As you may or may not already know from the article I posted here last week, I was invited to go on a drive with Honda and their new Insight for vernonchan.com and by proxy, TCG. The drive, as I found out, was an awareness campaign by Honda to educate the public about the workings of a hybrid vehicle and its benefits.
This time, instead of inviting automotive and motoring media personnel, Ktalyst International (the PR company handling this account) looked for bloggers from different focus industries to participate in the drive. Thus, we have an eclectic mix of bloggers from different backgrounds; food, I.T., travel, events, technology, a mix of a mix, and so on. This is, IMHO, a particularly good idea, since the general public perceives vehicles differently from petrolheads. Even craftier (and impressive) is the fact that these bloggers have quite the reach in their respective sites, which makes it a pretty good marketing decision.
Due to the difference in purpose and objective, I am faced with a conundrum; do I mengtabula rasakan myself and give you an idiot’s guide, or write the article in the familiar voice of my whiny self?
After a long-drawn, emotionally exhaustive session mulling over article tone (i.e. pillow fight with my TCG colleagues with the Twilight series running in the background), I have decided to go ahead with a comprehensive method of delivery. However, I shall, in the interest of space, and your sanity, be as concise when using the various mumbo-jumbo, zim-zam and flim-flam as possible.
The Hybrid Vehicle – Honda Insight
For non-motorhead readers, I find it prudent to first introduce the Honda Insight and explain hybrid technology in as simple a manner as possible. A Hybrid vehicle, in a nutshell, is when two power sources are combined to drive the vehicle; a conventional petrol engine, and an electric motor. The electric motor is powered by a rack of batteries, which is then charged by the petrol engine.
The Honda Insight, like many hybrid vehicles, is able to utilize each power source independently or concurrently, as and when the situation demands. For example, a hybrid will use the electric motor only during a low-speed cruise, the engine only during a high-speed cruise, and both engine and electric motor during acceleration (Honda terms this Integrated Motor Assist, IMA). This extracts the most efficient amount of power from the two sources, enabling low fuel consumption figures (and lower financial stress).
The Honda Insight also uses the kinetic energy of the vehicle to charge the batteries; utilizing a smart system to save and salvage any energy that would be lost in a conventional vehicle (Honda terms their control unit the Intelligent Power Unit, IPU). A good example of how this system works is when the battery is charged when the brake pedal is depressed. Thus, this system enables a more fuel-efficient drive than an average petrol vehicle. Also, most, if not all hybrid vehicles, are relatively streamlined in their exterior design, so that it cuts through the air with less effort (i.e. more km per RM).
The Insight also has other technological software and hardware that further pushes the envelope towards fuel efficiency. It has, among others, an intelligent Dual & Sequential Ignition (i-DSI), and intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (i-VTEC) engine, a space-saving, ultra-thin brushless DC (direct current) electric motor, continuously variable transmission (CVT) for more efficient power delivery, low-drag aerodynamics, heat-absorbing glass, and an ECON mode to consolidate the entire eco-friendly system.
Safety-wise, the Insight is up-to-date. It has the usual amount of acronyms most urbanites are accustomed to; Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) airbags, an Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body, Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) seatbelts and ISOFIX points.
Arguably the most potent function on the Honda Insight is the Ecological Drive Assist System (or ECO Assist). This feature enables the discerning hybrid owner to monitor and achieve higher fuel-efficiency by providing real-time feedback cues on the meter cluster and dashboard. For example, the speedometer has three distinct backlighting colours. Blue indicates that you have a lead foot (aka Vernon Chan), while green means you are on your way to ecological nirvana (aka Jack Lee). The continuum between Vernon Chan and Jack Lee is represented by a blue-green colour on the speedometer.
There is also an eco-friendliness scoring function on the Insight which is indicated by growing leaves. The leaves will eventually grow into a plant if one maintains the accelerator discipline worthy of a kiss from Jack Lee. These plants will provide the feel-good reward factor more commonly associated to unlocked achievements in console games to the owner.
