provided for extra comfort.
Also fitted as standard across the range are one-touch indicators for easy lane changing on motorways, an adjustable driver's seat, foot rest, passenger seat back pocket and vanity mirrors for both driver and front passenger.
The two-tiered instrument panel allows the driver to focus on the important information - the speedometer above the steering wheel and the main instrument panel directly below it.
The fascia comprises of four main indicators - a large rev counter, flanked by the petrol gauge and motor assist gauge. The automatic gear selected is displayed within the rev counter. As on the Civic Hybrid the motor assist gauge shows, during driving, whether the electric battery is being charged e.g. during regenerative braking or whether the electric motor is assisting the petrol engine e.g. during hard acceleration.
A useful LCD multi-information display set within the centre of the rev counter provides information such as instant and average fuel economy, range, outside temperature as well as other displays to encourage more economical driving techniques. The information button on the steering wheel allows the driver to flick through the different information displays.
All instruments are located on or around the steering wheel, within easy reach for the driver.
The green ECON button can be found on the dash, to the right of the steering wheel. When switched on the ECON system indicator appears in the top left of the instrument panel. The LCD display also indicates whether the system is active and serves as a coaching system by providing additional information to help the driver maximise economy.
In automotive air conditioning units there is a cooling circuit involved that delivers a refrigerant to a condenser and evaporator thus delivering cool air to the cabin. This process involves a compressor and with it associated thermal, mechanical and pumping losses, which affect fuel consumption.
To improve the thermal efficiency of the air conditioning system on the new Insight, Honda engineers have expanded the usable thermodynamic range compared to conventional systems. Ingeniously, the piping layout is changed with the low pressure cold pipe enclosing the high pressure hot refrigerant pipe which has a scroll type groove on the, which means the cold refrigerant on its way back to the engine bay helps cool the warm refrigerant travelling to the cabin. The indentation on the outside of the inner pipe is in a spiral arrangement, which increases the surface area and therefore the efficiency of the heat transfer between the outer and inner tubes. This principle improves the thermal efficiency of the air-conditioning system and as a result, less effort is required from the compressor, resulting in improvements to fuel consumption.
Air conditioning in 'Idle Stop' mode
When driving the Civic Hybrid, during 'Idle Stop' mode the air conditioning could still be operated, thanks to an extra electric motor powered by the high-power battery pack. However, to save costs, this function has not been included on the Honda Insight. Instead, to keep the occupants comfortable, the length of the idle stop time is limited. However, when ECON button is pressed, a longer idle stop time is set for improved efficiency.
All models are equipped with a single CD/audio system, four speakers, steering wheel mounted audio controls and auxiliary jack with MP3/WMA/AAC playback capability. In addition, some models are fitted with a USB port, located in the centre arm rest/storage box which enables fifth generation or later iPods (including Nanos), plus a variety of other digital audio players, to be played through the Insight's main audio system. MP3 players docked via the USB port can also be controlled using the steering wheel mounted audio controls and depending on type, will charge once connected.
The voice-activated satellite navigation system is a touch-screen unit utilising a fully updateable DVD for all data. The Honda navigation features 11 text languages, including: English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Suomi. Five of these, English, German, Italian, French and Spanish can be used for voice activation and spoken guidance instructions. The Honda Insight's system allows the user to find a wide range of places of interest, including restaurants, petrol stations, airports and Honda service centres. The majority of points of interest include phone numbers where appropriate for added convenience. Where it is available, the Honda navigation system works with traffic information to alert customers to potential delays and navigate a route round them.
Hands-Free Telephone (HFT)
ES grades will also be equipped with Hands Free Telephone (HFT) kit, which uses Bluetooth technology to allow mobile phone calls to be made safely on the move.
A series of speakers and microphones installed in the car can connect to any Bluetooth-enabled communications device, even in a bag or briefcase.
The HFT system allows the driver to automatically transfer a call onto the HFT once the ignition has been turned to the ACC position. The user can also utilise the phone's keypad to make calls as well as storing up to 50 names with a speed-dial number. More importantly all numbers can be accessed by HFT.
Thanks to the satellite navigation, it is also possible to import the phone books of up to six separate mobiles via the Interface Dial, up to 1000 names with a potential of 10,000 numbers. Once imported, numbers are accessed by selecting 'search imported phonebook' on the screen, followed by a keyword search or by listing all records.