Tuesday 16 January 2018

myth rather than might

I'm a bit concerned about the urban myths growing up around modern cars. Indeed, I have probably contributed to them. Here are just three examples:

1: Diesels are brilliant and economical. Yes -- and no. They can be economical and some can be brilliant. But in the main they need more frequent servicing and unless they have advanced filters and cleaners they can emit a lot of noxious particulates.

2: Electric cars are our zero-emissions future. But the energy chain that powers them is derived from sources that contribute to pollution. The electrics don't go far on a charge and they are mostly small, little cars.

3: Hybrids are so clever and fashionable, you simply can't go wrong. Yes, they are -- but they are not necessarily the earth-savers that have emerged from the myths of time.

The Toyota Prius is, despite some recent publicity, a fine hybrid, but I got no better return from it than I did from many a good diesel.

Honda's Insight, the latest hybrid, also depends more on the myth than the might of practical performance.

These cars are far more effective in urban driving than for long, higher-speed journeys where the petrol engine is in use most of the time.

I like Hondas a lot. We have a Civic. My daughter has a Jazz. I've driven the Civic hybrid and I think it is one of the best but the Insight didn't impress nearly as much.

Like most hybrids we know, it has a small petrol engine, an electric motor and a battery power pack from which to derive its propulsion.

Give or take an emphasis or two here or there, that is how hybrids work: a little masterful computer decides which source(s) and when they are deployed, singly or in tandem.

But -- as with the Prius -- I found that the petrol engine was in use virtually all the time. The hybrid part really only came into its own in slow-ish city traffic. Fair enough, I suppose, but it does challenge the myth a bit.

The car itself was something of a disappointment. The cabin is a good deal smaller than the capacious Prius and the everyday dynamics of driving are below what I expected from a Honda.

It was skittish enough on moderate roads, too easily buffeted by crosswinds on motorways and the steering was a little too edgy for me.

Fuel consumption was grand but not exceptional. I'm basing that on how soon the computer recalculated downwards the number of kilometres I had left to an empty tank after I had put €25 into it at Hanamy's garage. I'm fairly sure a 1.4-litre/1.6-litre diesel would have at least matched, if not out-performed, it on consumption. The petrol tank holds 40 litres.

The Insight is the lowest-priced hybrid around. And Honda has more to come as it, rightly, sees the technology as a means of reducing carbon footprints.

There is no doubt Honda can do hybrid: the Civic version is as good as you'll get. The difference with this is that it needs to be substantially more than a hybrid for today's unconvinced drivers. The potential is there to make a real impact but it needs a bit of something.

The cabin struck me from the start as being quite narrow, though there is reasonable back-seat space.

The continuously variable transmission (no gear changes) worked really well -- it was seamless and silent. My only difficulty with it was in undertaking precise micro manoeuvres, such as easing it into, or out of, a really tight parking spot. I had to work hard, because it tended to jerk a little from a standing start.

It looks a bit like the Prius (€25,900), with streamlined flowing profile. And like the Toyota, it has a chunky lateral beam across the rear screen, which inhibits visibility.

And only the top half of the split screen is served by a wiper. On wet days and muddy roads, I wished for more.

The boot has good depth to it and the aperture is excellent for loading household items. I can see what Honda is trying with this but it felt just a little overstretched -- an extraordinary thing to say about such a 'modern' concept.

For those who do most of their driving in the sub-80kmh area, they will find this quite economical. In that respect, it is not an urban myth and is worth considering.

But if you travel a fair bit, are usually in a hurry and are not necessarily into using a feather on the accelerator, then the fuel consumption is not going to sway you that momentously.

It has its place, definitely, but it is more for those already persuaded by the urban myths than for the sceptics.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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