Jokes aside, the Insight’s reward system stems not only from the lowered fuel consumption, but also lowered greenhouse gases resulting from burnt petrol. Thus, the average hybrid owner is theoretically not only conserving resources (and the bank account), but is also helping mitigate environmental pollution.
The itinerary given to me put registration at 0830 at The Bee in Jaya One, but knowing traffic conditions on a Friday morning in Petaling Jaya, I decided to crank the alarm clock up a notch and head off earlier. The congestion was not that bad, thank goodness, and I reached The Bee at about 15 minutes before time. Registration was easy enough, and Maggie from Ktalyst was kind enough to greet me while I wandered around the lounge.
I realized that I did not really know anybody there, other than Mike Yip, Rebecca Saw and Jordhatt from Honda PR, and that put me out of my comfort zone for a while. Fortunately, helping me stave off the social discomfort was breakfast courtesy of Honda.
The event proper started in earnest after the rest of the bloggers arrived, and it began with Jordhatt giving the welcoming note, followed by a brief speech by Mr. Akhbar Danial, Honda’s Marketing Manager.
Ms. Joey Gan, PR director for Ktalyst briefed us about the challenges during the drive and the prizes which await the winners; Canon cameras and some USB drives were up for grabs. Before we were given the keys to the cars, Harvinder Singh Sidhu (or Harv), the head steward for the drive gave us a driving and safety briefing on the Insight.
The drive was meant to be done with 3 participants to a car, and I had to look around for two other people whose jigsaw puzzle fit mine. Before long, I coupled myself with Anna Chew from Venusbuzz.com and a certain Mohd. Nor (unsure what he does, but he has a cool pair of Rayban’s, which, in all matters associated to male bonding, is good enough for me).
We had a group photograph session before the journey began, and after everybody got into their respective vehicles (we got car number 04), we headed out of Jaya One and onto the Federal Highway.
Mohd. Nor took first drive, and from there we headed towards the East-West Link and the Cheras-Kajang Highway. Our first stop came when we reached Hulu Langat, and Harv went around inspecting the fuel consumption figures. Apparently, Harv will be taking fuel consumption figures every time we make a stop, and the top car with the best fuel consumption (lowest fuel consumed) at the end of the challenge will net the car’s occupants a Canon camera each.
I didn’t give much attention towards the challenge, since I was inherently allergic to fuel-save challenges, but our initial progress was pretty good; we came in second for the fuel-consumption challenge! We were still in the running to win after Anna took over the helm from Mohd. Nor, and we inched closer towards the top with every single stop. When it came to my turn to drive, I was trying my best to bring the fuel-consumption figures as high up as possible (in km per litre). To keep to the drive schedule, we were constantly hurried by Harv to keep up with him in the lead vehicle. To prevent typical Malaysian kiasu-ness, Harv explained via two-way radio that the hybrid system in the Insight enables economical but practical driving. This means that one need not drive at a snail’s pace to achieve high fuel efficiency. Harv also explained that the sweet spot for the Honda Insight is from 50km/h to 110km/h, which is the speed an average person drives under normal circumstances.
For those interested to know the key to winning fuel-save challenges, or to just be thrift in one’s daily driving, I shall spill the beans for your benefit. The primary factor in winning, and saving fuel, is by being smooth. One must ensure the smoothest input when operating the vehicle, be it when accelerating, decelerating or turning the vehicle. Erratic driving behaviour, as Harv mentioned during his periodical drones via two-way radio, will only result in lower fuel efficiency. Hybrid vehicles like the Honda Insight maximises one’s ability to be fuel efficient, but economical driving ultimately depends on the driver (and his/her right foot).
