A Rocky trip

Posted on January 13th, 2007 in Economy,Honda,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I write this after completing two 750-kilometre drives, each done in a day. The occasion was the wedding of some friends, and the location was the Rydges resort at Yeppoon, on the coast near Rockhampton in Queensland. My wife and son flew up from the Gold Coast where we live; I decided to drive.

The car was my 1-litre, three cylinder hybrid Honda Insight. But isn’t that a long drive for a little car? Perhaps – but so what? There’s plenty of cabin space (in fact, with the seat adjusted correctly, my left foot can barely reach the firewall) and I don’t have any problems with driving a low-powered car on the open road. In this era of very powerful base model Australian cars, people tend to forget that safety on the highway is much more dependent on driving skill than the acceleration available under the right foot. I didn’t have any problems overtaking a few semi-trailers or climbing hills at the speed limit – and I saw lots of very powerful cars that had near misses, simply through appalling driving.

The only changes I made to the car for the trip were to inflate the tyres to 37 psi (hot) and fill the tank with 98 octane fuel. I think as a result of one or both of these, fuel economy was even better than standard. Well, it would have been if I hadn’t run the air con for about 80 per cent of the time….

After resetting the trip computer fuel economy display at home, my first stop (the petrol station to fill the tank) showed a fuel economy of 2.2 litres/100km (most of the trip to the petrol station is downhill), followed by 2.7 litres/100km at the Gateway Bridge and 3.2 litres/100km at Gympie. Following that, I turned on the air and the road also became hillier: the consumption average then steadily rose to 3.5 litres/100km where it stayed for the rest of the trip, including the full return journey.

As I have said many times before of this car: that’s world’s best fuel economy.

So apart from the fuel consumption, what were the good and bad aspects of the car on the trip? The air conditioning was excellent and the steering direct and light (though with less road feel at the higher tyre pressures). I enjoyed the DVD of MP3 music, the UHF CB radio and the VDO Dayton nav system – though of course all three have been added by me, rather than being standard.

The new rear springs (borrowed from a Daewoo Matiz) gave a far better ride than would have been realised with the standard springs (which are very prone to bottoming-out), but on these roads the rear damping now needs to be stronger. The car tramlines terribly and on country roads where big trucks have made longitudinal grooves in the bitumen, it can become so pronounced that it’s potentially dangerous. The extraordinarily high gearing (the car could theoretically do about 250 km/h in fifth gear before getting to the redline!) meant that a down-change was needed for the steepest of hills, but that was no negative as the gearbox (especially with its heavier-than-standard gear knob) is a delight to use. Road noise from the tyres is high: on some coarse chip bitumen surfaces, really loud. Considering their thin padding, the seats are good but more generous support would be appreciated.

But there’s one glitch that I want to sort out. When sitting on 100 km/h (or 110 – I followed the speed limits exactly), it’s hard to maintain a constant speed. This is because the electric assist tends to come in with a rush – you push the throttle down a few millimetres to maintain speed up a slight rise and the electric assist suddenly arrives, giving more power than requested. With the lack of cruise control (another equipment shortcoming I’ll soon address), the rush of electric boost makes it hard to smoothly maintain a constant speed.

In fact, when thinking about the drive, it’s hard to come up with major points to tell you. The car wasn’t blown around particularly (I wonder if the slightly higher rear ride height has made the car aerodynamically more stable?), it wasn’t especially tiring, I didn’t feel a huge lack of power (although I did switch off the air when overtaking), the digital instruments were clear (even with the headlights on – you can over-ride the dimmer), and apart from my glass stick-on CB aerial falling off (damn cheap double-sided tape!), no incidents worthy of reporting occurred. The Insight attracted its usual attention (the guys escorting a wide load, talking on the UHF radio: “Hey did ya see that little car sitting under the tree?”; “Yep, it was a Citroen”) but otherwise it was a trip almost boring in its normality.

Except the Insight used 3.5 litres/100km….or 81 miles per imperial gallon.

Hell, I love this car!

4 Responses to 'A Rocky trip'

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  1. Ben said,

    on July 4th, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    “With the lack of cruise control (another equipment shortcoming I’ll soon address), the rush of electric boost makes it hard to smoothly maintain a constant speed.”

    Did you ever get that cruise control fitted?

  2. Julian Edgar said,

    on July 4th, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    No, I think it would negatively affect open road fuel economy. Also, by running lots more EGR, the dropping-out of lean cruise (that occurs at the same time as the ‘rush of assist’) has been made smoother.

  3. Ben said,

    on July 4th, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Hmm cruise control in my car helps economy. But then again I have a tendency to creep up in speed on the highway, if I don’t constantly look at the speedo anyway.

    Did you have the same problem in your EF?

  4. Julian Edgar said,

    on July 5th, 2008 at 7:24 am

    EF Falcon cruise control didn’t work.