Drive the future

Sean O'Grady explains why he's been test-driving an old banger

The cars that manufacturers lend to motoring hacks all have one thing in common: they're brand new. Of course they are. They're less likely to break down, the hacks get to pose around in the latest gear, and everyone's happy . Except that it's not much use for trying to assess long-term reliability and lifetime running costs. So I was suitably gratified to have secured the first drive by a journalist in a very different sort of press car - Honda's four-year- old, 100,000-mile Insight, itself a curious machine at any odometer reading.

That's right: 100,000 miles, or 108,716, to be precise. That's not such a great achievement for a modern car, I grant you, but the point that Honda is making with this old girl is that the hybrid electric/petrol engine power that it uses is completely reliable and durable, as well as delivering 83 miles per gallon.

I am happy to confirm that this is true. The Honda didn't break down or give any mechanical trouble. And no, it hasn't been rebuilt. Honda assures me that the Insight was bought back from a "normal" owner, one Mike Partridge, and apart from new brakes and tyres, is pretty much original. It proves that the technology works in the long run, in normal conditions.

Sure, the thing looks, as Top Gear magazine puts it, like "a wheeled terrapin"; it has two seats only because the boot is full of batteries; and its handling, while reassuringly conventional is not exactly sporting. Small wonder only two were bought in the UK last year (it is available to order). None of that is to the point, however; the point is that it shows that you shouldn't worry about having to replace all of the batteries, or something else, after a few years. A used Insight is a viable option.

The good news, however, is that you don't have to look weird to be green. You can look boring instead. The Honda Civic IMA, (integrated motor assist) deploys the same technology. A hybrid V6-engined Honda Accord has just been launched in the US. It joins the more celebrated Toyota Prius, and hybrid SUVs from the US makers, in an accelerating revolution. One day, 100,000-mile hybrids will be commonplace; but, I'd wager, 100,000-mile press cars will remain rare.

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