[Back to the drive]
At the next driver change, we were told that we were in the running to win the challenge. I passed the reins back to Mohd. Nor, and everything banked on him in winning the prize. All he needed to do was to put the eco-indicator in green, and we were home free. For some weird reason, he was accelerating throughout the journey, and that effectively demolished our hopes of winning the challenge. I am guessing that he was ill-informed about the challenge, and I was too engrossed in conversation with Tengku Ezan (Djan’s brother!) to notice the issue.
Regardless, we eventually reached Avillion in Port Dickson for our lunch break. The menu looked particularly good, and it contained the whole shebang; tom yam, codfish, prawns, crabs, scallops, ostrich, lamb, chicken, and durian. I had the luck of sitting with 6 people… in a table for 10. After stuffing ourselves full with the good stuff, we waited for the Muslim guys and girls to finish their Friday prayers before heading off towards Philea Resort and Spa, Malacca.
I was glad that we reached Philea Resort without incident, as was the entire group of participants. Of worthy mention is Harv, our head steward; he was constantly on the radio, giving us detailed instructions and crucial information on the road. As a driving instructor, I understand his stress all too well, and am grateful for having him lead the convoy. Many agencies underestimate the precision and planning needed to organize a short drive like this, and consequently fail to deliver a smooth-running operation. Some of the drives I attended as an automotive media personnel were much less impressive than this one.
Philea Resort is situated extremely close to the Ayer Keroh toll into Malacca, which was good for us, since entry into the town area required passing through a gazillion traffic lights (resulting in my slow and agonizing suicide). We parked our car at the lobby, and the drive’s crew managed the logistics from then on. We assembled at the reception area briefly before being given the keys to our rooms. I was allocated cabin number 3002, which happened to be the nearest to the lobby (yay!).
We were all given instructions to get ready and chill until 1900, before we were shuffled, like VIP’s over to The Majestic, Malacca for dinner. There, we had our taste of Peranakan cuisine.
Unfortunately, the food there was lacklustre; the otak-otak was too salty, the soup tasted bland, and the main course was less tasty than a normal Kuala Lumpur fare. The dessert was alright, but nyonya jelly and ice-cream isn’t exactly Peranakan culture, is it? Fortunately, dinner provided us the opportunity to converse casually and socialize, and that abated my disappointment in the food.
We were shuttled back to Philea Resort after dinner, and some of the bloggers opted to drive the Insight out for the evening. I, however, used the free time to shoot some landscape photographs.
Philea Resort is beautiful at night; the lighting and colour nicely balanced by the use of wood and timber tones. I took my own sweet time walking around the resort to get some nice shots.
Once the shots were done, I headed back to the room to hit the sack…
I woke up early the next day, way before sunrise, to get some shots. Unfortunately, I was unaccustomed to using Jack’s Canon S95 point-and-shoot camera, and had forgotten to recharge its batteries the night before. As a result of this oversight, I managed to capture two shots before the battery died on me.
Since the battery was charging, I walked over to Nusantara, the restaurant where breakfast was being served, to munch in some much-needed carbohydrates. There, I was met with Rebecca and a guy from an independent tyre supplier, Mr. Kenneth Ooi. Kenneth was on-site to provide specialized tyre support for the duration of the drive, and I had some fun talking to him. He educated and brought me up to date about the current tyre scene and some of the more notable selections in the market today.
We congregated at the lobby after breakfast, and were brought to the poolside to get some group photographs. Once the photography session was done, we got into our respective vehicles and began our convoy towards Thistle in Port Dickson.
The drive towards Thistle was uneventful, steadfastly administered by Harv and the rest of the drive crew. We reached Thistle at about 1145 and promptly got to Glass, an Italian-themed restaurant beside the swimming pool for lunch, and a game of Win, Lose or Draw.
Lunch was Italian, of course, and we were treated to some exquisite-sounding dishes; camembert cheese salad, lamb brodo, pan fried sea bass, chicken thigh, and ratatouille risotto, semolina cake with vanilla ice cream, and caffeine.
