Growing up, we are always told to put our best foot forward; to give our best efforts. However, when automakers occasionally let their engineers give their all, the results are usually poorly received. These results are often subject to slow sales and, at best, retiring to cult status several years after production has stopped. There are numerous instances where, in theory, manufacturers have launched cars that seem like perfect solutions yet never get the recognition they deserve. There’s also a theme to these efforts – efficient city cars.
Let’s start back in 1999 with the first generation Honda Insight. Known internally as the ZE1, it beat the Toyota Prius to the market as the first series production hybrid by six months, yet it has lived in its shadow ever since. In terms of small, efficient personal transport, one really has to wonder why.
The original Insight paired a 1.0-litre three-cylinder with a 13hp electric motor. But its real genius was that no matter its transmission or options, its weight was below 900 kilograms, meaning the Insight could achieve over 70 miles to the gallon, a figure only recently being reached as a widespread benchmark.
So you would think that a small, light, and super efficient car such as this would sell in their droves to people looking for frugal transportation, and yet, it didn’t. Despite being produced for over seven years, Honda made just over 17,000 Insights, with the majority heading for the United States.
It’s not often that you see an Insight, meaning it’s not often that you get to see just how well put together they are, how solid they feel, and, more impressively, how composed they are on the road. Drive one, and you’ll wonder how, in a world striving for automotive cleanliness and responsibility, modern cars have strayed so far.
You see, the issue is that modern EVs are gargantuan in comparison. Yes, everything has grown over the past 20 years, but looking at some of the current crop of best sellers, the Kia EV6 and its sister, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, they are heavyweights in more ways than one. These are great products by all accounts, but these are now slowly turning into your average city car, and I can’t help but feel like the average city car shouldn’t weigh two whole tonnes. When the little ZE1 came out, if you were rolling down the road in something that weighed the same as 20 baby elephants, you were probably in a Range Rover. Now the idea that you need a two-tonne vehicle to go to the shop or drop kids to school is entirely pedestrian, and I have to ask why?
We’ve proven time and time again that it is possible to make lightweight hybrid and electric cars. Look at the BMW i3, a clever, effective effort from a premium brand that most people are happy to forget about. The ongoing situation causing all this bloating with EVs is almost exclusively down to one thing: power. We are stuck in a power race. Manufacturers of EVs want to claim higher power outputs, and higher outputs require bigger batteries, which weigh more. This extra weight requires more power to move it, and thus, the cycle continues.
It seems no one wants to address range anxiety by going down the route of efficiency anymore, meaning you can get a mass-produced family car with nearly 600 horsepower. A figure that 30 years ago would get you well over 200 mph will now get you to an oat milk latte with a cleaner conscience. So where do we draw the line? How much is too much? Will the new Citroen Ami catch on for localised commuting, or will every suburban family be able to 0-60 quicker than supercars of yesteryear? Perhaps the biggest issue with stuffing such huge numbers into equally huge EVs is, who asked?