2010 Honda Insight EX: The Golden Moment of Silence
August 25, 2009
How much is the Golden Moment of Silence really worth? You know, the moment when you scoot away from a stoplight in your hybrid and the car is running silently on battery power.
Apparently it must be worth quite a lot. Much of the engineering that's gone into new-generation Toyota Prius has been intended to prolong that moment of silent running. Actually, so many Prius enthusiasts were re-wiring their cars to run solely on electric power for longer periods and at higher speeds -- no matter the risk of overheated batteries and dramatically shortened battery life -- that Toyota felt obligated to improve its car's electric capability.
And it's easy to understand why. Hybrid drivers are enthusiasts (though they resist being portrayed this way), and they love to demonstrate their attitudes about alternate transportation much as do guys who like loud engines and big tires. And we've all gone along with it, since we classify vehicles with the capability of pure electric motivation as real hybrids, while vehicles with simple electric stop/start mechanisms are mild hybrids.
Of course, no one likes to admit that the Golden Moment of Silence costs you big money, because the upgraded batteries and more powerful electric motor represent a big investment compared to a simple stop/start mechanism for an engine.
And so all this makes me appreciate the Honda Insight a little more. Sure, the Insight delivers a Golden Moment of Silence of its own, but really the Honda way of doing a hybrid is entirely different from the Toyota way. The Toyota way is all about the electric motor, an alternate mode of propulsion that helps keep the engine deactivated as much as possible. The Honda way is all about a small, hyper-efficient gasoline engine, and the electric motor simply supplements the engine when you need more power. At least that's the way I've come to think of it.
I like the Honda way because it seems to be about simple efficiency, and bragging rights about an electric motor doesn't enter into it. It's what you'd expect from a company that entered the transportation business with the two-wheel moped. The philosophical value here is personal mobility, not engines or motors.
Of course, this is not necessarily the sexiest approach to the hybrid. When Honda introduced its Accord Hybrid, it went to great lengths to make the car almost indistinguishable from a conventional Accord, and naturally the car died a miserable death in the marketplace because hybrid owners want people to know that they are hybrid owners.
Yet every time the Insight takes me across an intersection with its little engine thrumming while a Prius does its Golden Moment of Silence next to me, I think about the difference in the price you pay when you buy one of these cars. It makes me think that despite the disdain we've shown for mild hybrids (GM's fleet of them in particular), this vehicle class is growing in Europe in a big way, and soon this technology will be here in the U.S. attached to sexy brands like Audi and Volkswagen.
Then we'll see what people will really pay for that Golden Moment of Silence.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 3,621 miles.