Next came the game of Win, Lose or Draw. The game was meant to acquaint us participants about the features, developments and benefits of the Honda Insight.
For some reason, my team was called out first (i.e. to be the guinea pigs), and I was tasked to draw while Anna and Mohd. Nor were tasked to guess the answer. Admittedly, my drawing sucked. Anna was able to guess one of the clues given, though, and our team retired with 1 point.
Some teams fared better, and some worse. The high score was 2 points, tied between two teams. The reason for the difficulty was the clues; most of them were either specific numbers, or abstract concepts, both which are particularly challenging to draw out. A fine example would be: Honda is the pioneer in bringing hybrid vehicles into Malaysia, or something along those lines. Now, how does one draw pioneer? Anna suggested I draw the audio brand, but then the focus would have detracted from hybrid vehicles, knowing me. The game drew loads of laughter, and in the spirit of sportsmanship, my team and I decided to bow out of the competition. Lol!
Once the game was over, we began our journey back to Petaling Jaya. The route back to The Bee was straightforward; we were to drive on the North-South Highway until the East-West Link interchange, and we would use the Kerinchi Link back to Jaya One.
Refreshments were provided once we reached The Bee, Jaya One, and Mr. Akhbar Danial was there waiting for us. He provided some closing statements before Joey announced the winners of the challenges. The event proper formally concluded after the winners went on stage to receive their prizes.
Like any vehicle, the Honda Insight is not perfect. The hybrid vehicle, despite the flamboyant marketing terms fashioned onto it by Honda, suffers from some glaring faults. Firstly and most importantly is passenger ride comfort. For all intents and purposes, rear passenger comfort is non-existent. Granted, the battery situated at the rear of the car needed stiffer suspension settings, but for the rear passengers to vibrate in unison with the irregularities on Malaysian roads is ridiculous. The stiffer suspension settings, however, makes the Insight a sportier car, especially around corners. It was just too bad that I did not get an opportunity to properly test the Insight on the trunk roads ;p
Another issue inherent in the car design is rear headroom. At 1.69m (about 5 feet 6 inches) tall, my head was touching the roof of the Insight. This means that the rest of TCG will not be able to sit at the rear, with the possible exception of Jason, our creative director. There was also an issue with interior design, as Mike pointed out, that the glove compartment was too edgy for taller people sitting in the front passenger seat; it would be quite painful for the front passenger’s knees during hard braking (moving the passenger seat to the back may solve the problem, if there aren’t rear passengers). Additionally, the rear passenger seats were far too upright for adults, restricting long-distance journeys to those willing to suffer in silence.
At about 350 litres, boot space is less than stellar, especially when compared to the Prius, the Insight’s closest rival (about 450 litres). Somebody in the entourage also mentioned that air-conditioning effectiveness is hampered during ECO assist mode, and it may be impractical for the Malaysian climate. However, for some reason, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the lack of air-conditioning during the drive.
In retrospect, I enjoyed the drive. It was handled properly, the schedules were kept (which was quite amazing, IMHO), and safety was upheld. Exclusive of the complains that I have about the Insight, the drive and overnight stay at Philea Resort and Spa was awesome. Philea is apparently the largest luxury pine lodge resort in Malaysia, and was recently been awarded the “Best Green Hotel 2011” title by the Malacca government.
I am sure the participants would agree that we were fed and pampered very well by Honda for the two days. The bloggers themselves were quite friendly, even though I was not on socialize mode.
The Honda Insight is a worthwhile car for the general married yuppie. How successful Honda is in its manoeuvres to appeal to this target market remains to be seen, but at less than RM100k, there’s really nothing to complain about if you really want a hybrid, actually. The Insight saves fuel, and gets you safely from point A to B. ‘Nuff said.
Edit: For those of you who still don’t know about what I’ve been going on about, below are a few infographics that Honda sent me. Check it out, might save you some moolah in the future.