Clarkson v Honda

by wjw on May 19, 2009

Some say that Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson is a swaggering sexist lout. Some say that he’s a smug, anti-environmentalist, gas-guzzling enemy of the ozone layer. All we know is that he’s done a wonderfully savage review of the new Honda hybrid Insight . . .

It’s terrible. Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more . . .

For reasons known only to itself, Honda has fitted the Insight with something called constantly variable transmission (CVT).

It doesn’t work. Put your foot down in a normal car and the revs climb in tandem with the speed. In a CVT car, the revs spool up quickly and then the speed rises to match them. It feels like the clutch is slipping. It feels horrid.

And the sound is worse. The Honda’s petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airliner. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.

So you’re sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you’re doing only 23mph because that’s about the top speed, and you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, and then they do because you run over a small piece of grit.

Because the Honda has two motors, one that runs on petrol and one that runs on batteries, it is more expensive to make than a car that has one. But since the whole point of this car is that it could be sold for less than Toyota’s Smugmobile, the engineers have plainly peeled the suspension components to the bone. The result is a ride that beggars belief . . .

In a Prius the electric motor can, though almost never does, power the car on its own. In the Honda the electric motor is designed to “assist” the petrol engine, providing more get-up-and-go when the need arises. The net result is this: in a Prius the transformation from electricity to petrol is subtle. In the Honda there are all sorts of jerks and clunks.

And for what? For sure, you could get 60 or more mpg if you were careful. And that’s not bad for a spacious five-door hatchback. But for the same money you could have a Golf diesel, which will be even more economical. And hasn’t been built out of rice paper to keep costs down . . .

Dave Bishop May 19, 2009 at 10:56 am

Yes, Clarkson is a problematical character. Part of me hates him and part of me (probably the infantile part) thinks that he’s very funny. Strangely, although I have little interest in cars, I find his Top Gear programme, on UK TV’s BBC2, unmissable. Occasionally, on a Sunday evening, when it airs here, I can be found rolling around my living room floor in fits of hysterical laughter (it’s probably a good job that I live alone!). All of my women friends loathe Clarkson and refuse to watch any of his programmes – although a recent report suggests that a lot of British women DO watch him.
I think that there’s a possibility that he exists as an antidote to the more po-faced, puritanical aspects of Environmentalism – so that he actually serves to strengthen the Environmental position (no, I don’t think that’s terribly credible either). But whatever his real purpose it’s made him very rich and famous.

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