Clarkson on the Honda Insight hybrid
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, May 20, 2009
HAVE YOU EVER seen or heard anyone slam a Japanese-made automobile? Apart from labor unions in North America or Europe, of course.
My uncle’s opinion is typical of most of those I’ve heard about Japanese cars. Now in his late 80s, he was a young naval officer in World War II, and his adulthood coincided with the zenith of American economic and military power. If anyone might be expected to buy American, it would be him. But he doesn’t—at least not cars, anyway.
Uncle Bob has bought nothing but Toyotas for the past 30 years, and he’s very particular about the kind he buys. “I don’t want any of those Toyotas they build in the United States,” he insists. “I want the ones they make in Japan.”
But today, I read for the first time a review savaging a Japanese automobile–though I admit I spend little time following auto trends. (There are probably plenty of other negative reviews that I haven’t seen.) Jeremy Clarkson, hailed by some as Britain’s premier auto critic, had this to say about the Honda Insight 1.3 IMA SE Hybrid in the Times of London:
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.
It’s not that Mr. Clarkson dislikes either Hondas in particular…
Normally, Hondas feel as though they have been screwed together by eye surgeons.
…or Japanese cars in general. (Here he is talking about the Mazda 6 MPS):
“This really is a magnificent driver’s car.”
In fact, he seems to like Mazdas a lot. It’s just that he really detests this Honda:
The only hope I have is that there are enough fools and madmen out there who will buy an Insight to look sanctimonious outside the school gates. And that the cash this generates can be used to develop something a bit more constructive.
One of the factors informing his opinion of this Honda is that he doesn’t care for hybrids:
“…let me be clear that hybrid cars are designed solely to milk the guilt genes of the smug and the foolish.”
Though he does like another Honda hybrid, the Clarity:
“The car feels like a car. And, best of all, the power it produces is so enormous, it can be used by day to get you to 120mph and by night to run all the electrical appliances in your house. This is not science fiction. There is a fleet of Claritys running around California right now.”
In addition to writing articles for the Times of London, Mr. Clarkson appears on BBC TV in a show called Top Gear. At one time, it was the highest rated show on BBC Two in Great Britain. My cable package includes the BBC World Service, and I’ve seen Top Gear in Japan. It’s quite entertaining, even if you think cars are nothing more than machines to transport people and things from Point A to Point B quickly and conveniently. A friend in England named Paul (who studied kendo in Japan for two years) had this to say in an e-mail about Clarkson’s reputation at home:
Clarkson is a God to some and an arrogant, self-important wanker to others.
There’s enough ammunition for either side in his review of the Honda Insight hybrid!
Now get ready for the best part: The car, which was officially released in February in Japan, became Japan’s first best-selling hybrid ever in April. Last month, Honda sold 10,481 Insights in this country, more than any other model by any other manufacturer. The car was a hit from the minute it debuted on the Japanese market, doubling Honda’s initial target during its first month in showrooms. It went on sale in March in Europe and last month in the United States, where prices start at slightly less than $20,000.
As with the proverbial Frenchmen, can 10,000 Japanese be wrong?
Note: The model names for these vehicles are the ones used overseas. I don’t know what the corresponding models are called in Japan. (They’re not always the same.)